Mike Lazaridis, BlackBerry’s co-founder and what some call an engineering genius, is betting big on technology that doesn’t exist… yet.
Lazaridis plans to use his investments in the southern Ontario technology hub known as Quantum Valley to one day produce a quantum computer.
“There is a quantum revolution coming, an industrial revolution,” he said. “It’s audacious.” Until then, Lazaridis hopes to create a trillion-dollar market for quantum mechanics with Canada at the top.
“Maybe we’ll find the quantum equivalent of a catalyst [a chemical agent that speeds reactions, useful in industry], that allows us to grow material,” he said. “What if you could make metals transparent?”
“How would that change architecture?” he said. “How would that change bridge production?”
“A bridge of diamond,” he says, nodding to affirm the dream. “This is verging on science fiction and what I’m going to tell you is, even this is probably not crazy enough … In a sense [investing in quantum] was a bet, because you’re betting against the prevailing culture, the prevailing idea, the prevailing attitudes.”
Though, Lazaridis’ real desire is creating the first stable, long-term quantum computer. Currently, they have a problem of decoherence. Essentially, quantum computers break apart as soon as they’re built.
A quantum computer is said to calculate with qubits. A qubit is a physical system — sometimes etched into a chip of metal cooled to near absolute zero, or a gas held in place by a magnetic field, or even floating free in a liquid — that can be in multiple quantum states at the same time, known as superposition.
Creating a quantum computer could add strides to computing. Lazaridis has famed quantum scientist and IQC executive director Raymond Laflamme on his team. Laflamme predicts that within a few years his team will have built a true quantum computer of 50 to 100 qubits.
“The important part is to realize that it wasn’t any different [a century ago]. Everyone then thought it couldn’t get any better,” Mr. Lazaridis said. “Everyone was amazed with the state of the art, you know. They had hot and cold running water, and an icebox. Maybe a few years later they had a radio. And life couldn’t get any better, right? And yet it did.”