Canada's academic hubs in quantum, Canada's quantum computing companies, Canada’s National Quantum Strategy, CATALYST project, delivering quantum technologies at scale, export controls on quantum technologies, government investment in quantum technologies, international collaboration on quantum technologies, linked quantum networks, managing intellectual property, NRC's Industrial Research Assistance Program, potential economic value of Canada's quantum sector, procurement in encouraging quantum technologies , protecting security and competitive advantage of like-minded nations, quantum as a dual-use technology , quantum computing and simulation, quantum entanglement and entanglement distribution , quantum error-corrected machine, quantum imaging, quantum in global positioning system, quantum information processing, quantum innovation, quantum properties , quantum sensing and health care, quantum sensing and imaging and civil infrastructure, quantum sensing and timing, quantum sensors, quantum universe, quantum-enabled communication, regulations and standards for quantum technologies, risks of quantum computer to encryption systems, semiconductors, shifting from quantum research to quantum technology commercialization, U. K. National Quantum Technologies Programme, U. K.'s industry-led challenge funds for quantum technology development, U.K. and Canada's photonic sectors, U.K.-Canada partnership on quantum technologies, U.K's quantum missions, UKRI Technology Missions Fund , UKRI’s Quantum Testbed Competition, using quantum to improve aircraft engine performance , and wearable and functional brain imaging technology

U.K.-Canada quantum partnership: protecting competitive advantage while enabling innovation

Mark Lowey
April 3, 2024

A United Kingdom-Canada partnership on quantum technologies is a model for other like-minded countries and will become increasingly important as bad actors seek to exploit such technologies, say quantum experts in both countries.

A large-scale quantum computer, for example, will be so powerful it will be able to essentially break all the encryption systems now used to protect computer networks and internet traffic. This would give criminals and hostile countries access to secret or highly sensitive financial, corporate, military and government information.

While protecting the competitive advantages and security of allies and like-minded nations is necessary, it’s also crucial not to impose restrictions that “strangle” quantum innovation, quantum experts said in a March 26 webinar sponsored by the British High Commission in Ottawa and presented by Research Money.

“Making sure that we have an ability to work with like-minded friends is really important,” said Sir Peter Knight, chair of the UK Quantum Technologies Programme strategy and advisory board, and emeritus professor at Imperial College London (photo at left).

“It’s going to be really easy to strangle quantum technology by putting in inappropriate regulations on ways you can move [quantum technologies] around,” he said.

The U.K., France and Spain have already implemented export controls on quantum computers and components, as well as software and technology for the development or production of quantum computing. The U.S is working on something similar

 “That kind of restriction at a too early stage, without the agile ability to put [user] licenses in, means that you’ll strangle the technology,” Knight said.

Allies and other like-minded countries have been cooperating on developing regulations and standards for quantum technologies, he noted. “But there’s a lot of work [to do] at the moment to ensure that we all line up together. Now we’ve got to work out how to work on trust.”

The U.K. and Canada signed a joint statement in February to cooperate and collaborate on quantum science and technologies.

The international partnership “is a good example to set for all the other countries that we want to join in, like-minded countries that have the same kind of objectives when we think about a dual-use technology [both civilian and military] like this,” said Dr. Stephanie Simmons, PhD, founder and chief quantum officer at Burnaby, B.C.-based Photonic Inc. and associate professor of physics at Simon Fraser University (photo at right).

“It really comes down to making sure we have mutual agreement and controls of these technologies as they come up, and thinking very carefully about who has access to the earliest [versions],” she said.

Simmons co-chairs the advisory council to Canada’s National Quantum Strategy with Dr. Raymond Laflamme, founding director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo.

If friendly countries don’t double down on collaboration, we could wind up with every country trying to develop quantum technologies on its own, Simmons said. That would be wasted work and a duplication of effort, but it would also put friends and allies at a competitive disadvantage, she said.

“Then it’s really a rich-get-richer approach and everybody else is in a have-not situation,” she said. “There is a lot of opportunity to set the right tone, especially during this transition period, and understanding that these relationships [like the U.K.-Canada partnership] make a lot of sense.”

Canada and the U.K. have been working together on quantum for about 20 years, Simmons noted. “So our ecosystems and strategies are similar.”

Knight said the two countries have a long history of scientific collaboration, well-established relationships – both researcher-to-researcher and organization-to-organization, and share common values.

“People have worked together in both countries. They know each other really well. They trust each other in the sense of values,” he said.

Similar quantum journeys for U.K. and Canada

Both countries have been on similar journeys in quantum. The U.K. has spent £1 billion on the first stage of its National Quantum Technologies Programme, a collaboration between industry, academia and government, in its 10th and final year. During its first phase, the program focused on: quantum-enabled communication; quantum sensing and timing; quantum computing and simulation; and quantum imaging.

 Knight said the U.K. government has committed a further £2.5 billion to extend the program for another 10 years.

U.K. universities are very strong in quantum science and research, he said. “But we wanted to look at how we could foster an entrepreneurial spirit to move that really great science into products of economic significance.”

Simmons said Canada has spent at least $1 billion on quantum science in the past 10 years, from 2012 to 2022. The federal government invested $360 million over seven years in the National Quantum Strategy, including creating an expert council to advise government.

Ottawa’s investment includes $138 million for research hubs, $70 million for regional economic industrial development, and $50 million for the National Research Council of Canada to accelerate development of quantum sensors.

“Fortunately Canada is in a really strong position. Not only did we get started on the research side really early but we got started on the commercialization side really early, too,” Simmons said. “So we have actually some major heavyweights on the industrial side as well as on the academic side.”

Canada has four major academic hubs in quantum, in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. On the industry side, Canada has more than 25 pioneering quantum computing companies, including: D-Wave, 1QBit, Agnostiq, InfinityQ, Photonic, QEYnet, and Xanadu, as well as firms developing other quantum technologies such as sensors.

Canada is home to the second-highest number of quantum SMEs globally, according to national industry association Quantum Industry Canada, which includes nearly 50 quantum technology and allied organizations.

In the U.K., the National Quantum Technologies Programme created industry-led challenge funds to encourage quantum technology development and co-investment by industry.

Research hubs, which coordinate the research work, now involve about 30 universities, collaborating with more than 120 companies and multiple government departments, Knight said.

“Quantum technology does not always equal quantum computing,” he noted. Other quantum-enabled technologies encompass sensing, timing, communication and other applications.

The U.K. program’s next phase is focused on ambitious “quantum missions” – high-risk, high-return projects to develop quantum technologies at scale. The five missions are:

  • Building a quantum error-corrected machine capable of generating outcomes of societal value. (Existing quantum systems don’t yet allow for reliable error correction).
  • Building linked quantum networks.
  • Developing quantum-enabled technologies for positioning, navigation and timing.
  • Exploring how quantum sensing will materially affect health care, in terms of diagnostics and treatment.
  • Looking at ways in which civil infrastructure is improved by quantum sensing and imaging.

Simmons said the main pillars in Canada’s National Quantum Strategy are in the quantum computing and quantum networking areas.

A lot of work is focused on how to use quantum entanglement to distribute and consume intelligently this “new physics that gives us new capabilities,” she said.

Simmons said the current phase of quantum development is working with small-scale quantum systems – exploring algorithms and applications not possible to do with classical physics techniques – but not yet producing useful tools and value for people.

We’re just entering Phase 2, she said, which will be developing some degree of error correction and fault tolerance in quantum computers and other devices.

Phase 3 will be ramping up quantum technologies at scale, to deliver useful tools that people want and which create value for them, Simmons said.

As a quantum society, she added, the trajectory will involve converging on a set of technologies and applications that matter, getting alignment to work on these, and ensuring they have user value. “It’s a shift away from the scientific flag waving, but I think that’s what’s going to lead to much more investment.”

Canada’s quantum sector could become a $139-billion industry by 2045, contributing up to three per cent of GDP and creating more than 200,000 jobs, according to the National Research Council of Canada.

Living in a quantum physics-enabled world

Webinar moderator Dr. Barry Sanders, PhD, scientific director at Quantum City hosted by the University of Calgary (photo at right), pointed out that as a quantum physicist, “I think the whole universe in quantum, therefore all technology is quantum.”

Technologies such as transistors, lasers, superconductors, magnetic resonance imaging all involve quantum physics in some way, Sanders said.

Simmons agreed that the laws of quantum physics have given rise to most modern technologies. “But what’s really different about what we hope to achieve with quantum technologies is the ability to leverage quantum information for its information-processing capabilities.”

With a quantum sensor, for example, “by making use of richer forms of information that do exist in nature, we could hope to simulate nature with a tool that’s fit for purpose,” she said. “Having trustworthy quantum information processing will allow us to do a whole number of things and way more than we’ve been able to articulate so far.”

Knight noted that the field of quantum mechanics started 100 years ago, and “has enabled the whole technological world we live in.”

Anyone who’s used GPS (global positioning system) has used a quantum-based tool that’s enabled by manipulating individual atoms in atomic clocks to put the atoms in a state of quantum superposition, he said.

The difference in next-generation quantum technologies development is being able to more fully exploit the quantum properties of superposition, coherence, quantum entanglement and entanglement distribution in a scaled-up way.

We’re commercializing essentially a branch of physics,” Simmons said. “Once we target specific applications and deliver that value, that is the first step in unleashing the first branch of quantum physics for commercial and societal value.”

For example, quantum technologies could potentially add up to $1.3 trillion in value to the automotive, chemicals, financial services and life science sectors by 2035, according to research by McKinsey. Quantum computing used in emissions-reductions technologies such as batteries, catalysts and carbon capture technology could help abate more than seven gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year, McKinsey said. 

 The most important thing to delivering customer value is being able to control quantum entanglement distribution to build a large-scale system, Simmons said. “Scale is key to unlocking this value,” through a networks approach.

(Quantum entanglement involves a group of particles interacting in such a way that the quantum state of each particle of the group can’t be described independently of the state of the other particles – including when they’re separated by a large distance).

As part of the U.K.-Canada quantum partnership, the two countries are looking at demonstrating quantum entanglement at scale across the Atlantic, by linking quantum processors in both countries.

Collaboration is underway on joint projects

As part of the two countries’ collaboration, physicists at the University of Nottingham developed wearable and functional brain imaging technology integrated with a cycling helmet, to improve diagnosis and treatment of juvenile epilepsy.

The prototype machine was tested at SickKids Hospital in Toronto. Three years after development started, the technology is already being used by brain surgeons, Knight said.

The National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) is investing $5.1 million, and Innovate UK is investing £4.2 million, in 11 joint projects to strengthen collaborative research and development through Canada-U.K. partnerships. This funding will help to develop real-world quantum technologies for commercial use in networking sensing, and scalable solutions to quantum computing, alongside developing the supply chain.

One example of the joint projects is a partnership between Toronto-based quantum computing company Xanadu, and, in the U.K., Riverlane (a firm working on making quantum computing useful), and Rolls Royce to look at ways in which software and algorithms can improve aircraft engines’ performance.

The project, called CATALYST, is supported by a £400,000 grant from Innovate UK, along with $500,000 from NRC-IRAP.

Another example is Burnaby, B.C.-based Photonic Inc.’s joint project with ICEoxford Ltd. in the U.K. to develop a cryogenic high-reliability platform for quantum computing.

Knight pointed out that all of the consortia involved in joint projects must determine how intellectual property will be managed and protected to be eligible for joint project funding.

Simmons said projects that have unsuitable mandatory IP arrangements can be just as destructive as inappropriate regulations or export restrictions. “If you have the wrong IP in a small startup that’s trying to secure additional investment, that can have giant red flags for any investors that go into it.”

The U.K. created the Regulatory Horizons Council, an independent expert committee that provides government with impartial advice on the regulatory reform required for rapid and safe technological innovation. The Council released a report in February on regulating quantum tech applications that proposes a pro-innovation regulatory framework.

Another thing the U.K. and Canada share is a strength in their photonics sectors, Knight said. This is going to be crucial for using semiconductors with light sources and integrated optics to manipulate photons, or individual particles of light (or qubits) in quantum systems.

“It’s not enough just to have a quantum strategy. You need to have a compelling semiconductor strategy at the same time, which links them together,” Knight said.

The U.K’s photonics sector, which includes some 1,600 companies, generates a bit more for the country’s GDP than the pharmaceutical industry, he said. “In other words, there’s an industry just waiting to run with this stuff and you can then exploit it. So it’s not a matter of persuasion, but of partnership.”

Knight said that focused procurement will be necessary to develop and deploy useful quantum technologies, especially of products and services produced by early-stage companies which helps them survive that financially precarious early stage of R&D.

In February, the UK Research and Innovation  (UKRI) Technology Missions Fund and the UK’s National Quantum Computing Centre announced £30 million, delivered by Innovate UK, for winners in the UKRI’s Quantum Testbed Competition. The seven winning companies’ projects will involve building a diverse range of quantum computing testbeds.

Scaling quantum technologies also will require very considerable capital over a longer period, Knight said. “If you want to see Canada and the U.K. survive in this space, we need patient investment.”

Simmons said procurement at this stage in quantum technologies is vital, “because it’s procuring the roadmap towards the big [commercial technology] that actually then has enough value that it will fund itself.”

The U.K.’s shift from quantum research on the supply side to a procurement-first mentality on the demand side, in driving toward commercial products, is something that Canada’s quantum ecosystem can learn from, she said. “There’s a shift that needs to happen when you move from research to development, where you’re actually trying to drive toward a specific outcome [commercialization].”

“We need to procure exactly what needs to be done to deliver on that, where it’s then a self-fulfilling flywheel that can then unleash good on the world. Let’s make that happen.”

Simmons said she’d like to see the U.K-Canada quantum partnership replicated across many like-minded countries. “We should have at some level an international quantum strategy.”

Both countries have already shown that quantum technology can provide transformative capabilities that people need, Knight said.

“One thing I’m absolutely sure about is that we haven’t yet thought of the really big applications, because they’re going to come as surprises,” he said.

“So watch this space. In 10 years, it will be something new and something different, building on the foundations we’ve made.”


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