MPs encourage govt to explore quantum tech

Written by Peter Walker

The Science and Technology Committee’s report into quantum technologies has outlined how the National Quantum Technologies Programme should turn the UK’s 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 £240 billion per year worldwide.

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.

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, according to the committee.

It welcomed 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 made several recommendations to enhance the impact of the second phase.

MPs suggested the government should establish a new executive board to oversee the second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme, with a clearly defined mission statement, and be held accountable for delivering it.

Innovation Centres should be established in addition to the existing hubs from the first phase of the programme, stated the report. These should provide access to facilities for developing, manufacturing, testing and validating quantum technologies.

The report also highlighted 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 second phase of the National Programme must therefore ensure that training is available at undergraduate, technician and apprenticeship level, alongside continued provision at PhD level.

Norman Lamb, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “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.”