Professor Tommaso Calarco, co-ordinator of the Quantum Flagship’s Quantum Co-ordination and Support Action (QSA), explains why it is important for Europe to have such an initiative and what he hopes the coming years will contain, including the Quantum Web.
The Second Quantum Revolution is beginning as the enormous advancements in abilities to detect and manipulate single quantum objects is exploited. The Quantum Flagship is driving this revolution in Europe; with a €1bn budget funded by the European Commission it will support large-scale and long-term projects to commercialise their quantum physics research and the Quantum Web.
The Flagship consists of a coherent set of research and innovation projects selected through a thorough peer-review process. Calls for projects are issued based on the Flagship’s Strategic Research Agenda, thus ensuring that all actors are aligned in the pursuit of the Flagship’s goals.
The goal is to consolidate and expand European scientific leadership and excellence in this research area, to kick-start a competitive European industry in quantum technologies and to make Europe a dynamic and attractive region for innovative research, business and investments in this field. The overall ambition for the Flagship is achieving a Quantum Web for Europe.
Why is it important for Europe to play a leading role in the commercialisation of quantum physics research? Is the Flagship enough to ensure we can compete on the global stage in this field?
It is important for Europe to play a leading role in quantum physics research, but it is also important for Europe to play much more of a role in the commercialisation of the products and services that will emerge. Quantum physics and technologies are being developed in Europe, and we need to ensure that we are capitalising on that by bringing them to market, thereby ensuring that the wealth creation stemming from these developments stays within Europe.
Unfortunately, this is something that has not been achieved in the past, and that is not only true for quantum technologies. For instance, the World Wide Web was, of course, invented at CERN in Geneva. And yet it came to fruition, and the wealth creation was generated, elsewhere (namely the USA).
We want this to change; we want to ensure that the ideas that emerge in Europe are also exploited and commercialised here. There are, of course, challenges which must be overcome for this to be achieved. For example, while in the USA the huge profit margins resulting from the Internet revolution abound, this is not the case in Europe. This means that many European companies have significantly smaller profit margins which prevents them from investing in more high risk endeavours. We therefore need new investment, and we need the public’s help to support this and to ensure that there is sufficient motivation to develop this vision.
The Flagship, however, is not enough. It is not a matter of just wanting more money; the point is that we need a much broader involvement of industry in Europe, and we need the involvement of our scientists and engineers to develop key understandings about these technologies. The Flagship helps to bring these sectors together. If science and industry were to continue to follow diverse paths then there is a very real chance that the opportunities offered by the second quantum revolution would be missed. Co-operation is crucial, and the Flagship offers a platform for this fruitful interaction and exchange.
Of course, we also need many more initiatives of this type in Europe, as well as more investment – not only from industry but also at the level of national initiatives which are required to support this. And this is starting to happen. In Germany, for instance, a €650m initiative from the German government has recently been announced in support of quantum technology.
We are also seeing activities emerge in other, smaller countries which perhaps don’t traditionally have a significant budget for R&D, such as Hungary, for instance, and these are all elements which contribute to the whole picture, and we need to further bring all of these ingredients together, and the 10 year Flagship can help to stimulate much more of that.
The first three-year phase of the Quantum Flagship, the ramp-up phase, will run from October 2018 until September 2021. What will this entail?
Several approaches to quantum technologies are being taken, and many of these are evident in the 20 projects that will be funded in the Flagship. They will be chosen for their abilities to move from the laboratory to industry, while we are also ensuring that other fundamental aspects are also being supported so that the basic science continues to emerge and new ideas keep being developed.
We recently held the first meeting of the science and engineering board, which is comprised of the co-ordinators from the different projects. This is important as it fosters interaction between them, meaning that they move forwards as a community and come together as a Flagship initiative.
What is the role of the Quantum Support Action (QSA)? Where do you anticipate your biggest challenges will lie once the Flagship begins to evolve?
The role is to provide something of a secretariat to make sure that the infrastructure for co-ordination and exchange of information can take place. One of the biggest challenges here will perhaps concern intellectual property (IP). That is, how it is going to be developed, how it is going to be approved, and how this information is shared and exchanged. We need to understand how to organise this across the different projects in an orderly way.
Another challenge is how to approach and handle international co-operation. There will be numerous possibilities for co-operating with extra-European institutions, companies, and governments which are investing in this area. This is something we started to discuss at the science and engineering board meeting and with the community more generally.
These are questions for which we do not yet have fully-fledged answers, but I am confident that they will be addresses, and there certainly isn’t any reason why the Flagship and the approach we are taking won’t work. Though we do need a lot of commitment, and we need to find ways which have not yet been identified; we have to think fresh and in new directions.
Will you be looking towards the Graphene Flagship for ideas of how they have achieved this so far?
Yes, we will. Although we have an additional challenge because while the Graphene Flagship is one single project, and has been so since its inception, we are starting out with a collection of different projects which, from a legal point of view, are separate from each other and we have to ensure that they work together.
What will happen to the QSA once the ramp-up phase has been completed?
The QSA will be discontinued and a new project QFLAG, will take its place. This has been approved, and I will continue in my role as chairman of the Quantum Community Network, one of the Flagship’s governance bodies. We are already working hand-in-hand with the new co-ordination action to ensure that there is a smooth transition, and we believe that this, as well as with everything else of this nature within the Flagship, must be done in a peer reviewed way; this is the healthiest model to ensure that there is a real commitment and that no one takes things for granted.
We are all working to serve the same community, and we have the same vision and strategy, but the leadership is always staffed by different people, and this rotation is important to ensure that it is not a power structure but, rather, a community service. There is no central person and no central project which is the face of the Flagship; it has many faces, and this is something we have treasured since the beginning. Indeed, it is perhaps not too much to say that this is our biggest achievement.
Post 2021, where will the Flagship head next?
I would imagine that we will continue to grow in each of the application areas (Quantum Communication (QComm), Quantum Computing (QComp), Quantum Simulation (QSim), Quantum Metrology and Sensing (QMS), and Basic Science (BSci)). I do not anticipate that we will need to change things dramatically.
Moving forwards, we will begin to produce prototypes of quantum technologies and, perhaps in some more mature areas, prototypes, for example in the field of quantum communications as we work to bring that closer to the market.
After 2021, the next Framework programme, Horizon Europe, will be integral in helping to develop a European Quantum Secure Network, which can be deployed to the benefit of citizens.
The Flagship will continue to carry out the necessary research and technology transfer activities, and from that new applications and new deployments will begin to emerge.
The overall ambition of the Flagship is a ‘Quantum Web’. What role will this play in Europe’s future?
A Quantum Web will play many different roles. First and foremost, a Quantum Web will have a huge impact in terms of the available computing power. Furthermore, developments in quantum-enhanced artificial intelligence (AI), which will have the ability to solve problems we can’t solve today (especially in areas such as the optimisation of systems involved in, for instance, traffic management, logistics, applications concerning learning in neural networks, and so on) will be quite profound. The Quantum Web will enable the evolution of intelligent systems for everyday life, as well as in areas such as the healthcare sector, where AI can assist medical doctors in better understanding illnesses, making better diagnoses, and finding the best therapy.
At the same time, the Quantum Web will also enable specific applications such as those in quantum simulation to be developed, which will provide the ability to develop new materials and new chemicals. With applications expected in numerous sectors, from fertilisers to, in the long term, applications such as superconductors to transport energy without losses, it will also aid society in terms of connecting R&D organisations in order to further develop these areas.
Of course, in the field of quantum communication, being well connected by quantum channels will ensure the security, protection and privacy of citizens’ personalised data. And this will not only be until the next encryption system is invented, but permanently, because this is the inherent in quantum communications cryptography.
As a tool to develop such products, the Quantum Web will thus significantly benefit society in a very general sense; it will impact many aspects of current life in terms of much-enhanced computing power and security. The Quantum Web will also enhance diagnosing capabilities due to quantum sensing, while quantum metrology has the potential to develop worldwide standards which will be fundamental to more precise GPS navigation, which has the potential to enable the future of autonomous vehicles, for example.
Professor Tommaso Calarco
University of Cologne and Forschungszentrum Jülich
Quantum Co-ordination and Support Action (QSA)