Quantum science is slowly moving from the laboratories to the mainstream, which could award us with ultra-fast computers and ultra-secure encryption in the future. Germany in particular is putting in efforts to catch up with the US, China and other leading countries by investing €2 billion in the field, which supplements the EU’s plans for €1 billion in investment until 2028. Also, 19 EU countries have agreed to develop a joint quantum communication infrastructure across Europe.
The main difference between conventional computers’ units of information, bits, and their quantum counterparts, qubits, is that qubits can be 1 and 0 at the same time. This allows for conducting multiple calculations in parallel, and in some experiments quantum computers have been able to solve mathematical problems in only a few minutes that would have taken conventional computers days or even years. Japan, the US and China have already been investing heavily in quantum technology and filed a large number of patents; now the EU is seeking to catch up in this process.
However, there are still several hurdles before quantum computing will be ready for the market – for example, right now qubits can only work in temperatures near absolute zero. But resources are often lacking for researchers to build bigger and more stabilised quantum systems. Governments in many European countries are now seeking to improve those resources. The UK has earmarked £1 billion for its National Quantum Technology programme. Finland’s state technology research centre VTT announced a €20-25 million plan to build the country’s first five-qubit quantum computer. In the Netherlands, Microsoft opened a quantum laboratory at the Delft University of Technology last year. France has announced the creation of a taskforce to implement a national quantum plan, with Germany as a potential partner to develop quantum technology at a European scale.
Germany continues to stand out as Europe’s greatest advocate for quantum computing, and recently announced that €2 billion of the country’s COVID-19 recovery fund will be spent on quantum technology research, aiming to build an experimental quantum computer by 2021. Having experienced takeovers of several technology companies by Chinese firms in the last years, Germany is now pushing for more technological sovereignty even on a European level – one of the main agendas in the country’s current presidency of the EU Council. The German government believes that innovation in areas such as quantum computing lays the foundations for achieving such technological sovereignty. However, in order to attain this goal, other problems will also need to be fixed, such as the fact that quantum technology’s potential is still not widely known, which inhibits progress in the field. Furthermore, it is still not clear yet which technologies will actually win the race in the end, so countries will need to invest in different technologies at the same time instead of concentrating too much on only one.