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MPs explore how to expand quantum computing in business

Commons Science and Technology Committee is looking for evidence of where the UK’s new quantum strategy needs improvement

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology has begun a consultation following on from Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt’s £2.5bn funding for quantum technologies.

The National quantum strategy sets out the UK’s vision to become a world-leading quantum-enabled economy by 2033, and in its introduction, Michelle Donelan, secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, said: “The 10-year plan will fund new frontiers of quantum research, support and develop our growing quantum sector, prepare our wider economy for the quantum revolution and ensure the UK leads internationally in the regulation and ethical use of quantum technologies.

“We will make the UK the home for cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, the best place in the world to start and grow a quantum business, a leading voice in the international quantum and tech community, and a magnet for international quantum talent,” she said.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee has now posted a call for evidence, looking at what support the sector needs to achieve commercialisation of quantum technologies and what interventions are required from the government to drive the success of the UK’s quantum technologies sector.

Greg Clark, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “The government has identified quantum as of strategic importance to the UK. We currently punch above our weight in developing quantum technologies, but face fierce competition.”

He added that the committee wants to explore the barriers to turning breakthroughs in the world of quantum mechanics into the next generation of computers and communications.

The committee has asked experts to submit comments by 28 April, focusing on whether the UK’s quantum strategy is fit for purpose; the strengths and weaknesses of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme and how this has shaped the UK quantum industry, and what intervention from government and academia is needed to drive commercialisation.

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Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Arm co-founder Jamie Urquhart said: “I think it’s welcomed that the government is now starting to really focus on the technologies that might be commercially useful.”

He added that while the £2.5bn pot appears to be aimed at research and academia, the UK needs to fund and scale existing quantum companies. While the funding and signals from the government are welcoming signs, he questioned the details about how exactly this funding would be allocated, as well as its impact. “Rather than just trying to measure it on moving science forward, we need to measure it on whether it actually delivers something that has value,” said Urquhart.

The government will be looking for industrial partners to bolster the £2.5bn of public funding. However, the UK’s announced contribution looks significantly smaller when compared with other countries developing quantum computing capabilities. In September 2022, McKinsey reported that significant government funding in China has helped accelerate scientific progress and the development of quantum technologies.

As part of its 14th five-year plan for quantum technology (2021–2025), McKinsey said that China’s public funding was more than double the investments by EU governments ($15.3bn compared with $7.2bn). Over the course of five years, the UK government’s funding works out at £1.25bn (or $1.5bn), which is lower than the announced funding for the US ($1.9bn) and Japan ($1.7bn).

The government is likely to get a broad range of view on what the UK needs to do. Steve Brierley, a member of the UK government’s Quantum Computing Expert Group and CEO and founder of Riverlane, said the UK can make advances in the semiconductors that control quantum circuits.

“The chips are where the classical control electronics exist,” he said. “Leadership in the middle layer of the quantum stack is a smart investment for the UK government and where our existing quantum and semiconductor expertise lies. Every quantum computer (regardless of its hardware or application layers) needs this middle layer to operate, and the UK will be able to meet the global demand by designing and holding the IP for the chips to power every quantum computer in the world. If we also develop the leading quantum hardware in tangent, we could win twice.

“If the UK owns the critical, middle layer of the quantum computing stack, then this represents a significant market opportunity,” said Brierley. “Simply put, without the quantum middle layer, the world cannot unlock the revolutionary applications (and economic advantages) that quantum computers could provide.”

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