Why the UK must rise to the million-qubit challenge
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.
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.
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.