Neil Abroug, head of French Quantum Strategy, interviewed by Yuval Boger. Neil and Yuval discussed the focus on this national strategy, how it differs from other European programs, how US companies can participate in the ecosystem, its views on workforce development, and more.
Yuval Boger: Hello, and thanks for joining me today.
Neil Abroug: Hello Yuval. Thank you for inviting me.
Yuval: So who are you and what do you do?
Nile: I am the head of French Quantum Strategy. I’m in the French Prime Minister’s office and I coordinate the French quantum strategy between different departments, different ministries, but also national laboratories, educational programs and the various programs that we launch.
Yuval: What is France’s natural strategy? What is strategy in quantum?
Nile: So the French quantum strategy that was inaugurated two years ago by President Macron himself is focused primarily on quantum computing in today’s available quantum computers and how can we use them in classic HPC computers, high-performance computers, how to build the next generation of quantum computers, but we also has investments in the quantum communications side, in quantum cryptography, in quantum sensors, and in the enabling technologies for quantum computing namely cryogenics, low noise electronics, lasers, and so on.
We invest in research, we invest in innovation and technology development, but also in workforce development, in standards development, and we work with all our European and international partners to help this ecosystem collaborate because we’re in a marathon, it’s not our actual sprint we need cooperation because there is still uncertainty, scientific uncertainty, and it’s not just about economic competition.
Yuval: What does success look like? So five years from now, what would you like to see as a result of this national strategy?
Neil: So in the next five years, for quantum technology, the time is still very close. But let’s say for the next five years it has a strong French ecosystem working comfortably with its partners. Capitalizing on the difference has less uncertainty in technology, fewer answered scientific questions, more and more manpower to develop quantum technologies, and more involvement from the private sector. In my opinion, we still cannot, just in the next five years, concrete applications for large-scale fault-tolerant quantum computers. It’s a matter of long-term development.
Yuval: How much money is invested in the national program?
Nile: From the government side, one billion for five years. But apart from the government side, we expect about 500 million from the private sector. And in just two years, we are close to 300 million. And then also co-investment from the European program. So we have more co-investment between the national plan and the European program currently planned from 2021 for the next five years.
Yuval: Actually I want to ask about that. How does the French program relate to the European program? How does the French program cooperate or relate to, say, the German program or the Dutch or other EU country programs?
Nile: From the start, we identified the need to work closely with European programmes. Not paying for the same thing or for a completely different thing, but going hand in hand. Traditionally, we have been involved in the EuroHPC joint venture. And over the past year, we’ve purchased two quantum simulators from Germany, France and the European Commission from startup Pasqal, for example. And there have been 30 calls for proposals for other types of quantum computers. And this program was established jointly between the European Commission and European Member States.
There is also an initiative on quantum communications namely EuroQCI. We also engage with other European partners within this framework. And we’re pushing the French ecosystem to build a European program with their partners from Germany, from the Netherlands, from Italy, from Spain, from all participating European parties to the European flagship, to the next FPA and European facilities, all the different programs that finance quantum technology in Europe , we strongly encourage European and French ecosystems to participate in this program.
Yuval: But let’s say I work for a US based company and I’m excited about the French ecosystem and I’m considering opening an office in France. Will this program help me? How does the government want to drag me to France?
Nile: So in recent years for deep tech and for modern technology companies, there has been a program announced by President Macron years ago namely the True France program that will take place. the next meeting will take place in mid-May.
And based on that, a lot of tools from the government, from business transfers, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from the Ministry of Economy to helping foreign companies to get installed in the US.
And regarding the quantum strategy itself, because of the different programs, we have programs for R&D, but we also have programs for innovation with companies and we’re open and we’re very happy to host American companies, Canadian companies, British companies, Dutch companies, The German company opens an office in France to work with the French ecosystem, both academic ecosystem research organizations, but also SMEs and industrial providers of cryogenics, of electronics, cables and all supporting technologies that can be useful to technology companies.
Yuval: You talk about workforce development. So I understand on the equipment side, on the industry side, the French program might help co-invest or maybe buy equipment. But what are you doing for workforce development? How do you keep having more quantum-knowledgeable scientists and engineers?
Nile: So I’d like to say there are three pillars that we’re working on. The first is education. We have set up a new program, a very ambitious program last year with 21 French universities to double the number of students in the field of quantum technology. It starts in 2022 and will last for around 6 years.
There is also a need to have more people from other disciplines working on quantum technologies. People from photonics, people from control science, control engineering, people from microelectronics. There are many competencies in other domains that would be useful for engaging in quantum technology.
And the last one is to also attract talents from other countries, share programs, exchange between students, with researchers, between professors who are invited to collaborate more between ecosystems and people who come to France, other people come to other ecosystems and exchange experiences .
Yuval: What have you learned that you didn’t know a year ago while working on a national program? What’s new in quantum or quantum France that you didn’t know six or 12 months ago?
Nile: So over the last month, we’ve seen a lack of private investment in technology in general. And this was a real threat in the middle of last year’s summer. Because quantum technology is a profound technology, with a high degree of uncertainty, with long-term returns on investment, and with a high intensity in investment requirements, we say it will be very, very difficult for quantum technology.
And what I’m actually looking at is the French ecosystem, the French technology ecosystem
very resistant to this situation. We’ve seen one of Europe’s biggest fundraisers in quantum technology from Pasqal, but other fundraisers have been very interesting as well. So I don’t believe how the ecosystem can withstand this situation.
Yuval: I want to peek behind the scenes. The French national program was announced at some point. How long did it take to imagine a French national program? How did it start? Is it difficult to convince other ministers that this is important or is it easy?
Nile: So the design of the French quantum strategy started in 2018, in the second half of 2018. And it was the industry that asked for the quantum strategy, the national quantum strategy. And from there, we enlisted a few experts, three experts. parliamentary person, one scientific person and one former industry CEO.
We asked them to inform the French government on how to do it. Is it important or not to get involved in COTOP technology? And if so, what to do, what’s the main thing?
We took this advice and we worked across the various ministries under consideration, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Research, Ministry of Defense on a joint investment roadmap for R&D or workforce development and support for the ecosystem. It took me about two years to get this advice to see what could and what couldn’t be done for different reasons. And two years later part of SOGI helped out. been from it.
Yuval: What do you think, what do you see as the main focus of the companies involved in the program? Is it chemistry or optimization or machine learning? Is there a particular app that you think stands out more than others in the work you’ve seen?
Nile: So the French strategy, when we look at the corporate landscape, is very focused on hardware development, technology development. We have several application development programs. So we have support for identifying some of the quantum simulator use cases, for quantum computers. And we’ve had companies from chemistry, from finance, from working on advanced materials trying to build some proof of concept at smaller problem sizes, because as of now we don’t have useful scaled quantum computers.
And we also have several companies involved in applying quantum sensors for medical applications, for non-destructive control and non-destructive testing, and for example for earth observation.
Yuval: What would you like the company to do more of? And of course, there’s a lot of encouragement coming from the French program, but companies can do whatever they want. What would you like to see them do more of?
Nile: I’d like to see big companies support more startups and work more with startups. They have a lot of industrial and technology assets that are useful for startups. And it’s really helpful for all ecosystems to see them working together.
Yuval: And finally as we come to the end of our conversation today, if you could have dinner with one of the quantum boons, dead or alive, who would it be?
Nile: So I want to say Richard Feynman because he is one of the fathers of quantum information science. from the information science side, and of course, Alain Aspect, the last Nobel Prize in physics, who is also the father of new quantum technologies on the physics side. But deal with both.
Yuval: Very good. Neil, thanks so much for joining me today.
Nile: Thanks all and glad to see you soon.
Yuval Boger is head of marketing for want to, the leader in neutral atomic quantum computers. Known as the “Superposition Guy” as well as the original “Qubit Guy”, he can be reached LinkedIn or in this e-mail.
July 17, 2023