Monday 16 December 2019 4:28 am

Britain must invest to remain a leader in quantum technology

Britain has a long and illustrious history in the field of computation and information processing, dating back to the great Alan Turing. 

However, it may miss a unique opportunity to build on this great legacy, unless future governments commit to maintaining the country’s momentum as a global leader in quantum computing — the next and most exciting technological frontier. 

During the General Election campaign, the major parties’ manifestos all acknowledged the transformative potential of innovation and technology for our economy and society. 

In general, everyone agrees that innovation and tech are key to national progress, and will make aspirations for health, education, security, and farming infinitely more achievable. 


But it seems as though quantum and (more specifically) the translation of this technology into commercial businesses — which can propel so many areas of the UK economy — was left out of the manifestos. 

While the UK government was early to understand the importance of this technology and has committed more than a billion pounds to fund research in the field, Britain could fail to fully exploit the commercial potential of British-born quantum tech.  

In October, the White House was quick to take credit for its role in helping Google achieve the major breakthrough of using a quantum computer to carry out a calculation far beyond the ability of today’s most powerful supercomputers. This significant landmark came less than a year after President Trump’s authorisation of a major $1.2bn, five-year investment programme in US quantum research. 

This investment in quantum tech has been mirrored by both the Chinese government and the European Commission, each of whom have committed billions to research programmes.

Britain remains home to world-class universities and is a hub for many of the best and brightest academic minds. We must ensure that the talent being developed through our universities continues to have the best opportunities for investment and development in the UK. And providing more seed capital and more commercialisation support to entrepreneurial scientists and their ventures is also essential. 

So far, at least 19 quantum technology companies have secured funding or generated revenues in the UK. The Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre (QTEC) alone has enabled the creation of more than a third of these. It has acted as a successful accelerator for a total of 17 cutting-edge technology companies since 2017. 

These companies include the likes of FlouretiQ, which some readers may recognise from a recent Ted Talk on the battle against superbugs; KETS and Nu Quantum, which are leading the way in quantum encryption; and QLM, which is using quantum technology to detect the lowest concentrations of natural gas leaks. 


In fact, QTEC’s unique approach has achieved a 70 per cent success rate in translating research-driven ideas into funded or revenue-generating businesses within six months of finishing our year-long programme. 

QTEC is proud to have already played a meaningful role in helping to establish Britain as a pacesetter in quantum technologies. Our achievements, and the development of these cutting-edge companies, would not have been possible without a bold government decision back in 2016 to help establish QTEC with £4.4m of funding. 

However, with other countries now committing increased investment and resources into this area, it is imperative that we collectively seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capitalise on research breakthroughs. 

We urge our new government and policymakers to continue to recognise the importance of investing to support British science and in particular its translation to commercial enterprises.

This will ensure that Britain remains a global leader in quantum innovation for decades to come.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Share