Early Investing in Quantum Computing – Bernhard Kube, CTO at Lufthansa Industry Solutions Knows: Early Movers Reap the Benefits



Bernhard Kube, Chief Technology Officer at Lufthansa Industry Solutions, on the need for early and consistent engagement with quantum computing – with industry and policymakers.  

How can companies identify the right moment to address industrial application for quantum computing? Bernhard Kube, Chief Technology Officer at Lufthansa Industry Solutions, explains what lessons industry can learn from the current situation in the field of artificial intelligence, what this means for quantum computing and what kind of political support is needed to create a successful quantum ecosystem.

Bernhard Kube, Chief Technology Officer at Lufthansa Industry Solutions.


Mr. Kube, in the field of artificial intelligence, the hype around language models such as ChatGPT suddenly makes major disruptions of our economy appear very close. Quantum computing, on the other hand, is discussed, but its application and impact are often postponed to an indefinite future. How much of what we expect from the new technology today is hype, how much is plausible? 

ChatGPT did not pop up of nowhere. It is the result of several years of research and development in the field of AI language models. Even before that, there were good language models that were already being used in productive applications in companies. With ChatGPT, a disruptive new generation has now come to market. Those who have worked intensively with AI before now enjoy first mover advantages. I think you can compare this development with the situation in quantum computing. A large part of the work we are currently investing in quantum computing is still in the area of basic research. But this focus is changing. Or rather: it is being supplemented. More and more companies are seriously considering whether and how they will use quantum computing in the future in a commercially successful way. They do so even though they know that such use cases will remain unfeasible for several years. At the moment, we can only take educated guesses regarding the timeframe during which we will most likely see certain developments.  

Why this early commitment? Do such innovations make economic sense at this point? Wouldn’t it be more cost-efficient for many companies to jump on the quantum bandwagon once the technology has already been further developed? 

It may be more cost-effective, but it is also short-sighted. Experience with other major technological innovations of recent years has taught us that pioneers often reap significant benefits from their start-up advantages. The current situation in the field of artificial intelligence is the best example: Europe has missed out here on taking the lead economically as well as politically already during the development phase. Now the EU can only react to the major upheavals originating in the USA and China. In the field of quantum computing, we should not make the same mistake a second time. 

How do you assess the European or German chances of having a say in the future of quantum computing? 

Of course, large American companies like IBM, Google and Amazon are already involved in quantum computing. In this respect, we are dealing with strong competition, or rather, strong coopetition. In some areas we cooperate very well with these companies on the topic of quantum computing. The good news is that we are on the right track, especially in the area of industrial applications – i.e., beyond the pure question of the right hardware. Many start-ups from Germany and Europe are already working very intensively on possible use cases for the coming generations of quantum computing. Large companies are also in on the action. QUTAC is the best example of this. 

What time horizons do we have to think in when developing quantum computing? When do you expect the first breakthroughs? Is there such a thing as Moore’s Law for quantum computers? 

It remains very difficult to predict the further development, let alone to recognize a regularity. This also has to do with the fact that when it comes to hardware, the best technology and architecture has not yet been determined. Here, too, we are still in the basic research phase. However, if one of the variants under discussion so far should emerge as the best in the foreseeable future, this should accelerate further development considerably. Will we observe a similar regularity as Moore’s Law? When the knot is broken in hardware development, that may well be the case. The development roadmap of an important player in the market looks very similar to the development of microchip technologies in the past. 

In which area do you expect the first commercial applications? 

This will probably be primarily in the optimization segment, for example in production or logistics. Here we will probably be able to realize the use of algorithms that scale better than classical optimization methods. But the simulation of molecules for materials research also seems promising. 

Which companies will benefit first from the exploitation of quantum computing? 

At the moment, the development of quantum algorithms is still very much hardware programming. This means that companies have to employ specialists who have the appropriate physics know-how. And actual quantum computers will also remain very expensive one-offs for the foreseeable future. All this makes the use of quantum computing economically attractive almost exclusively for large companies, at least initially. 

How can large companies like Lufthansa Industry Solutions or other members of QUTAC, contribute to quantum computing finding its way into small and medium-sized enterprises? 

By sharing our findings through concrete consulting projects. Through such educational initiatives we can help broader strata of the German economy to evaluate possible use cases for quantum computing and access the necessary hardware. But politics will also have to make its contribution. 

What concrete support do you expect? 

It is crucial for us as a business location to make quantum computing industrially and economically successful. What we need to achieve is digital sovereignty. For this, we need a reliable, long-term framework and incentives for investment. Industry, science, and start-ups need low-threshold, low-cost access to quantum computers – especially those procured with public funds. Finally, we will also need a long term funding for, as well as the coordination of, publicly funded quantum computing activities in Germany and Europe. This is necessary to retain the German experts as well as the German hardware start-ups. We must give them the opportunity to operate efficiently. Only in this way can we create a lively, competitive ecosystem. And that is what we need. 

Mr Kube, thank you for the interview.