Mike Lazaridis is justly famous and wealthy for the being the guy who co-invented the Blackberry, the first ‘must-have ‘personal digital assistant. And Lazaridis says he “won’t be iPhoned again.”
With colleague Doug Fregin, Lazaridis has poured nearly half a billion dollars into projects involving quantum computing over the past 20 years, and now runs a venture company that supports the effort. Noting past failures and the scope and breadth of computing’s next frontier, quantum computing, he notes that “you have to build an industry.” The importance of being nimble, close to customers and constantly moving forward “can’t be done with just one company” says Lazaridis.
Companies including Google, IBM and others are also chomping at the quantum bit, and so Lazaridis has chosen to make his well-placed, narrower venture bets on companies and technologies that could be commercialized in just a few years.
That’s important because quantum (as we’ve written about in this blog several times before) is tricky. While classical computers handle their information bits as 1s and 0s, in quantum, a bit can be both a one and zero at the same time, enabling a level of multi-tasking previously unthinkable. The potential, in fields as diverse as weather, aviation and warfare, is enormous. But quantum as it exists today is still on shaky ground. The existing number of quantum computers is small, and as Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports in a recent article, “they become error-prone after mere fractions of a second – and researchers say perfecting them could take decades.”
Hence the importance of aiming carefully. Several of Lazaridis’ investments have come to market, or are close. Isara Corp. sells security software it says can block quantum hacks and projects sales of $3M in 2018. High Q Technologies claims that by year-end it will be selling quantum sensors 100,000 times more sensitive than the tools pharmaceutical companies use today to develop drugs. (Our featured photo today is of a device used to test the superconducting films used on silicon at the atomic level.)
Lazaridis has teamed with former Blackberry teams to connect quantum computers with conventional computers, in order to make quantum more accessible to a wider audience. Those efforts will still need to prove themselves viable as businesses, but the mere idea reinforces the industry certainty that the current state of computing will not remain the status quo, and that the future of computing is quantum.
It’s a race, he knows. One driven by venture capital and the ability to put one’s money where one’s mouth is.