As part of a ten year plan to invest in quantum technology last March, the UK government announced a £2.5 billion investment into quantum technology. This news is built on National Quantum Technology Program (NQTP)founded almost a decade ago.
For more insight on this subject, BBC Newsnight Science and Technology Correspondent Kate Lamble recently interviewed several UK-based quantum technology experts to find out what’s happening in the country regarding investment and innovation as a whole.
Not For Facebook
“So, ‘it’s not going to speed up Excel, it’s not going to make Facebook run faster, but it’s going to help us completely revolutionize how we design new drugs, make them more efficient, optimize logistics networks, or speed up machine learning,” it said. Richard MurrayCEO and co-founder of quantum startup ORCA Computing, a company that has sold several machines so far, one to the Ministry of Defense (MoD).
Murray also said the semiconductor sector in the UK was “reasonably” well established, adding that there were some new developments that could be capitalized on, even though the major investments and players went back decades.
“Quantum is a completely new industry,” he said. “The game has not been won. And, in fact, the game is just beginning.”
Matt Brookesa professor of Physics at the University of Nottingham, says that quantum technology has allowed his research to detect the faint magnetic fields generated by our brains, pinpointing the location of electrical activity, which can have far-reaching effects for conditions such as Tourette’s Syndrome and epilepsy.
“Academics have been driven by the end user, the end goal, so it’s not that you know, we develop a sensor or a system and then try to share it with the industry and they say it’s useless for us,” said Brooke. “The industry has come in and said this is what we want. And it allows British academics to really deliver in a way that perhaps hasn’t been done before.”
On the topic of UK talent, Brookes thinks the UK’s quantum technology program relies on a small number of people, and if these people move, the UK ecosystem will become “fragile”.
“I certainly know people I work with who have been given very good offers to go and work specifically to North America,” Brookes said, noting that while brain drain is not at a critical stage right now, it could be if things do not change.
Kai BongDirector of the DLR Institute for Quantum Technology, Professor at the University of Ulm and former Director of the UK’s National Center for Quantum Technology in Sensors and Metrology, stated that the UK has been very good at kick-starting supply chains, although it has not accelerated the market pool as much.
“For that,” he said, “I think we really need to engage the right companies. There’s a very prominent initiative to create a national accelerator for quantum sensors, to look at energy, defense and communications infrastructure and think about innovation there, but that definitely needs a program to make that happen.
Open & End Game
“I would often describe England as having a very strong opening game,” added Murray, “but maybe not having as much experience in the late stages of the late game, in terms of scaling up companies, maintaining market position and things like that. I think quantum is one way we can change that.
Michelle Donelan MP, secretary of state for the newly created Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), wrote in the preface to the strategy:
“This ten year plan will fund new frontiers of quantum research, support and develop our thriving quantum sector, prepare our wider economy for the quantum revolution and ensure that the UK leads internationally in the regulation and ethical use of quantum technology.
We will make the UK the home for cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, the best place in the world to start and grow a quantum business, a leading voice in the international quantum and technology community, and a magnet for international quantum talent.” added that the government firmly believes the UK should lead the world in this physics and provide opportunities and jobs in hardware, engineering and advanced manufacturing, as well as software and applications throughout the economy.
Whatever the outcome in 2033, it is likely that the UK will remain a leading player, both in research and in producing innovative companies like ORCA Computing.
Featured image: BBC Newsnight