Building the foundations: A vision for the UK’s Quantum Economy
‘Changing the world’ is a common phrase used by technology startups. However, with quantum technologies we really are at the dawn of a range of technologies which will change life as we know it.
For example, until I heard about quantum gravity sensors, I had never realised how absurd it is not to be able to image or even detect objects beneath the ground (and all the chaos that creates for large construction projects).
Similarly, it’s easy to underestimate the huge potential that quantum computing will bring. The exponential scaling of their performance (2N, or doubling with every new qubit) is so profoundly different to our current systems, it presents a new dawn for the information age. Can you imagine phone calls still being connected by an actual human operator? Well, pretty soon we’ll find the attempts at ‘Artificial Intelligence’ we see from classical computers as just as backwards.
So how does the UK fare in all this, and what is our position in this new global quantum industry?
Firstly, we absolutely should not forget that, in 2013, it was in fact a few insightful individuals in the UK who were first to announce ‘Quantum is here, and the time to act is now.’ And just as insightful… we acted on that to set up the UK quantum technologies programme.
However, before I go any further, I’ll try hard not to fall into the rosy, somewhat unrealistic nationalistic picture of the UK ‘leading the world’ (what does that even mean?!). Because it’s clear that, some 8 years on, word has gotten out - every country with half a physicist has now announced their intention to ‘lead the world in the second quantum revolution’.
In this new crowded market of quantum-ambitious countries, it’s more useful than ever before to intelligently understand how the pieces fit together. What will be successful here are plans for a future, globally connected quantum economy, rather than monopoly or hegemony.
Focussing on just the UK, it’s clear that we have a very strong hand. Not only do we now have two of the world’s largest quantum companies (Cambridge Quantum Computing and Arqit), we also have a thriving community of highly innovative startups who will bring important new solutions to quantum. Because, as we all know, quantum technologies are far from simple or straightforward, and will require much of the world’s best science and engineering to bring to reality. Within the UK I see a thriving ecosystem of companies poised to step in with answers to those challenges.
For example, scaling up quantum computers to thousands and then millions of qubits to the point where useful quantum algorithms can be performed is the challenge of our lifetime. Within the UK, we have a number of companies pursuing new and innovative answers to the challenge of scaling: whether it be my own company ORCA, pushing the boundaries of photonic quantum computing, or OQC, Quantum Motion Universal quantum or Oxford Ionics advancing superconducting, silicon or ion-based quantum computers, the UK can be the breeding ground for new inventions.
Finally, let’s also note that quantum technologies have a far bigger impact beyond just technology. When a technology has such profound implications on our society and culture it is also the UK’s role to lead the world in making quantum technologies a force for good. Much like the impact of AI and Machine Learning, we as a community must ensure that our technologies work for society as a whole rather than a few individuals within it.
That is the fantastic future that I foresee… we just need to make it happen!
Quantum Commercialisation Week
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Laura is techUK’s Head of Programme for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies, including Quantum Computing, High-Performance Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies, across the UK. As part of this, she works alongside techUK members and UK Government to champion long-term and sustainable innovation policy that will ensure the UK is a pioneer in science and technology
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.
Rory joined techUK in June 2023 after three years in the Civil Service on its Fast Stream leadership development programme.
During this time, Rory worked on the Government's response to Covid-19 (NHS Test & Trace), school funding strategy (Department for Education) and international climate and nature policy (Cabinet Office). He also tackled the social care crisis whilst on secondment to techUK's Health and Social Care programme in 2022.
Before this, Rory worked in the House of Commons and House of Lords alongside completing degrees in Political Economy and Global Politics.
Today, he is techUK's Programme Manager for Emerging Technologies, covering dozens of technologies including metaverse, drones, future materials, robotics, blockchain, space technologies, nanotechnology, gaming tech and Web3.0.