Quantum has been highlighted as a key disruptive and emerging technology both in the Integrated review and the Defence and Industrial Strategy. For good reason, quantum technology promises to revolutionise many different sectors – from drug discovery, process optimisation, to sustainability and better AI. The UK is one of many countries that recognises this and has pledged £1 billion in the Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP), a 10-year programme to build a hub for international collaboration, resources and access for business. The US’s National Quantum Initiative Act funnels $1.2 billion towards quantum research. France, Germany, China and Russia are all countries that are investing billions into quantum – all this seems well, but what does quantum technologies even mean, how do they work, and why will they be revolutionary?

Quantum technology is a class of technology that works using the properties of quantum mechanics, especially quantum entanglement, quantum superposition and quantum tunnelling. A whole plethora of different technologies can be created from this, but the main headlines are around communications, computing and sensors.

Quantum computing can have many uses in different industries, but the most worrying for governments, and a large reason why extensive research is being conducted, is the ability for a quantum computer to carry out Shor’s algorithm. Shor’s algorithm can be used to factorize large numbers, which is an important process for secure communications. Therefore, the current modern-day standards for encrypted connection (RSA, AES etc) can be broken.

Quantum communication can combat this by using methods like quantum key distribution (QKD), where information is transmitted using entangled light, if an outside observer views the information, the state will change, and it’ll be obvious to the user. This can lead to quantum secure communication where information transfer can be ‘quantum resistant’. This being said, nations have already started to collect valuable communications from adversaries, in the hope of one day decrypting them using a quantum computer.

Although the security implications are one of the main reason governments are investing, companies like Google, Honeywell, IBM, Microsoft are trying to build a quantum computer that has ‘quantum supremacy’. A term used to imply that the quantum computer is more powerful than the best conventional supercomputers today – Google claims to have already achieved ‘quantum supremacy’ with its latest quantum computer. These companies see the value this could bring, not only being reputable, but also being a potential source of income (procurements, business uses etc).

The gap between conventional computers and quantum computers is likely to narrow in the coming decades. Using a quantum cloud service, where business can have access to quantum power might be an initial route, this is because a quantum computer operates close to absolute zero, unless this operational temperature can change to room temperature (or close) this is the most likely path.

At that point, quantum can be used to help solve complex real-world problems: faster drug development, bidding and trading strategies, identifying new materials, scheduling and routing etc. There are many challenges and issues that arise with the use of quantum technology, but there are also many solutions to those problems, quantum will affect many different markets is many ways in the coming decades, what a time to be alive!