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Quantum computing enters the public market

The mind-bending complexity of quantum computing has been the preserve of a few prominent physicists. But now, investors will have to grapple with concepts billed as the future of computing, as well as terms such as qubits.
This month, two start-ups with blueprints for working quantum computers have completed or announced plans to list their shares. IonQ went public on the New York Stock Exchange, becoming the first quantum computing company to successfully go public. Currently, the company is valued at about $2 billion. A week later, Rigetti Computer announced that it, too, would be acquired by a special purpose acquisition vehicle to take it public. The deal values the company at about $1.5 billion.

In July, Percy Quantum raised $450m from investors including BlackRock and Baillie Gifford, valuing the company at more than $3bn as it aims to build a commercially viable quantum computer by 2025. A month ago, Honeywell agreed to inject $300m into its quantum division following a merger with Cambridge Quantum Computing of the UK, and its chief executive did not reveal the possibility of a flotation.
The flurry of investment in these early projects, along with a cluster of new start-ups spun-off from university LABS from Sydney to Sussex, marks a turning point in how the investment community thinks about quantum computing. The 35-year-old field has finally transformed itself from a scientific endeavor into an emerging industry.
The core of the technology is the use of quantum bits, or qubits, units of information. Unlike the basic binary elements of classical computers, or bits that represent 0 or 1, qubits can represent both 0 and 1.
By using this principle of "superposition," quantum computers could theoretically solve problems ranging from cryptography and chemistry to logistics, finance and energy that are far beyond the capabilities of the most powerful traditional supercomputers.
Companies and researchers have made significant progress in developing small quantum computers in the 100-qubit range. These intermediate quantum machines can only perform the same tasks as traditional computers but at a much faster rate.
However, a true quantum computer, one capable of performing large-scale calculations that traditional computers cannot, is thought to be at least a decade away. For example, when many qubits interact, there is a lot of "noise" in the system, which makes it difficult to extract meaningful information. In addition, current prototype devices cannot be corrected during operations when errors occur in calculations.
There are significant engineering challenges in scaling up systems that currently use 100 qubits to work machines that use 1 million or more. But as quantum computing moves from physics to engineering, big investors are seizing on its potential to bet on unproven technology.

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