How Should Governments Balance Quantum Supremacy and National Interest?

As governments try to foster the development of quantum technology, they will have to weigh whether they want to support companies within their own borders or to acquire the best tech available.

Written by Yuval Boger
Published on Apr. 29, 2024
How Should Governments Balance Quantum Supremacy and National Interest?
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
Brand Studio Logo

“Do you want the best French quantum technology, or do you want the best quantum technology for France?”

A few months ago, I posed this question to Neil Abroug, head of the French national quantum program. 

Answering this question presents an interesting strategic dilemma for countries as they seek to foster their own quantum economies: Should they prioritize national champions or the best global solutions? Although this question is particularly pertinent for France, a country with a strong tradition of national pride in its technological advancements, the debate touches on broader themes of nationalism versus globalism in technology development and how nations can balance these approaches to harness the full potential of quantum innovations.

Hybrid National Quantum Development Programs Explained

The U.K. quantum program exemplifies a hybrid approach where international collaborations bolster national capabilities. A recent open competition to deliver quantum testbeds for this program was open to companies around the world, though the bid required that at least 50 percent of the innovation happen inside the UK. This approach attracts the best tech to a nation then fosters its development within its borders.

More From Yuval BogerWhy the QPU Is the Next GPU

 

The Rise of National Quantum Programs

Quantum technology, once a speculative scientific field, has burgeoned into a critical area of national interest. Quantum computing, communications, and sensors promise revolutionary changes across sectors such as cybersecurity, healthcare, and finance. Recognizing the potential, countries like the U.S., China, and several European nations, including France, have launched ambitious national quantum initiatives. According to the McKinsey Quantum Technology Monitor from April 2024, the top six countries investing in quantum computing are China ($15.3B), Germany ($5.2B), the U.K. ($4.3B), the U.S. ($3.8B), South Korea ($2.4B), and France ($2.2B).

These programs aim to foster local ecosystems that drive innovation, economic growth and job creation. How do you pick the winners, or do you need to pick the winners at all? Perhaps the goal should be to support the development of a broad range of options. 

For example, there are many different ways to build quantum computers and the qubits (quantum bits) that make them. Some vendors use superconducting qubits, others neutral atoms, trapped ions, photons, silicon qubits, and more. Understanding that the field is in its infancy and no single quantum modality has yet proven superior, the French approach has been to support one company from each modality. This strategic diversity is essential for nurturing a robust quantum industry that can adapt as the technology evolves.

 

National Pride or Global Excellence?

The heart of the dilemma lies in choosing between supporting homegrown quantum technologies or adopting the best solutions available worldwide, regardless of their origin. For instance, six companies currently use the neutral atom modality: one French, three American, one German, and a new Japanese one. Even if one believes, as I do, that neutral atoms are a very promising modality, one would need to choose the best fit based on scientific and commercial achievements, not just nationality. The same is also true for other modalities. Could one say that a French superconducting company is always better than one based in Finland or Germany or the U.S.? Probably not.

The French government has chosen five French companies — one in each modality — and is supporting them in significant ways. For instance, just last month, it allocated € 500 million to purchase quantum computers from these companies, even though some of their products exist only on the drawing board. Of course, the French aren’t the only ones trying to support local companies. The U.S. is typically much more open to collaboration, but several government programs certainly discourage non-American companies.

Will this “central planning economy” work, or is it better to let the free market decide which is the best company for France or any other country? Many countries consider quantum computing a strategic technology not just because of its potential economic impact, but also because of national security reasons, such as the ability to potentially crack the encryption of an adversary. Countries might also be worried about future export restrictions that would prevent them from accessing the latest quantum technologies, and an in-country vendor could help address these concerns.

More on Quantum ComputingWill We See a Quantum Computing Revolution?

 

Global Collaborations: The Key to Quantum Supremacy?

Looking beyond national borders, the global quantum landscape is rich with innovation. Collaborations and partnerships across countries are proving vital for accelerating development. For instance, the U.K. quantum program exemplifies a hybrid approach where international collaborations bolster national capabilities. A recent open competition to deliver quantum testbeds for this program was open to companies around the world, though the bid required that at least 50 percent of the innovation happen inside the UK. 

This balanced approach recognized that the best technology may not always exist in-country but encourages any global supplier to open local offices, collaborate with existing companies, and make long-term commitments to operating in the U.K. This model allows the U.K. to attract global expertise while nurturing its domestic industry, a strategy that could serve as a blueprint for France and elsewhere.

The key advantage of a global approach lies in the integration of diverse technologies and expertise, which can lead to more rapid and robust advancements than isolated national efforts. 

In conclusion, while the allure of national champions is strong, particularly in a country like France with its rich scientific history, the practical path to quantum supremacy may well lie through global collaboration and technological integration. The French program and similar ones stand at a crossroads, and the decisions they make in the coming years will likely determine their place in the quantum era. By strategically blending national pride with global excellence, France can aspire not only to compete on the world stage but to lead it in quantum technology.

What did Mr. Abroug reply to the question I asked? He said he is interested in the best technology for France. Time will tell whether he meant it.

Hiring Now
Restaurant365
Cloud • Fintech • HR Tech • Information Technology • Software • Business Intelligence
SHARE