Jeremy Hunt will use this week’s Autumn Statement to unveil quantum computing “moonshots” in a bid to ensure leadership of what is seen as a nationally critical technology.
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The Chancellor is expected to outline a series of projects worth hundreds of millions of pounds, including proposals to build a national quantum supercomputer within a decade.
Quantum computers, which exploit the peculiar properties of quantum physics, promise tremendous breakthroughs in engineering and science. The technology is nascent but evolving quickly: Google has already developed a machine that can instantly make calculations that would take existing supercomputers 47 years.
The technology creates major security risks because of their potential to break encryption systems used by armed forces and banks. Developing quantum capabilities is seen as a national security priority.
Other potential projects Mr Hunt is expected to announce include investment in areas such as quantum clocks, sensors, imaging and financial trading systems.
Officials have been discussing allocating funds in the region of £200m to £300m for the plans, drawn from £2.5bn pledged as part of a 10-year UK quantum computing roadmap published earlier this year.
A source close to the plans described them as “tangible, specific and exciting moonshots” that scientists and industry could work towards in the coming years.
The centrepiece is likely to be a programme to build a large-scale, functional quantum computer, run by the National Quantum Computing Centre near Oxford.
The Government set out a 10-year quantum strategy earlier this year that pledged to “ensure the UK is home to world-leading quantum science and engineering”.
Among the technology’s potentials are drug discoveries, better climate change modelling and chemical compounds that could lead to better batteries and new types of materials.
Britain is seen as a leader in research, with the Government having heavily backed development since 2014. Last year, the Ministry of Defence placed an order for the Government’s first quantum computer.
Steve Brierley, the chief executive of quantum computing company Riverlane, said the support had made Britain “a first mover globally, created a thriving UK ecosystem, a successful co-investment model and an early lead in several key technologies”.
Chinese researchers have also made rapid progress in developing quantum computers that can outperform conventional supercomputers in some tasks, amid a global race to master the technology.
Meanwhile, the Treasury has reportedly been sounding out investors about creating a sovereign wealth fund to invest in national priorities such as infrastructure.
Officials have been discussing the idea with City experts, according to the Mail on Sunday. Treasury sources said there were no immediate plans for a scheme.