How to stay relevant in the media after peak quantum

Gartner’s Hype Cycle of Emerging Technologies is not only a useful indicator for investors and potential users of innovation, it can also be a strategic tool for communication teams. Quantum companies especially should pay attention to the famous cycle now more than ever, as it seems that we have reached peak media interest…

Gartner ranks technology trends along a horizontal axis called “expectations” and a vertical “time” axis. The characteristic vertical shape of the hype cycle curve shows how expectations for a technology rise and fall over time as an innovation advances. Until 2009, Gartner still used “visibility” as a dimension for the Y-axis, i.e., the sheer amount of attention given to a technology. With the change to “expectations,” the analysts wanted to achieve a more accurate analysis of hype, one that also included the hopes that markets projected for a new technology (see Gartner website).

While quantum computing is still too far away from achieving practical use in the eyes of the analysts to track it on the annual hype cycle (yet they do counsel to explore it), we have still seen quite a hype around quantum in media for a couple of years now. The development of Shor’s algorithm in 1994 contributed to this (putting RSA encryption at risk), and most definitely the Google Sycamore team announcing “quantum supremacy” in 2019 (53 qubits were able to perform an operation in 200 seconds that would have taken a classic supercomputer 10,000 years), sparked high hopes (although IBM disputed parts of the claim).

IBM, IonQ, D-Wave, Quantinuum (Honeywell and Cambridge Quantum), Rigetti, Xanadu, Tyto client QuEra (MIT & Harvard background), and also Amazon and Microsoft are some of the big players in the quantum race. Europe has been doing quite well, too, and put its own quantum champions forward. IQM from Finland (with a German subsidiary); Munich-based Planqc (a Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics spin-off sponsored, among other investors, by the ARM founder Hermann Hauser); Universal Quantum in the UK; PASQAL or Alice & Bob in France; Terra Quantum from Switzerland with a QaaS-offering (and many others, see this Sifted article); are among the key innovators in the space, and are being supported by tech powerhouses such as T-Systems (it will soon offer cloud access to IQM systems) or Atos in France. Quantum software specialists like Classiq (also a Tyto client) are already quite successful with their solutions, too.

Getting media coverage was relatively straightforward for these companies in recent years. Quantum was new and shiny, mysterious, and highly promising. It climbed its way up the media hype cycle, all the way to the top. Unsolved issues like which architecture will reign as the most promising one are tough nuts to crack for quantum computing professionals, and a productive quantum machine is still some time away. Yes, there are simulators and training systems, so everyone can start building their skills and look for first projects, but it will still take a while until quantum computers solve humanity’s hardest puzzles.

The thing is, editors noticed. They have reported about the topic for what can be considered an age in media cycle years, and have grown tired of having to explain superposition, Schrödinger’s Cat and other analogies that do not help readers one bit to understand the technology. By the way, the challenge to explain superposition, observation and entanglement in analogies that everyone will understand, is still on. Ignore the deadline, media professionals. There is a deadline and at the same time no deadline at all. Without corporate users, use cases, successful projects to report about, the topic might be dead in the water very soon.

On January 10, 2023, the Financial Times published an article titled: “Hype around quantum computing recedes over lack of practical uses”, and the Süddeutsche Zeitung followed suit on February 23, 2023, with the title “Quantum computers: is everything just hype?”. Headlines like these indicate tougher times ahead for communication professionals in an innovation sector. Even the tech-guys see the problem: “Quantum computing has a hype problem” states the MIT Technology Review. When interest fades, the risk increases that investors and potential customers will also put the brakes on potential projects.

Luckily, there are strategies to maintain relevancy in the eyes of journalists when the environment gets tougher:

  1. Why now: Companies need to be able to explain what aspects of quantum are highly relevant to any company today. While quantum computers are not solving any issues corporations are having today, it is high time to get ready for when they can. Forming a quantum lab or innovation team should be a high priority task now, just as upskilling individuals (our customer Classiq for example is teaching professionals how to develop algorithms for quantum computers) and identifying projects.
  2. Big picture: Quantum computers will be powerful devices when they arrive – possibly even more game-changing than the new wave of AI tools. Programmes like ChatGPT are not only changing the way we operate, they have also taught us a valuable lesson: Let’s think about the risks of a technology and potential regulation before the tech is being pushed into the market. AI leaders feel inclined to call for a development pause while the world is already hooked on ChatGPT and Bard, which is not ideal at all. Quantum computing companies should be communicating the big picture, including risk and regulation today.
  3. Availability bias: Undoubtedly, it will be a much tougher market environment for Quantum. Investments might be cut, but stopping to invest in visibility could be a fatal mistake for any Quantum player. Humans tend to build trust towards brands they are exposed to frequently, that continue sharing insights and information. Quantum computing players can use this availability bias to build these key connections while others are not. Once products become available (or compute time via cloud access), companies will buy from the perceived leader. Continuous visibility can help achieve that perceived leadership position.

We recently launched our “Pathfinder” services for any company that is currently revisiting its communication strategy. We are holding free consultancy sessions that you can sign up for on our website. As the media hype seems to be passing, this might be exactly the right time for quantum computing companies to take us up on this offer.