25 Oct 2021

Why the UK must rise to the million-qubit challenge

Dr. Sebastian Weidt, CEO and Co-founder of Universal Quantum, explains why innovation and investment in scalable quantum hardware is key for the UK. Part of techUK's Quantum Commercialisation Week. #QuantumUK

From drug discovery to tackling climate change, the conversation in quantum computing has shifted from “if” these machines will do something useful for society to “when”.

It’s an important conversation for the UK economy. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates that quantum computing could create value of $450 billion to $850 billion in the next 15 to 30 years - and this is probably an underestimate. In the next three to five years, users and providers could start accruing value of between $5 and $10 billion “if the technology scales as fast as promised,” according to the BCG.

In other words, we must reach the million-qubit scale to unlock the full potential of quantum computing. While today’s machines have provided vital proof of concepts, they only have a few dozen qubits (or quantum bits).

The industry is aware of this challenge and many companies have ambitious targets to scale up their machines. At Universal Quantum, we’ve been focused on creating a million-qubit quantum computer from day one.

Of course, this is no mean feat. A recent report from McKinsey highlights: “Due to the complexity of the technology, the hardware segment has high risk and long development times. As a result, players require significant capital and highly specialised knowledge.”

The UK quantum computing sector needs innovation and significant long-term investment to rise to the million-qubit challenge.

Scalability matters

There are many ways to make a quantum computer and fortunately the UK is home to a broad range of exciting approaches.

One promising architecture is based on qubits encoded in individual trapped ions. These trapped ion qubit-based machines do not need to be cooled to near –273 degrees Celsius, as with some alternative approaches. At the same time, trapped-ion qubits are extremely well isolated from the environment and can be controlled with incredible accuracy.

The UK has the key competencies and innovation to develop million-qubit quantum computers using trapped-ion qubit-based approaches with distinct differences to international competitors. This  has already led to the development of the world’s first blueprint for a commercially viable quantum computer with millions of qubits, for example, and several other breakthroughs using this technology.

But there’s still a long way to go and scaling to millions of qubits is a highly complex and multi-disciplinary challenge. As such, it’s vital that the UK continues to invest in its burgeoning quantum community not just with financial support but also providing the regulatory frameworks to give companies the freedom to operate in this space and win the million-qubit race.

This is a global race with other countries investing heavily in their own quantum ecosystems to make the most progress and be the first to both leverage the opportunities and protect against the threats of quantum computing.

This should not be a surprise. Given the huge economic and national security impact of this technology, we will continue to see every major country with global ambitions to strive towards having a sovereign capability in this sector.

With its unique approaches to quantum computing, I’m confident that the UK can rise to the million-qubit challenge.

But we must be bold and continue to invest in this space to ensure this does not become another example of the UK’s leading research being commercialised abroad. Then, the truly exciting conversations can start, with the UK leading the way.

Dr. Sebastian Weidt, CEO and Co-founder of Universal Quantum.

To find out how Universal Quantum is rising to the million-qubit challenge, follow us on TwitterLinkedIn and Medium



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Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Programme Manager, Technology and Innovation, techUK

Laura is techUK’s Programme Manager for Technology and Innovation.

She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States 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.

[email protected]

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Sue Daley

Sue Daley

Director, Technology and Innovation

Sue leads techUK's Technology and Innovation work.

This includes work programmes on cloud, data protection, data analytics, AI, digital ethics, Digital Identity and Internet of Things as well as emerging and transformative technologies and innovation policy. She has been recognised as one of the most influential people in UK tech by Computer Weekly's UKtech50 Longlist and in 2021 was inducted into the Computer Weekly Most Influential Women in UK Tech Hall of Fame. A key influencer in driving forward the data agenda in the UK Sue is co-chair of the UK government's National Data Strategy Forum. As well as being recognised in the UK's Big Data 100 and the Global Top 100 Data Visionaries for 2020 Sue has also been shortlisted for the Milton Keynes Women Leaders Awards and was a judge for the Loebner Prize in AI. In addition to being a regular industry speaker on issues including AI ethics, data protection and cyber security, Sue was recently a judge for the UK Tech 50 and is a regular judge of the annual UK Cloud Awards.

Prior to joining techUK in January 2015 Sue was responsible for Symantec's Government Relations in the UK and Ireland. She has spoken at events including the UK-China Internet Forum in Beijing, UN IGF and European RSA on issues ranging from data usage and privacy, cloud computing and online child safety. Before joining Symantec, Sue was senior policy advisor at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Sue has an BA degree on History and American Studies from Leeds University and a Masters Degree on International Relations and Diplomacy from the University of Birmingham. Sue is a keen sportswoman and in 2016 achieved a lifelong ambition to swim the English Channel.

[email protected]
020 7331 2055

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Zoe Brockbank

Programme Coordinator, Policy, Tech and Innovation, techUK

Zoe is a Programme Assistant, supporting techUK's work across Policy, Technology and Innovation.

The team makes the tech case to government and policymakers in Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels and across the UK on the most pressing issues affecting this sector and supports the Technology and Innovation team in the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Zoe worked as a Business Development and Membership Coordinator at London First and prior to that Zoe worked in Partnerships at a number of Forex and CFD brokerage firms including Think Markets, ETX Capital and Central Markets.

Zoe has a degree (BA Hons) from the University of Westminster and in her spare time, Zoe enjoys travelling, painting, keeping fit and socialising with friends.

[email protected]
020 7331 2174

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