The Quantum Computing Technology Hub known as “NQIT” (Networked Quantum Information Technologies) is a consortium of 9 universities and more than 20 industry partners with its headquarters at Oxford University. It is one of the four quantum hubs of the extremely successful National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP) – a 10-year commitment by government and industry of more than £1Bn!
The NQIT hub is developing more than one type of quantum computer as well as quantum software, quantum algorithms and commercialising research-led innovations.
I work in the Engagement team where our mission is to help create a globally competitive quantum computing industry for the UK.
As the NQTP enters its second phase, the quantum hubs are being refreshed, and on 1st December 2019, NQIT is being succeeded by the hub for “Quantum Computing and Simulation” (QCS), with 17 universities and more than 25 commercial and government partners.
Alongside the QCS hub, there will also be a National Centre for Quantum Computing (NQCC), whose focus will be to develop a Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum (NISQ) machine in the next 5 years, and drive the development towards a fault-tolerant, scalable quantum computer in the longer term.
This is an exciting time for the quantum computing industry. A tipping point has been reached where a quantum processor can perform a computation that a classical computer struggles with. Google has demonstrated this recently with its Sycamore quantum processor (53-qubits) – completing a computation in 200s that would have taken the Summit supercomputer (currently ranked No. 1 in the world) far longer. This is the territory of so called “quantum supremacy”, where we begin to enter unchartered waters.
I’m not interested in the debate of whether it would have taken Summit 10,000 years (as Google claim) or 2.5 days (as IBM claim). What I am focused on instead is building pathways to quantum advantage – quantum computers doing useful work for science and industry.
We (NQIT) are exploring different avenues to get UK businesses and organisations ‘quantum ready’. Consider the question: “Can quantum computing improve your business by 1%?” A business may not have the skills or resources available to find out.
The skills are in the research community, but the specific problem may not be interesting to researchers. Some of the gaps can be filled in by emerging quantum consultancies and quantum software firms but it’s early days. The quantum workforce needs to grow substantially and have reasons to stick to the UK when better salaries are available elsewhere.
I expect that in the next 3 to 5 years, quantum computers will start to become useful. However, if businesses decide to wait until then they will have missed the boat, giving their bolder competitors the upper hand. Volkswagen is a great example having spent three years developing a traffic management solution using the D-Wave quantum computer. They are trialling their system with 9 buses in Lisbon. That’s three years of investment in building a capability on a pathway towards market maturity and developing key relationships along the way.
My advice to UK businesses and organisations is to get involved sooner rather than later. Work with us at the hub to build pathways to quantum advantage because then you will be ready to take advantage as more powerful quantum computers appear. For me, the cost of participating is far less than the cost of missing out.
Dr Rupesh Srivastava, NQIT User Engagement & University of Oxford.
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