Quantum technologies are a group of technologies that make use of the sometimes counter-intuitive behaviour governed by quantum physics, which usually becomes most apparent at very small length-scales. Examples include world-changing technologies such as lasers and computers. Intensive research over the past few decades has improved the extent to which quantum behaviour can be reliably controlled and put to use, enabling the development of a new generation of quantum technologies with superior or sometimes revolutionary capabilities compared to conventional alternatives. This new generation encompasses a variety of technologies, such as quantum clocks, sensors, cameras, computers and communications systems, the first of which are being commercialised now.
Quantum technologies offer the potential for significant economic growth and improved capabilities across multiple industry sectors. The first phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme has placed the UK in a world-leading position. The Government announced £235m funding for quantum technologies in the 2018 Budget, taking total funding for the next phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme to £315m. We welcome the Government’s decision to support a second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme with this funding, which is broadly commensurate with the Strategic Advisory Board’s estimated requirements.
Although the first phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme is widely seen to have been successful, we believe that there is room for improvement in the co-ordination across the Programme. 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 on it. The mission statement should include an overall aim to support the development of a UK quantum technologies industry that delivers the maximum economic, national security and societal benefit for the UK public as a whole. The new Board should comprise representatives from academia, small and medium-sized enterprises, large companies, standards bodies, regulators and the Government, including from national security and defence organisations.
The Executive Board should produce a detailed roadmap, or series of roadmaps, for the future potential markets for quantum technologies in the UK, in consultation with appropriate experts from the market sectors identified. The roadmap should assess the likely size and timeframe of each potential market, as well as the technological developments, infrastructure, workforce, supply chains and regulatory measures that are expected to be required to harness each market opportunity. The Executive Board should use the roadmap of future quantum technology markets to identify potential obstacles to the development and commercialisation of quantum technologies in the UK and to define a strategy to overcome these. The strategy should be published and updated alongside the roadmap and include clear, measurable milestones, to be reviewed annually.
We heard wide support for the establishment of Innovation Centres, first proposed by the Government Office for Science, in the second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme. The announcements made confirming the extension of the National Programme into a second phase did not, however, reference Innovation Centres. In its response to this Report, the Government should confirm its intention to set up Innovation Centres and outline how many it intends to establish, which sectors they will cover and what the timeline is for their establishment. While we support the use of suitable existing infrastructure to house Innovation Centres where it can deliver what is required more quickly and at a reduced cost, this should not dilute the concept of Innovation Centres or weaken the drive to establish them as soon as possible.
Innovation Centres should provide access to facilities for developing, manufacturing, testing and validating quantum technologies, as well as act as focal points around which collaboration and supply chains can consolidate. This will require Innovation Centres to exist, at least in part, as physical centres rather than as ‘virtual networks’. The Executive Board must additionally ensure that there is good co-ordination between the new Innovation Centres and the Hubs and ensure that technologies are supported through research, development and commercialisation and to provide strategic oversight so that activities in Innovation Centres and Hubs complement each other.
Awareness across industry of the potential for quantum technologies, in particular in the short-term, 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, articulating the near-term capabilities expected of such technologies and investigating what specific product requirements and technology demonstrations are needed to drive uptake in different sectors. We commend the Ministry of Defence for its support for quantum technology demonstrator projects. Similar opportunities exist for other Government departments. In collaboration with the Chief Scientific Adviser network, the new Executive Board should identify opportunities for Government Departments to support quantum technology demonstrator projects and encourage their uptake by assessing the positive impacts that such projects could achieve for the department and for the UK quantum technologies industry, if successful. We also recommend that the Government fully adopts the recommendations of the Connell Review. The Government should additionally establish a QuantumTech Catalyst to drive public sector organisations’ use of the Small Business Research Initiative for quantum technologies, in the same way that the GovTech Catalyst has for digital technologies.
There is significant concern in the quantum technology community that the future development of quantum technologies in the UK could be constrained by the lack of a suitably skilled workforce. This skills shortage is not unique to the UK, and the existing training programmes provided under the National Quantum Technologies Programme are well-regarded, but increasing and improving the training offered must be a priority for the second phase of the National Programme. The second phase of the National Programme must ensure that appropriate training is available at undergraduate, technician and apprenticeship level, alongside continued provision at PhD level. It should provide training opportunities for established workers as well as for those entering the workforce.
The new Executive Board, in co-operation with UKRI, should engage with companies working on quantum technologies or closely related fields to help tailor the content of doctoral training programmes to ensure that they provide the balance of skills needed by industry. UKRI should find ways to make the terms on which industry can input into training programmes more flexible, to facilitate increased engagement. In exchange, UKRI should seek contributions from industry to fund additional studentships.
As with most new technologies, quantum technologies present a variety of potential benefits and risks to society. The National Quantum Technologies Programme’s Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) work should continue into its second phase. All of the National Quantum Technologies Hubs and Innovation Centres should identify an RRI lead responsible for co-ordinating RRI work across the Hub and to act as the primary point of contact for internal and external stakeholders on RRI matters within six months of this Report being published. Each Hub should publish a review of the potential societal impacts of quantum technologies in their sector within a year of this Report being published, to be updated annually.
Quantum technologies have important implications for national security as well as for economic prosperity. The Government must ensure that the second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme gives equal priority to benefitting the UK’s national security and its prosperity. There should be good co-ordination between military and civil aspects of future quantum technologies in all components of the second phase of the National Programme. Although foreign investment in the UK is almost always benign and welcome, there is the potential for certain transactions that increase foreign influence over British entities to pose significant threats to national security. In addition to the voluntary regime for national security and investment recently proposed by the Government, we recommend that the Government establishes a mandatory notification regime for enterprises researching, developing, producing or supplying services involving quantum technologies, when they are first approached by foreign entities with offers of investment.
Published: 6 December 2018