Yesterday, the UK government announced a significant £45 million investment to boost the quantum sector, aligning with its ambitious goal of creating a “quantum-enabled economy by 2033.”
The concept of a “quantum-enabled economy” underscores the government’s vision for quantum technology to revolutionise various sectors, including healthcare, energy, transportation, and beyond.
Evidently, despite the historically sluggish widespread adoption of quantum technology, the government’s latest investment signals a renewed commitment to invigorate innovation within the UK. But what implications does this hold for the startups already operating and succeeding in the quantum space?
Fuelling The UK Quantum Sector: Why Now?
The latest government investment will allocate £30 million toward developing groundbreaking innovations including quantum computers, power grids, brain scanners, navigation systems and more. An additional £15 million is earmarked for a prize aimed at incentivising pioneering projects through the Quantum Catalyst Fund.
This investment underscores the government’s commitment to hasten the adoption of quantum solutions across the public sector.
In response to the news, Lee Brown, Partner, EY Analytics and AI Lead, comments: “Quantum technologies are set to be highly transformational across industry and society, and today’s announcement can help drive innovation within the healthcare, energy, transport sectors, helping to address complex problems that are currently impossible to solve.
“Quantum technology will unlock enhanced healthcare, accelerate drug discovery, boost economic growth, create jobs and support our fight against climate change.”
Indeed, as highlighted by Mr Brown, the real power of quantum technology is that it can provide a new way of solving previously impossible problems. By leveraging the principles of quantum mechanics and the physics of sub-atomic particles, it has the potential to usher in valuable and versatile innovations to help the UK battle its greatest challenges.
At a time when there is mounting pressure from an overstretched healthcare system, frequent strikes in transportation, and pressure to adopt more sustainable energy sources amid the global fight against climate change, it’s understandable that the UK government has decided now is the time to accelerate the adoption of quantum technology.
Let’s explore why there has been a somewhat slow adoption of quantum technology adoption across the nation, and what the acceleration of the industry could mean for the UK startups already working to forge a place for themselves in this space.
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Investigating The Cautious Approach to Quantum
While the recent government investment spells good news for the quantum industry, one could argue it may also represent a drastic action needed to lift an industry struggling to get off the ground.
One could chalk up the hesitancy to embrace this new technology to the inherent human tendency to approach novelty with caution and uncertainty. However, the overwhelming acceptance of generative artificial intelligence (AI) as soon as it burst onto the scene seems to challenge this notion.
After all, if the nation so readily embraces new technologies such as AI into our lives, why does quantum technology encounter such resistance?
The answer is a relatively simple one: Unlike technologies such as generative AI, quantum technology is far more difficult to widely adopt. Still in its early stages of development, quantum innovations remain extremely expensive, particularly in cases like quantum computers that require near-absolute zero temperatures to operate.
As such, despite the government’s efforts to cultivate a quantum-driven economy in the UK, the technology itself remains largely inaccessible to most consumers.
However, as Ian West, Head of Technology at KPMG UK, identifies: “Organisations have typically taken a cautious approach to quantum technology, but today’s investment in specific industries and targeted projects, will help bring clarity to give businesses more confidence in the technology to solve problems within their own four walls.”
Mr West’s insight highlights how the government’s investment could accelerate quantum adoption in the UK. By publicly endorsing quantum technologies, people can begin to witness its benefits firsthand and, given all goes to plan, organisations will be instilled with confidence to internally adopt the technology.
This could be an exciting shift not just for the nation’s larger entities; it opens a new frontier for startups across the UK.
What Quantum Investment Means For Startups
While it’s difficult to assert that one round of government investment, however sizeable, will kickstart the widespread adoption of quantum technology in the UK, it does signify a promising level of support for fostering startups and supporting those already established in the domain.
As Mr Brown emphasised: “It is positive to see the government’s commitment and investment in quantum technology which will provide a welcome boost for the development of this nationally critical future technology.
“There’s a significant opportunity for quantum in the UK, which is already home to the largest number of quantum start-ups in Europe and attracts more capital investment than any other European competitor.
“The UK has all the attributes to become a scientific and technologic superpower – it’s already home to relevant industrial players and boasts a vibrant R&D environment and an experienced telecommunications and cybersecurity base.”
Brown’s insights underscore the existing base of quantum startups in the UK, indicating that while quantum adoption isn’t widespread yet, the nation harbours promising potential in the industry.
With the government’s clear enthusiasm to inject much-needed financial support, the UK stands poised to become a scientific and technological superpower, fostering vibrant R&D within the quantum sector.
Unlike AI, where the UK lags behind the US and China, if the UK takes the lead in quantum now, it could potentially emerge as the future superpower in the research, development, and production of quantum technologies.
The UK already boasts a strong base of startups thanks to the work being undertaken by the nation’s leading universities and established private companies. From Oxford Quantum Circuits and Universal Quantum to Cerca Magnetics Limited and Delta g, several of the UK’s burgeoning quantum startups are already wielding influence on a global scale.
Clearly, the UK is making significant strides in the quantum domain, but sustaining this momentum is crucial. The recent government investment holds the potential to facilitate precisely that.