Quantum technology is the umbrella term for technology utilizing quantum mechanics. The first quantum revolution began in the 1950s and resulted in technologies such as transistors and magnetic resonance imaging used in today’s smart phones and computers. We are currently at the onset of the second quantum revolution, opening up new possibilities including quantum computing, quantum sensing and quantum communication, which is projected to disrupt the world as we know it.
Quantum computing has the ability to solve problems that classical computers are incapable of today. A classical computer uses bits to perform its operations. A quantum computer uses qubits (CUE-bits) to run multidimensional quantum algorithms. Unlike a normal bit, which can be 0 or 1, a qubit can be either of those, or a superposition of both 0 and 1. Quantum computers can in theory handle every type of computational problem and will be superior to the classical computers if the problem at hand is very complex or requires processing of large amounts of data.
For instance, quantum computing can enable quick and precise simulation of chemical reactions. As such, it has the potential to speed up the discovery of new drugs, develop more sustainable materials, and bring down the energy consumption when producing fertilizers, which today accounts for 2-3 % of the global CO2 consumptions.
Today, the first basic quantum computers are operational. However, external factors such as noise, temperature change, an electrical fluctuation or vibration can affect the qubits and the error rate of the quantum computers. One way to stabilize the qubits is to operate in a –273°C environment. Thus, quantum computers are still in the early stages, and the consensus is that we have yet to mature the technology before we will see reliable large-scale error-tolerant use.
Quantum development and commercialization is already underway, and increasing investments and intensive collaboration among government, private enterprises and academic institutions are already showing significant results. The implications of this new technology are profound for all sectors, and both governments and industry recognize that quantum computing is no longer a theoretical, lab-based technology, but one, which can provide business value.
Revolutionary and transformative technologies like second-generation quantum technology hold a significant commercial potential. Every day, we use smartphones, laptops, internet, it-enabled banking services etc., but we do not think of them as applications enabled by the first quantum revolution. The second quantum revolution holds equal or perhaps even greater potential for societal transformation across sectors from pharma to energy. For instance, Samsung launched a smartphone in 2020 in which they applied second-generation quantum technology.
One implication area of Quantum technology that has been highly debated on a governmental level, especially in the US, is national security. The US and other governments currently rely on mathematically-based two-key encryption. These codes are almost impossible to break with classical computers, but quantum computers will be able to break them quickly, due to their factoring speed and ability to rapidly search through unsorted data. This puts the nation’s most critical secrets, and in fact all digital infrastructures, at risk. This has far reaching implications not only for data protection, but also for military operations, which are key drivers behind the US government’s increased investments into Quantum R&D, which has grown by >50% since 2019. The only way to get ahead of the threat to security is by leveraging the same powerful quantum technology to develop new cybersecurity solutions.
From a policy perspective, we see more governments announce national quantum strategies and legislation. In 2018, the US government adopted the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQI Act). The US NQI Act is an example of a whole government approach towards quantum research involving 23 federal agencies and 13 national laboratories. Since 2019, the US has issued joint statements on quantum collaboration with Japan, United Kingdom, Finland and Sweden. Latest, in June 2022, the US and the Danish government signed a joint statement on quantum collaboration, committing to support quantum research by hosting research workshops and seminars. Finally, many governments also invest heavily in quantum technologies to establish quantum leadership. The US and China have both announced future planned investments of more than USD 1B in quantum technology.
From a corporate perspective, the big tech companies are working on developing the next quantum computer. IBM, Google, and Honeywell are currently offering the quantum computers with the highest processing power. However, the big tech companies’ forecasts on, when a quantum computer will be available to the public varies a lot. For instance, IBM has stated that they will be able to offer commercial quantum machines to businesses within a year, while Google has announced that they will be able to produce a viable quantum computer before 2029.
From an academic perspective, the US is a global leader in quantum research, especially in quantum computing. For instance, scholars from US institutions have published 7,319 scientific articles in total on quantum computing between 2011 and 2020. Globally, over the same period, 28,388 quantum computing articles were published, indicating that a US affiliated author was listed on approximately 26 % of all quantum computing articles. Massachusetts and California are both academic hubs for quantum research with MIT, Harvard and UC Berkeley as top contributors. Danish quantum research is also considered world-class and internationally recognized, with the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen as a frontrunner. In April 2022, NATO announced that the Niels Bohr Institute will host the new NATO Center for Quantum Technologies. Also, Denmark is leading when it comes to the number of graduates enrolled in quantum-relevant studies.
From an entrepreneurial perspective, we see more start-ups working on quantum technology. The highest funded start-ups are located in the US, Canada, UK and Finland, and they are primarily working on quantum hardware. Highlighted global quantum technology start-ups are PsiQuantum (US), Cambridge Quantum (UK) and IONQ (US). For instance, PsiQuantum is working to build a future quantum computer using silicon photonic technology. In July 2021, Microsoft invested USD 450M in PsiQuantum, making it the most well-funded quantum start-up in the world.
From an investment perspective, corporates and venture capitalists are slowly directing investments into quantum. The quantum market is predicted to grow with a CAGR of +43% from USD260 million in 2020 to USD 9B in 2030. Big Tech companies including Google, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM have all made investments into quantum start-ups. US and European based Venture Capitalists are also investing into quantum technology start-ups. French-based Quantonation is the first Venture Capitalist fund dedicated to only investing in quantum technology.
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