The UK government today announced a £153 million investment into efforts to commercialize quantum computing. That’s about $193 million and with additional commitments from numerous industry players, that number goes up to over $440 million. With this, the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Programme has now passed £1 billion (or about $1.27 billion) in investments since its inception in 2014.
In the US, president Trump last year signed into law a $1.2 billion investment into quantum computing and the European Union, which the UK is infamously trying to leave, also launched a similarly-sized plan. Indeed, it’s hard not to look at this announcement in the context of Brexit, which would cut the UK off from these European efforts, though it’s worth noting that the UK obviously has a long history of fundamental computer science research, something that is surely also motivating these efforts.
“This milestone shows that Quantum is no longer an experimental science for the UK,” UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore said in today’s announcement. “Investment by government and businesses is paying off, as we become one of the world's leading nations for quantum science and technologies. Now industry is turning what was once a futuristic pipedream into life-changing products.”
Specifically, the UK program is looking into research that can grow its local quantum industry. To do so, the £153 million Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will invest in new products and innovations through research and development competitions, but also into industry-led projects. It will also function as an investment accelerator, with the hope of encouraging venture capitalist to invest in early-stage, spin-out and startup quantum companies.
“The announcement of this significant public funding for the industrialization of quantum technologies exemplifies the benefits of the Industrial Strategy, both in terms of improved coordination across government departments and also the creation of long-term partnerships between government, academia and businesses,” said Roger McKinlay, Challenge Director for Quantum Technologies at UK Research and Innovation. “Five years of investment in the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme has given the UK a technological lead which businesses are now ready to turn in to a significant commercial advantage.”
For governments, quantum computing obviously opens up a number of economic opportunities, but there are also national security interests at play here. Once it becomes a reality, a general quantum computer with long coherence times will easily be able to defeat today’s encryption schemes, for example. That’s not what today’s announcement is about, but it is surely something that all of the world’s governments are thinking about.