Quantum tech experts joined MPs, Lords and industry partners to discuss quantum technologies with experts from Imperial College London.
The Forum (Imperial College's policy engagement initiative), in partnership with Imperial's Quantum Engineering, Science and Technology (QuEST) project and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee in Westminster, recently brought together leading researchers, policymakers and industry partners to discuss the future of quantum technologies in the UK.
The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee was set up in 1939 by Winston Churchill to encourage direct communication between government and scientists. It has continued to fulfil this mission to this day in the form of panel discussions, and networking and dinner events, featuring scientists, parliamentarians, and industry members.
The quantum panel consisted of Professor Ian Walmsley, Provost of Imperial College London and Chair in Experimental Physics; Roger McKinlay, Quantum Challenge Director at UK Research and Innovation; Dr Ilana Wisby, CEO of Oxford Quantum Circuits; and Dr Carmen Palacios-Berraquero, CEO of Nu-Quantum.
New developments in UK quantum technologies
Professor Walmsley introduced the Committee to developments in quantum research and technology, explaining that the UK was well-equipped to maintain its place as one of the world’s leading countries for quantum tech development. He credited the UK quantum programme for its success in building links from research to technology development, leveraging world-leading research networks around the world to bring people and ideas to the UK and providing the skills base needed for driving the new quantum technologies sector.
Professor Walmsley outlined the potential applications of quantum technologies for key UK industrial sectors, such as data encryption, drug discovery, and freight/logistics. He argued that the UK has a viable roadmap towards building a quantum computer and that a ‘moonshot’ goal of developing a UK quantum computer within 10 years would inspire the sector and the country at large to buy in to the challenge and achieve it. He also described the ways in which comparator countries and groups (such as the EU) have structured their recent investments in quantum research and collaborations with industry.
Roger McKinlay reflected on the progress of the National Quantum Technologies Programme. He emphasised the changing nature of the challenge, as existing British expertise in quantum research and vibrant start-up culture is increasingly faced by the need to develop mature quantum industries and to retain the research and entrepreneurial talent needed to build the sector.
Voices of the UK quantum industry
Dr Ilana Wisby identified the development of ‘Quantum Computing as a Service’ (QCaaS) as the next frontier for the global quantum industry. Rather than directly assuming the costs of developing or purchasing quantum-capable systems, many businesses and industries will choose to purchase slots of time for the use of other providers’ quantum computing devices. This would represent a new business model and present many opportunities for the development of a new quantum services industry.
Dr Wisby also raised the obstacles posed by the UK’s current visa regulations to the easy recruitment and retention of international talent – arguing that this needs to be fixed if we wish to prevent seeing start-ups move to other countries when the need to scale-up requires extensive international recruitment.
Dr Carmen Palacios-Berraquero highlighted the potential role for the UK government as a ‘savvy first customer’ for emerging quantum technologies, using the purchasing power of UK public procurement to help UK-based quantum companies to grow. She also identified the new ‘UK Quantum’ industry group, created at the request of government and of which Nu-Quantum is a founding member, as a positive development for the sector.
Discussions and next steps for UK quantum tech
A wide-ranging discussion followed, chaired by Stephen Metcalfe MP, Chair of the Committee, and by Viscount Stansgate (Dr Stephen Benn), the incoming Committee President. Committee member and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Photonics and Quantum, Carol Monaghan MP, also asked a number of questions of the panel at the outset of the discussion, which took place under the Chatham House Rule.
Questions examined the availability of funding and the recruitment and retention of talent in the UK quantum industry. The role of the UK government and UK pension funds as sources of potential investment in scaling quantum enterprises was discussed. The UK’s future in the Horizon research programme was also raised as a critical concern, as was the need for global standardisation of public key encryption to secure public data against future decryption by quantum devices.
With the Government’s new Quantum Strategy expected in autumn, the Committee concluded by anticipating a continuing role for Imperial’s quantum researchers and industry partners both informing the creation and the scrutiny of UK quantum policy in the weeks and months to come.
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