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MPs encourage Government to fully explore potential of quantum technologies

6 December 2018

The Science and Technology Committee's Quantum Technologies Report today outlines how the National Quantum Technologies Programme should turn the UK's world-leading quantum research into a world-leading industry.

The inquiry concluded that quantum technologies offer the opportunity for significant economic growth and improved capabilities across most industry sectors.

The Government Office for Science estimated in 2016 that quantum technologies could grow to be worth as much as the consumer electronics manufacturing sector, then worth £240bn per year worldwide.

Counter-intuitive behaviour

Quantum technologies make use of the sometimes counter-intuitive behaviour governed by quantum physics, which usually appears in systems the size of a few atoms.

Intensive research over the past few decades has improved the extent to which quantum behaviour can be used, enabling the development of a new generation of quantum technologies, including cameras that can see around corners, gravity sensors that can see underground and un-hackable communications systems.

Potential risks to society

As with most new technologies, quantum technologies present potential risks to society alongside the anticipated benefits. In particular, quantum technologies could impact national security.

The potential military applications of quantum technologies mean that it is critical that the UK maintains a strong domestic capability and does not let foreign actors undermine this.

National Quantum Technologies Programme

The Committee welcomes the Government's decision to support a second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme. However, despite the success of the first phase of the Programme, the Committee makes several recommendations to enhance the impact of the second phase.

A new Executive Board

The Government should establish a new Executive Board to oversee the second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme. The new Board should have a clearly defined mission statement and be held accountable for delivering it.

The statement should include an aim to support the development of a UK quantum technologies industry that delivers the maximum economic, national security and societal benefit for the public.

Innovation Centres

Innovation Centres should be established in addition to the existing Hubs from the first phase of the National Programme. These Centres should provide access to facilities for developing, manufacturing, testing and validating quantum technologies, as well as to act as focal points around which collaboration and supply chains can consolidate.

Innovation Centres should target specific market sectors rather than reflecting the different types of quantum technologies. The Executive Board must ensure that there is good co-ordination between the new Innovation Centres and the Hubs so that technologies are supported through research, development and commercialisation.

Demonstrating the potential of quantum technologies

Awareness across industry of the potential of quantum technologies needs to be improved. The new Executive Board should engage with businesses and industry bodies that are not yet actively pursuing opportunities presented by quantum technologies, highlighting the short-term benefits.

Government departments should seek opportunities to use quantum technologies to provide innovative solutions to the challenges they face, simultaneously providing support to the UK's nascent quantum industry.

Skilled Workforce

The Report highlights the significant concern in the quantum technology community that a lack of suitably skilled workers could hinder the future development of the UK quantum industry.

The existing training programmes are well-regarded but increasing and improving the training offered must be a priority going forward. The second phase of the National Programme must also ensure that training is available at undergraduate, technician and apprenticeship level, alongside continued provision at PhD level.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said:

“Quantum technologies promise great benefits for the UK's prosperity and security. We welcome the Government's important decision to fund a second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme, to seize the transformational opportunity that quantum technologies offer.

“Despite being world leaders in this field, there are still areas that we must improve and work on to stay ahead of the game. Identifying markets which could benefit from the use of quantum technologies must be a priority for any new Executive Board, as must the provision of a skilled, multi-disciplined workforce.

“Quantum technologies also offer exciting opportunities for the UK's national security as well as for economic prosperity. The Government must ensure that the second phase of the Programme gives equal priority to benefitting the country's national security as well as its prosperity.”

Further information

Image: CCO-Varsha-Y-S