by Ulrich Mans and Wouter Roelofs
Innovation Attaché Network
@UliMans and @RoelofsW

2019 will be an exciting year.

The quantum computer might still be a thing of the future, but there is little doubt that the quantum age is no longer an abstract scientific endeavor. First applications include optimization software and molecular simulations for research-intensive chemical industries. Quantum technology is also expected to deliver significant breakthroughs in terms of secure communication, satellite positioning systems, and encryption standards in the near future.

The US wants to stay ahead of the game, and the race is on. A growing number of research centers and companies across the US are increasing their investments in this field, and the US-based tech giants are leading the way.

This is good news for the Netherlands. Quantum experts in the US would tell you that the Netherlands has some of the most advanced quantum research centers. For Microsoft and Intel, the Netherlands already is the country of choice for major R&D investments in this new technology.  On February 21, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands will open the new Microsoft quantum lab in Delft.

State Secretary Mona Keijzer met Jim Clarke, Intel’s Director of Quantum Hardware in Silicon Valley.

Others are interested in Dutch expertise, too. It is therefore no surprise that last month, three universities (TU Delft, University of Amsterdam and TU Eindhoven) joined forces to present the Dutch quantum ecosystem at the Q2B conference in Mountain View, California.

Even though the conference was just in its second edition, it was one of the major venues for quantum experts from academia, private sector, and government to come together and discuss the latest trends. In early January, State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate Mona Keijzer also met with Intel’s leadership in Silicon Valley to discuss their quantum activities in the Netherlands.

A quantum strategy

This all comes three months after the White House published its quantum strategy. With a “Science First” approach, the United States’ new federal strategic plan aims to consolidate American leadership in this field.

On December 21, 2018, President Trump gave an important push for quantum science by signing the National Quantum Initiative Act. This bipartisan initiative foresees the creation of a National Coordination Office, and a new subcommittee on quantum information science. An additional national advisory committee is tasked with monitor overall progress.

The National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology are tasked with coordinating national and international activities, developing educational programs, and establishing up to 10 dedicated research centers with up to $25 million each annually.

Whereas no additional money is allocated for these activities (existing budgets have to be used), it is a powerful example of America’s innovation policy. Technology leadership, in areas like quantum, is a clear priority for this administration.

With quantum research at an important juncture, the National Quantum Initiative Act is timed well. While fundamental questions about the technology will remain unresolved for some time, 2019 will be a year when investors make important decisions about their road maps for commercial applications.

Across the globe, we see a growing number of research centers, private sector initiatives, and government-backed quantum efforts (see map below). Many of these investments are geared toward the so-called NISQ technologies (or noisy intermediate-scale quantum), a road map that depends on relatively “unstable” qubits. In the medium term however, most researchers agree that there is a lot of work to be done on the fundamentals of quantum technology. We need more stable qubits for this technology to become mainstream.

Map of quantum organizations worldwide, based on (December 2018).

A growing quantum ecosystem

There are many opportunities for the Netherlands and its growing quantum ecosystem.

Dutch research clusters (QuTech, Qusoft, QT/e) are investing in road maps and have a wide range of options as research efforts continue. This includes more groundbreaking work on so-called topological qubits, which promise to be the best bet for, ultimately, building a workable quantum computer based on stable qubits. This method is less reliant on error correction, and will eventually improve on today’s NISQ technologies. As the quantum R&D agenda continues to evolve, all Dutch partners are jointly pursuing strategic partnerships with US and Canadian partners.

We also see opportunities for US organizations who seek partnerships in the wider quantum landscape, for example, in Europe. Major breakthroughs will not unfold in isolation, and international collaboration with strategic allies is a stated priority for the White House.

As quantum-related expertise develops in different places, quantum clusters across the US (such as Santa Barbara, Berkeley, Seattle, Chicago, and the Capital region) are well-advised to turn to the Netherlands for leading quantum research infrastructure, research collaboration, and top talent.

2019 will be an exciting year.

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