UK government invests $194M to commercialize quantum computing

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.

“It’s not just about creating the environment for quantum technologies to flourish. We are investing across a broad range of technologies – computing, sensing, imaging and communications –- and in the lifetime of this programme, we expect to see transformative commercial products and services move from laboratory aspiration to commercial reality,” Roger McKinlay, Challenge Director for Quantum Technologies at UK Research and Innovation, told me. “The technology is new but the approach is tried and tested. Much of the funding will be spent on collaborative R&D projects, competitively awarded to industry-led consortia. We will also fund feasibility studies and run an investment accelerator to ensure we have a pipeline of new technologies and innovative ideas. Well established companies have not been overlooked; funding is earmarked to allocate to companies with ambitious investment and scale-up plans.”

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.