UK confirms entanglement with quantum technologies

The UK will soon be in a superposition.
7 February 2024

“Wave Form Generators inside the IBM Quantum Lab” by IBM Research is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

  • Quantum technology investment in the UK.
  • Public-private partnerships benefit from funds.
  • Brain scanning and transport, among other projects.

The UK government has earmarked £45m to accelerate the use of quantum computing for the UK economy, focusing on energy, healthcare, and transport.

Projects targeted for funding include a navigation system for trains that will improve safety by installing quantum sensors in tunnels and a brain scanner that is potentially capable of diagnosing epilepsy and dementia.

The National Quantum Strategy [pdf], published in March 2023, committed £2.5bn in funding over ten years from this year, 2024, with more than £1bn expected to be added by private sector investment as projects progress. The Strategy, described by the government as “bold and ambitious,” will develop the UK’s capabilities in hardware, supply chains, imaging, and communications.

The recent £45m investment comprises £30m from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Technology Missions Fund and the UK’s National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC), and will be joined by £15m from the Quantum Catalyst Fund, a fiscal body aimed at leveraging quantum technologies by government agencies.

Quantum technology investment comments

The UK Science Minister Andrew Griffiths visited Cerca Magnetics on February 5th, 2024, to highlight the announcement. The company is a tertiary body formed as a spin-off from publicly funded research at the University of Nottingham. The Minister said:

“This further £45 million in funding underscores our commitment to support bright UK innovators who are pushing boundaries and seizing the potential of this technology to transform our public services. Cutting-edge work on a quantum-enabled brain scanner, which will be a beacon of hope for those battling neurological conditions, is just one example. The UK is already a global leader in quantum and to maintain that position, this government will continue to invest in this transformational technology propelling the UK into a new era of technological prowess and economic growth.”

IBM quantum computer illustrating quantum technology investment article.

“IBM quantum computer” by IBM Research is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

The UKRI and NQCC partnership focuses not on the theoretical possibilities of quantum technologies but on bringing practical examples of use cases to the point of validation. It chose projects for its funding from a competition of proposals from UK organizations.

There are currently seven projects going forward on that basis that are considering superconductivity, photonics, neutral atoms, and trapped ion processors that hold qubits in electromagnetic fields.

Director of the NQCC, Dr Michael Cuthbert, said: “Over the coming 15 months, these prototype quantum computing platforms will be deployed into the newly established NQCC facility, giving us a valuable insight into the maturity, characteristics and capabilities available across a range of hardware architectures. This next phase of the NQCC will be one of huge promise, establishing a unique state-of-the-art facility with on-premises access to a range of qubit modalities at scale.”

Professor Will Drury, executive director, digital and technologies at Innovate UK, said, “This could be transformative for life in the UK and will create new, well-paid jobs that will boost our future economy.”

Quantum technologies rely on quantum states of very small amounts of matter, which exist, in computing terms, as both 0 and 1 until observed (superposition). Pairs of entangled quanta reflect one another’s state, making data transfer instantaneous. A major challenge for developers of quantum computing is preventing external influences (such as heat) from affecting a quantum ‘bit’ (qubit), so it resolves into a static state until such a change is required.

However, when stable, groups of qubits in superposition are capable of massively parallel processing as the bits can represent a huge number of possible outcomes. Results from quantum computers are probabilistic, so they require a deterministic co-processor, usually a “traditional” computer, to interpret results.

Quantum investments in context

Research and project development, therefore, is highly complex due to the number of required components for any practical deployment. That fact is reflected in the collaborative nature of many ongoing quantum projects and the broad-brush approach to the UK government’s quantum technology investments in this type of advancement.

The £2.5bn commitment spread over ten years represents an annual outlay of 0.02% of the UK government’s managed expenditure annually. By comparison, the net cost of catering at the UK’s Houses of Parliament for the financial year 2021-2022 was £7.5m, so the government’s desire for quantum projects ranks ~33 times higher than feeding and watering its Members of Parliament [pdf].

What’s next? Quantum technology, that’s what.