Quantum Computing

How Europe Can Become a Leader in Quantum Technology

By Michele Canzi

Depending on who you ask, a quantum computer will solve it almost all of humanity’s problems. Everything from financial markets to pharmaceuticals will be turned upside down – because a quantum computer will become what a classical computer is Falcon 9 is for bicycles. This field is moving fast, and Quantum Supremacy – the stage where quantum devices can solve problems that classical computers cannot solve in a decent amount of time – is almost in the rearview mirror.

Once they get there, the quantum computer will change everything. But for now, not only many people know how to make it. This machine that looks like a chandelier is semi-handcrafted by a PhD in physics. And right now, the industry’s roadmap has at least one glaring hole: a lack of trained people.

In deep learning, less than 25,000 people can be considered a world expert. The workforce pool in quantum computing is significantly smaller. According to some accounts, less than a thousand people in the world carry out leading research in the field. The scientists who built these systems specialize in quantum physics, which focuses on the unique behavior of matter and energy at the most fundamental levels—the atomic and subatomic scales. It involves studying the very small, the very isolated, or the very cold, which is unlike the physics we experience in our everyday lives.

The crux of the problem goes beyond the industry’s shortage of quantum skills. There are also academic obstacles. While you probably don’t need to be a quantum physicist to be hired by a quantum technology startup, the theory behind quantum computing is so closely intertwined with elements of quantum physics, advanced mathematics, and many interdisciplinary skills, a Ph.D.-level knowledge is almost required. Currently, there aren’t enough profiles that understand what’s going on “under the hood” of a quantum computer.

Europe’s rich history in mathematics and physics has laid the foundation for today’s quantum computing industry. In the early 20th century, Newton’s laws of motion and Maxwell’s laws of light and electromagnetism could explain all of physics. Einstein, who used Planck’s theory to explain the photoelectric effect, and Schrödinger, with his basic wave equation, revolutionized the field. Bohr contributed the concept of particle waves, while Heisenberg introduced the uncertainty principle. The legacy of scientific pioneers lays the foundation for the next technological paradigm.

This strong academic structure has allowed Europe to amass a large number of publications. While the US has produced more impactful articles, Europe leads in the volume of quantum and related publications outperformed American institutions (McKinsey Quantum Technology Monitor, April 2023, page 46). This is not surprising, given that the quantum technology talent pool in Europe is not only more than twice the size in the US but also almost three times denser (McKinsey Quantum Technology Monitor, April 2023, page 48).

Dr. Jan Goetz, CEO and co-founder of IQM Quantum Computers, identifies the strong European research sector as a magnet for investors. According to Goetz, Europe’s strength lies in its scientific research, which is an integral part of quantum breakthroughs. “This is a very big opportunity for Europe because money usually goes where the good people are,” said Goetz. “And as this field is now emerging from the academic sector to the commercial sector, money is flowing to the best research teams in the world. And Europe really has the world’s leading research team.”

But Europe’s pre-eminence in quantum technology isn’t just limited to highly specialized talent. The European Union has provided billions of euros for developing quantum technologies, especially for quantum computing. Germany alone has committed €2.2 billion, while the EU has committed more than €145 billion over the next two to three years to developing next-generation processors, with part of that investment dedicated to quantum.

Europe also dominates the key industry verticals that will benefit most from the exponentially faster computing enabled by quantum computers – especially in materials science, chemistry, and medicine. On the one hand, the main industrial verticals that will benefit most from the quantum revolution are well established in Europe. The customer ecosystem already exists.

Of course, this analysis must include many caveats. Building a regional industrial ecosystem is not just a matter of human resources. This requires substantial public sector involvement, efficient capital markets, and attractive salaries, to begin with. But all these elements are not interchangeable. Highly skilled human capital is far more valuable than financial capital. And its value only increases over time, as we get closer to the quantum revolution.

Such special and extremely rare talent is the fuel of all transformative technological revolutions. The history of technological progress is based on the ability of geographic ecosystems to play this role Right game with large enough number of shots on target. More quantum technologists, more shots on target.

What the top 1% of the most talented and ambitious people choose with their lives to treasure has had a dramatic impact on their environment. In medieval Europe, literacy was the great “technology of ambition” – if you could write down instructions and someone could read them, you could orchestrate them on a grand scale. At the end of the 18th century, the armed forces began to professionalize and the modern state emerged. Military command is the new ‘ambition technology’. Skip a few more generations and finance emerges as the dominant ‘technology of ambition’. Checks and memos written in London reverberated around the world.

Ambitious people have moved from writing checks to writing software – and, in the future, quantum software. By the numbers, Europe has much more opportunity to capitalize on the next “ambition technology” and transform everything from cybersecurity wars to drug discovery – and the thousands of other things in between that we now take for granted. Europe’s quantum heritage is a crescendo of a century in the making.

Michele Canzi is a Strategy & Go to Market Lead at Terra Quantum.

May 19, 2023

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