Government can help make the UK a world-leader in quantum technology

Written by Laura Foster on 13 July 2022 in Opinion
Opinion

A pipeline of both technical and commercial skills, and proper consideration of the ethical implications is needed to ensure organisations are not left behind, according to Laura Foster of techUK

Credit: Steve Jurvetson/CC BY 2.0

Quantum technology will be hugely disruptive in the long-term to almost every industry that involves optimisation, simulation or machine learning. 

As such, now is the time for business leaders to engage with quantum across the corporate world and start preparing for the changes quantum will bring to their industries – otherwise, they could face being left behind.
 
One of the biggest challenges of commercialisation is the development of a suitable talent pipeline, and the UK is in fierce international competition to create the right environment for such skills to develop. This places intense pressure on both start-ups and scale-ups in the UK trying to attract quantum talent and consequently, ramping up the talent pipeline must happen immediately and rapidly. This will be difficult and will require the UK tech sector, the quantum industry, academia, and UK government to actively work together to prioritise quantum skills.
 
Of course, whilst the technical skills will be fundamental, business development skills will also be needed. By focusing only on the technical, we risk limiting engagement with end users understanding the commercial opportunity. Upskilling should work both ways and key interventions in training should also highlight the business skills needed for commercialisation.
techUK’s recent Quantum Commercialisation report suggested six key recommendations to grow the talent pipeline in the UK:
 
Government and industry should work together to open access so that PhDs are not the only route into a career in quantum  
Encourage the move to industry by funding industry placements making the move from academia to industry more attainable 
Digital skills for different technologies should not be viewed in isolation 
Support upskilling for a quantum-literate workforce 
Ensure the UK has access and remains attractive to large international talent
Enhancing visa flexibility for quantum talent and drive wider business skills and socio-ethical skills 
 
The ethical implications of quantum must also be considered. Indeed, it is key to envision what kind of world we want quantum computing to enable, and then think about how we get there.
 
For those working in quantum, it is not enough to just understand how the technology works. Instead, the talent pipeline needs to be sociotechnical to enable exploration of ethical issues during commercialisation. This is an area where the UK could be seen as a strategic leader, using the National Quantum Technologies Programme and the Quantum Strategy to do so, and building on the strong heritage of digital ethics that already exists in the UK.
 
Quantum will also not work in isolation and it is imperative to prepare businesses for the convergence of emerging and transformative technologies. 
 
Many areas where quantum will be effective will not be quantum-niche, but will be incorporated into existing use cases, such as drug discovery or process optimisation, as a way to enhance efficiency, sustainability, or in novel solutions to potential data security threats from quantum. They will require convergence with other technologies, particularly high-performance computing, cloud, and artificial intelligence, as part of a wider technology toolkit available for businesses. 
 
One way to develop convergence is to explore how emerging technologies can tackle key national challenges together. This frames quantum as a part of a wider technology toolkit available for businesses in the UK as a science and technology superpower. We are at serious risk of isolating technology supply chains, real world applications and talent pipelines if individual technologies are isolated and have competing strategies and goals. Thankfully, there will be the opportunity for the UK tech sector and government to work together on this, with the announcement of the terms of reference for the upcoming Future of Compute Review announced. 

 

About the author

Laura Foster is head of technology and innovation at techUK. The trade body's Quantum Commercialisation report can be read here.

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