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Three reflections from the UK National Quantum Showcase 2023 – a growing ecosystem for quantum readiness

Posted 14 Nov 2023

Reflection on the UK’s Quantum Summit

By Daniel Goldsmith, Senior Quantum Technologist, Digital Catapult.

Daniel holds a Masters in Quantum Technology at University College, London, and has researched Quantum Error Correction Codes. He is Digital Catapult’s quantum computing expert. Read more about Daniel here.

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Three reflections from the UK National Quantum Showcase 2023 – a growing ecosystem for quantum readiness

The UK National Quantum Showcase is a landmark event that brings together key stakeholders in the quantum ecosystem. Organised by Innovate UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), in collaboration with the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (UKNQTP), this event aims to showcase the progress of quantum technology research, commercialisation and industrial advancement in the UK, and is an unmissable event for anyone working on quantum technologies. 

We were honoured to present on how we are working to build a vibrant UK quantum ecosystem through our Quantum Technology Access Programme (QTAP), funded by the Innovate UK Industry Strategy Challenge, with our partners including ORCA Computing and Riverlane.  QTAP is supporting titans of industry like Airbus and Rolls Royce to tackle industrial challenges using pioneering new quantum computing solutions and helping early adopters get hands-on experience. 

Here are my top three reflections:

Quantum is a key priority area for the UK government 

George Freeman MP, former Minister of State in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology,  left no one in any doubt about the importance attached to the role of quantum technologies for the UK in his opening presentation. He explained that Quantum technologies, along with artificial intelligence (AI), engineering biology, future telecommunications, and semiconductors are five critical technologies the UK government is focussing on.  He drew from his business experience as a technology venture capitalist to stress the importance of not just inventing, but commercialising these new technologies and ensuring broad industry adoption.

The UK has a proud history of inventing new technologies, such as computing, radar and the jet engine, but often other countries have commercialised these technologies, made money by manufacturing products based on these technologies, and by adopting them widely into industry, giving their companies a competitive advantage.  Even though Minister Freeman has now resigned, the government will be keen to avoid this fate for quantum technology.  

There has been significant UK government support for the quantum sector with the publication of The National Quantum Strategy in March 2023 and the announcement of an additional £2.5 billion in funding for the next 10 years since last year’s showcase.  This matters because quantum technologies, including quantum sensing, quantum communications, and quantum computing, have the potential to create large numbers of highly skilled and well-paid jobs. Qureca has estimated that global quantum job numbers will grow from under 20,000 in 2020 to about 600,000 in 2040.   

The UK quantum ecosystem is growing 

There were more booths, exhibitors and participants than last year – so much that the organisers had to find a larger venue in the Business Design Centre – despite the best efforts of Storm Ciarán to disrupt the showcase.  The showcase was focussed on quantum suppliers; it is important that in future we see more end users as these start to put their quantum plans in place. Suppliers of photonic components and photonic quantum computers were well represented, reflecting the UK’s world class expertise in this area. It was really energising to see so many organisations dedicated to quantum in the UK, but very challenging to visit each booth and to see everyone!  

Some worry that there will be a quantum winter as arguably the performance of some quantum technologies don’t yet match up to the hype, but there was no evidence of that at this showcase, on the contrary some of the applications and advancements were truly groundbreaking.  I believe that it will be many years before we see fault tolerant quantum computers able to break RSA encryption and run models relevant for climate change.  On the other hand , there were products demonstrated by UK companies at the showcase, which are likely to come to generate significant revenue much sooner, such as, to name a few,  the ORCA computing PT-1 photonic computer, the quantum gravity sensors of Delta G, and the single photon detectors of Photon Force.  The revenue from these products will fund research for technologies further from commercialisation, avoiding a quantum winter.

The quantum ecosystem is truly international

We spoke to participants from all over the world, including Singapore, Australia, Canada, and Japan. It was really encouraging to see the interest from abroad in the UK Quantum Showcase. China and the US tend to dominate the quantum ecosystem and have made very large investments. The UK is also a key player because of the strength of its universities and venture capital industry.  The UK ranked third for the quality and impact of its quantum science, and has attracted one in every eight pounds invested by global private equity investment into quantum technology companies.  To maintain and grow our position as a quantum leader it is important to have strong partnerships with other countries to provide a market for quantum products and a vehicle for international collaboration.  It’s great to see overseas delegates looking to the UK for help on preparing for the quantum future.        

You can discover more about Digital Catapult’s Quantum work here. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on the Quantum Technology Access Programme.