A Pioneer’s Analysis of Quantum News
Doug Finke has been pioneering what we know and how we think about supercomputing, high-performance computing and now quantum computing for nearly half a century. Once top-tier company engineer, then a Silicon Valley executive, most in the quantum industry probably know Doug for his news chops, technology analysis and business intelligence. The renowned journalist, analyst and expert tells The Quantum Spin about communicating and curating quantum news and why you don’t want to write a press release to impress your mom.
Doug Finke, Chief Content Officer of Global Quantum Intelligence and Publisher and Managing Editor of the Quantum Computing Report, is an accomplished computer industry executive with background at some of the world’s largest computer (IBM), semiconductor (Intel) and storage (Western Digital) companies.
Host Veronica Combs is a quantum tech editor, writer and PR professional. She manages public relations for quantum computing and tech clients as an account manager with HKA Marketing Communications, the #1 agency in quantum tech PR. Veronica joined HKA from TechRepublic, where she was a senior writer. She has covered technology, healthcare and business strategy for more than 10 years.
Host Veronica Combs: Hello, I’m Veronica Combs, and this is The Quantum Spin by HKA Marketing Communications. I’m very excited to have a guest with us who has been writing about quantum technology for longer than almost anyone in the industry. He’s one of the originals to see the promise in this technology and start explaining it to the rest of us: Doug Finke, Chief Content Officer of Global Quantum Intelligence.
Guest Doug Finke: Hi, Veronica. It’s great to be here.
Veronica Combs: You have a degree in computer engineering, right? I remember that from your LinkedIn bio. You’ve worked in many segments of the industry. How did you get to this point in the quantum sector?
Doug Finke: I worked in the classical computing industry for several decades. I went to the University of Illinois and I took a software course from the guy who developed the software for ILLIAC IV, which is a very early supercomputer that they initially put into NASA Ames, and explained how they achieved high performance in those early days when they were just running what today people would call “primitive” computers. My first job out of school, I worked at IBM as a mainframe design engineer. I worked for a company in Silicon Valley where we created some of the very first microprocessor-based systems. At the time, it was probably the most powerful microprocessor-based system, something like six Intel microprocessors all linked together. No one had done that before.
Then about eight years ago, I started getting interested in and started seeing quantum computing. It was a completely new paradigm for how you could achieve high performance. There was really no one covering it at the time. The only things that you could see were these very, very high-technical PhD presentations – and popular press that would talk about how Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock would emerge from the quantum teleporter, that type of thing. No one was doing it at the level to really explain what was happening in a somewhat technical manner, without getting super deep, so I decided to be the first one.
A year later, in 2016, I went full-time, and I’ve been doing the Quantum Computing Report ever since, publishing over 1300 articles. I was the very first person to write a first look of the IBM five-qubit quantum computer when they put it on a cloud as an experiment in May of 2016. I immediately signed on. I still have that article on the website today, actually.
Veronica Combs: Wow!
Doug Finke: I’ve been doing that ever since, and it’s been a lot of fun. Yeah, I think at some point, some history PhD will want access to those early articles on how the quantum computing industry got started.
Veronica Combs: Yes, and you always link out to resources to read the paper or the press release or the blog posts. It’s nice that you have all links at the end. I’m sure some researcher will appreciate that.
Who did you see as your audience when you first started the Quantum Computing Report in 2015?
Doug Finke: Venture capitalists, researchers, university people, government policy analysts, that type of thing. They can’t spend all their time searching through Twitter and LinkedIn and seeing what people are posting. One of the services we provide is a curated news source; we go through it all and we figure out what’s really important, and of course we write articles about it. Most importantly, we issue a newsletter every Sunday that just says, “Hey, this is what’s happened over the past week. These are the new items we’ve added to the website,” so it’s very efficient, I think.
Veronica Combs: To me, that sounds like a 202-level or a 303-level; I think of writing, sometimes, in terms of college courses, and it’s not the introductory where you’re explaining the basics. You’re assuming a certain level of knowledge and, like you said, spending the time explaining what’s happening in the industry as opposed to just explaining the technology itself.
Doug Finke: We get press releases from PR people – including HKA, by the way – and we could just very easily, with a lot less work, regurgitate it; just reprint the whole thing on our website, but we don’t do that. First of all, as I said, we have very busy people who are readers, so we will typically take a two-page press release and we’ll summarize the key points in two or three paragraphs, but at the same time we’ll add to it. Typically, we’ll always have just a little bit extra, a little bit more insight into it that you wouldn’t find elsewhere.
Veronica Combs: It was interesting to hear about IBM’s five-qubit computer. Are there any other articles over the last few years that stand out for you as something really cool, or interesting, or an industry milestone that you remember writing about?
Doug Finke: In 2019, when Google did their “quantum supremacy” article. We’ve written a very nice series – on what Amazon is doing up in Pasadena to develop a machine there – for a much deeper analysis that we’re working on, and another one right now that you’ll have to wait and see until it comes out.
Veronica Combs: I was reading on the site this week about Zurich Instruments and their quantum system hub. It’s designed to help engineers scale up. Is that something that you’ve noticed as well: sort of figuring out that, “Oh, it can’t just be limited to physicists and people who understand the details. We have to broaden the tools so more people can access this technology.”
Doug Finke: We’re trying to make this as easy to use as possible. Some of the most innovative work right now, happening in quantum, are those software companies that are trying to make it easier for those types of guys to be able to access the power of quantum.
Veronica Combs: Global Quantum intelligence is not quite a year old, right? You formed this new analyst firm about a year ago. Tell us about what you do there.
Doug Finke: We came to realize there were actually three separate entities: there was, of course, the Quantum Computing Report; there was Fact-Based Insight out of the UK, from David Shaw; and then there was Interference Advisors from André König. I think we each came to the conclusion, almost independently, that the industry was growing so much that it was no longer possible to really keep up with it on our own, so we’ve joined forces. We’re going into what I call business intelligence. Our goal is to help the quantum providers, government policy analysts and end users to really understand what’s happening and provide them the data that they need to make the strategic decisions.
My background is really more operational, working industrial companies. David has a PhD in physics and did business intelligence for a firm in the UK. Andre comes more from a consulting and a financial background. What’s good is that we can look at a problem from three different perspectives. The other thing we have, quite frankly, is our contacts – hundreds, maybe thousands of contacts within the quantum industry. One of the values we bring is, if someone needs a competitive analysis, for example, we probably have greater visibility than anyone else. When you put together a strategy, knowing what the competition is up to is very helpful and very valuable.
Veronica Combs: Sounds like if the Quantum Computing Report is sort of a 202-level audience, then you’ve really jumped up a level with this sort of broader analysis.
Doug Finke: If you’re looking for, let’s say, more than just the news, or you’re trying to understand a whole segment of something, the GQI site has information for that.
Veronica Combs: Are there any questions that come up frequently? Are there any client questions that you can share with us, just to get an idea of what people want to know about the industry?
Doug Finke: We do get requests for due diligence reports, and interestingly enough, it comes both from the venture capitalists who want someone to look technically at what’s happening inside the technology of a company, and also happens by the company themselves. They want to have a neutral third party that will go in and write a report about their technology. We give a much better view of what all the other alternatives are, what the competition is doing. We’ve done surveys, such as how AI and quantum will merge together. We’ve done quarterly conference calls, where we go through our analysis of the big events that happened in the previous quarter.
Veronica Combs: One thing that people are always guarding against is hype, or over-hyping capabilities. Certainly, there’s a lot of promising quantum computing, and we’re not there yet to scale, or in fault tolerance or things like that, but there is a lot of potential and power that is right around the bend. When you read a new press release or a report, are there any reporter’s tools you could share with us in terms of evaluating a claim? Is there anything that you look for? Any red flags?
Doug Finke: One of the things that always raises a red flag for me is if a company is not transparent. They issue a press release, and they make a claim, and it’s not backed by data. The best companies out there will, definitely. They post something on Archive or one of the industry journals. The external audience out there is skeptical. They realize that there is a lot of hype out there.
My advice is, for companies, if you try to make a claim and you don’t back it up with data, people will probably reject it. It’s not like the audiences we have are naïve. They’re not. You need to be really careful.
Veronica Combs: Right? No one wants a repeat of the whole LK-99 situation, where it was so much promise and then so much press, and then maybe it wasn’t quite as groundbreaking as everyone thought it was.
Doug Finke: At least they provided the recipe and stuff, so that people could replicate the experiments.
Veronica Combs: That’s a good point. Quantum technology companies are creating repositories on GitHub and putting their data there. That, to me, seemed like the best transparency. Like you said, put the recipe out there, put the data out there, let people poke at it and see what happens.
Doug Finke: There are a tremendous number of companies and startups in the quantum industry right now, similar to what we saw in the 1960s and 1970s, when you had all these companies in Silicon Valley. That’s, of course, why it was named Silicon Valley; there were tons and tons of semiconductor startups. Over the next 20-30 years, they consolidated. I think we’ll see similar things happen in quantum that we saw in semiconductors, as well as other industries – even the computer industry.
Veronica Combs: We’re always looking for advice on how to communicate about quantum computing and how to talk about it. You run a couple of platforms that do that. What are your guiding principles when it comes to making content?
Doug Finke: My joke is: you really don’t want to write a press release to impress your mother. People will say, “Quantum will change the world. It’ll develop new drugs and will solve climate change,” and those types of things. And again, those types of things will fall flat on these audiences that you really want to target. It’s great if you want to impress the general public, but again, is there really a business reason to impress the general public? You’re going after new customers, new investors or new employees. Just keep that in mind when you put the press release together.
Veronica Combs: Unless your mother is a venture capitalist, she’s not your audience for your quantum communication.
Doug Finke: That’s right.
Veronica Combs: Thank you so much for all your time, Doug, and your insight. We really appreciate you spending some time with us here at The Quantum Spin by HKA.
Doug Finke: Well, thank you, Veronica. I enjoyed talking with you. Looking forward to more news and more PR in the future.