Event round-up: CogX 2022 - Are we ready for a quantum future?
On 14 June, techUK hosted a session at the CogX Festival to explore the UK’s emerging quantum industry and discuss how we can position for success in the race to quantum commercialisation.
You can read our summary of the discussion below:
Sue Daley opened the session by asking the panel for their impressions of the state of the quantum industry today and what it tells us about the future.
Markus Pflitsch responded that we know quantum will be hugely disruptive in the long-term to almost every industry that involves optimisation, simulation or machine learning. He argued that we are currently in a “broken compute state” that is held back by the limits of classical high-performance computing and the challenges involved in scaling quantum computing hardware to the point of meaningful commercial applications. However, what we can do today is start developing quantum software through hybrid approaches that simulate qubits using classical HPC architecture, which helps to unlock some of the power of quantum.
Getting businesses engaged
Stephen Nundy said that business leaders need to engage with quantum across the corporate world and start preparing for the changes quantum will bring to their industries, particularly as any transition plan could take months or years to implement.
Agreeing, Carolyn Ten Holter explained that the quantum computing community needed to start having these conversations with business leaders today to make them aware of early use cases. Some early movers are already working in industry to develop use cases and establish competitive advantage. Philipp Ernst argued that some industries e.g., pharmaceuticals are already putting significant effort into quantum.
The panel discussed how getting started with quantum can be challenging and quantum-as-a-service (QaaS) could be the answer, lowering the entrance barriers to quantum so that businesses don’t have to invest in their own hardware and allowing them to start experimenting with use cases at an early stage.
”Quantum is now” - Markus Pflitsch
Scaling towards commercialisation
Moving on the discussion, Sue asked the panel how we can help our thriving quantum ecosystem scale and grow as we move towards commercialisation.
Markus and Philipp both agreed that the quantum industry needs more talent and a flourishing venture capital pipeline to grow and scale the technology rapidly. Adding to this, Carolyn argued that patient capital gives companies time for responsible innovation and avoids high-pressure “hyped” funding rounds that can lead to bad practices from an ethical point of view. Hyping this technology can also lead to unsustainable expectations, and potentially lead to a ‘quantum winter’.
Continuing the theme of investment, Stephen contended that scaling quantum capability in Europe is a challenge and unlocking capital to invest in European start-ups will be vital to success for the UK. Stephen also argued that we need to ensure Europe has its own quantum companies and quantum infrastructure, so we don’t miss the opportunities involved in this new compute paradigm. He believes that Europe should not be afraid to invest and should be bold in doing so.
Carolyn and Markus agreed that we need to keep collaborating globally and not chill the innovation ecosystem with a narrow national approach. However, Markus agreed with Stephen that quantum will be a strategic and geopolitical asset and Europe needs to ensure it has its own capabilities to balance out the inequalities that could emerge from a quantum monopoly.
Quantum for good
Sue asked the panellists how we should approach quantum from an ethical and responsible innovation perspective.
Carolyn suggested we start by thinking where we want to get to, what kind of world we want quantum computing to enable, and then think about how we get there. It is too early to think about regulation, but governance happens at many levels including research ethics, industry standards, conversations with industry leaders and with the public, all of which can build transparency.
Agreeing with this, the panellists explored why we need to be progressive in thinking about these issues and collaborate with international partners in that broader ecosystem. It is good that governments are engaging with understanding quantum at an early stage, and we should be hopeful that this continues.
Building the quantum industry
Markus argued that continued public funding is important, but we need business models that are commercial to build the industry. He pointed out that lots of quantum start-ups are spin-offs from university research programs and we need to transition into commercial uses as soon as possible to attract the large corporate funding that will be needed to rapidly scale the industry.
One suggestion explored was that the UK’s R&D tax credit should be reformed to incentivise cutting edge tech development and focus that funding on unlocking the innovation budgets of large corporates.
Philipp believed that we are at risk of missing the boat in Europe if we don’t accelerate commercial applications of quantum and this could lead to a talent drain towards the US.
“The size of the prize is so large that we need to take some risks”. - Philipp Ernst
Getting ready for our quantum future
In closing the panel, the discussion moved to how society can prepare for a quantum future. Carolyn advocated for a much broader public dialogue to build understanding of quantum across the economy and amongst policymakers.
Stephen argued that CEOs need to engage with quantum today and not be put off by the complexity or disregard quantum as something for the future as there are real-world applications today and businesses need to be thinking now about the risks and rewards in their industry.
Markus pointed out that organisations need to be made quantum-safe today and from a security perspective we need to invest in quantum cryptography and other measures to safeguard against data being captured today and exploited in five or ten years once the hardware has matured.
Philipp reminded everyone that there are technologies out there now which are harnessing the power of quantum to solve some of these challenges. He also cautioned against our conversations about quantum being derailed by concerns about the risks – quantum has huge potential for positive change in areas like climate science and drug discovery and we should not forget this.
Sue asked the panel what was the one thing we need to focus on for quantum success?
Philipp - Businesses engaging with quantum and understanding what it means for them.
Carolyn - Rising public awareness of the opportunities and an ethical approach to innovation.
Markus - Quantum is now. We can already get started with real-world uses.
Stephen - Talent. Building quantum knowledge into schools and universities today.
techUK conference: Is the UK ready for the future of compute?
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