This is the first of two reports on where the UK government stands in nurturing a new quantum economy. The author Chris Middleton says “The UK doesn’t need a quantum computer, it needs a quantum industry.”
Can British subatomic science – not just quantum computing, but also quantum timing, navigation, imaging, sensors, security, and communications – attract big enough investment and support to compete? Or do the nation’s quantum ambitions break down at the universal scale – the massivebucks that are available in China, or in the US private sector at Google, IBM, et al? There is concern that Innovate UK is now solely concerned with fine-tuning its existing projects and investments.
One thing the UK has got right is the joined-up approach between its research labs, its £120 million quantum hubs (Sensors and Metrology, Quantum Enhanced Imaging [QuantIC], Networked Quantum Information Technologies [NQUIT], and Quantum Communications Technologies) the private sector, investors, and government – a strategy that is proving hard for the US to emulate across 50 states.
But one of the big challenges in commercialising quantum technologies affects the entire global sector, not just the UK: What is it for? And how do we grow an industry that, fittingly, is an unknown quantity? The UK doesn’t need a quantum computer, it needs a quantum industry. But it needs to will that into existence independently, on modest funding, before most people understand what it is, let alone how to make money from it.
In conclusion, Middleton laments that the government has just £83 million left to invest in kickstarting a sector that could be worth billions to the economy. Despite the UK’s skilled, ambitious, brilliant researchers and innovators, we continue to present ourselves as penny-pinching bumblers in a world of big bread and circuses.