Finding the Nordic quantum advantage

Once a domain of the most hardened physicists and mathematicians, Quantum Computing is starting to enter the mainstream with many companies experimenting with real-life applications.

A study published by IQM and Atos found that 76% of HPC data centers worldwide plan to use quantum computing by 2023 already. Due to their strong tradition in researching and adopting modern technologies, the Nordic countries are already looking to maximize this opportunity, with programs already in full swing across the countries. However, with the global superpowers and Big Tech having much deeper pockets for the necessary investments, the Nordics must find a new relative advantage in the Quantum era.

Although the Nordics remain active members in the EU Quantum Technologies Flagship program, it is vital that they also form a separate coalition to develop their own Quantum technology within a unique area. One area of quantum research, where the Nordics could have a natural advantage, is in sustainability, and many of the Quantum Computing experts I have spoken with on this subject have agreed that this makes strong commercial and political sense for the Nordics.

The Nordic countries are traditionally environmentally focused, understanding that their pure and unspoiled natural environments provide a global competitive advantage and are a positive differentiator. In many respects, these countries are already quite advanced in their approaches to tackling climate change, pollution and other environmental issues being front-runners in areas such as renewable energy. They also enjoy widespread public support for sustainability initiatives, which should improve the chances of gaining access to public funding. For industry, this would make sense as an area of competitive advantage as they are already producers of sustainability-improving products such as wind turbines, batteries and novel materials, all of which can benefit from new research findings that only Quantum Computing may provide.

Talk of building a strong Nordic Quantum ecosystem is already firmly underway. This coalition must be formed of public sector organizations, academics and researchers, as well as industry representatives. The different parties should come together to define the leading theme for their research and product development. Beginning with sustainability sounds like a natural and even an obvious choice, but of course fast advances in some of the technologies can bring new ideas into the mix. Industry involvement is essential to focus efforts to commercially relevant solutions, so that Quantum Computing starts producing business value. A good example of this is the 12-year WACQT (Wallenberg Centre for Quantum Technology) project funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation in Sweden, a long-term commitment.

Consensus between Nordic countries on direction may prove tricky. Both hardware and software initiatives are in swing across the region. Sweden and Finland are developing their own machines, such as Finland’s first Quantum Computer delivered by IQM in collaboration with CSC and Atos, aiming for 54 qubits. Sweden (Wallenberg Centre for Quantum Technology) is currently testing a five-qubit QPU and will expand to twenty qubits by the end of 2021. Danish researchers have produced advanced Photonics and Quantum Sensing devices. In quantum algorithmic side, Norway and Sweden seem to be investing the most. Chemistry, material science, financial services, marine sector, transportation, and energy production optimization were most often mentioned as promising areas for real-life applications.

Focusing efforts on Quantum into a subject that sits very naturally within the Nordics culture and ideals, may be the way to generate a self-sustaining idea with public support and consensus behind it. This will bring together the ecosystem that will possess the Nordic Quantum advantage.

“To realize the potential of near-term quantum computers for innovation in industry it’s time to fill the gap between theory and practice. Looking into real-world use cases combined with in depth-knowledge of hardware-adapted algorithm design will be key to achieving this. Collaboration within the Nordics, particularly by building HPC-Q systems will be vital for gaining an advantage in the field.”

Franz Fuchs,
Research Scientist, SINTEF

“Superconducting technology has a long tradition of cooperation between Finland and Sweden, and it has been strengthened within the field of quantum information science and technology. The efforts toward boosting High Performance Computers with quantum accelerators has broadened the opportunities for a wider Nordic collaboration by including computer science and software development. In addition to collaborations within the EU Quantum Flagship, it is essential to form a strong Nordic HPC-Q ecosystem.”

Professor Göran Wendin,
Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg

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