There is a strong hope (and hype) that Quantum Computers will help Machine Learning in many ways. Research in Quantum Machine Learning (QML) is a very active domain, and many small and noisy quantum computers are now available. Different approaches exist, for both long term and short term. Jonas Landman is a top practitioner in this emerging field, he is ideally positioned to share with us what are their respective advantages and limitations, both in theory and in practice. After a View on Quantum radars, check our second post in our “Perspectives” series, on the science and reality of QML
France has pledged to spend €1.8bn on quantum technologies over the next five years to put the country at the top of the field. In an interview with Sifted Christophe Jurczak, founder and CEO of quantum VC Quantonation, said money should be enough (for now), and that French startups like Pasqal have a real chance of delivering a “quantum advantage” for Europe.
1. What are the main features of the new French quantum strategy — and will it be effective?
President Macron announced plans to spend €1.8bn on quantum tech by 2025 in order to make France one of the top countries in the field. More than €1bn will come from the country’s budget and the rest is expected to be provided through EU programmes, by corporates and by public and private investors.
What’s really spectacular is that the president himself took a half-day to go to the University of Saclay to visit a lab, meet with researchers and people from the ecosystem. His talk was dedicated to the quantum plan, which came across as a clear priority within France’s post-Covid-19 recovery strategy.
At the same time, the government released a document which gives some idea as to how money will be allocated between the principal areas (computing, sensing, communications, post quantum cryptography, training, basic research) — and through which mechanisms.
While the document could have emphasised funding ecosystems and fostering international collaboration, overall I found it was well balanced and a good blueprint for an effective strategy.
Before this announcement there was a lot of confusion surrounding quantum computing.
When I started evangelising about the topic back in 2015 while living in the US, I felt sometimes that people thought quantum computing was a scam and nothing could happen until we had a fully corrected qubit at scale. Now the strategy clearly makes the distinction between short-medium term platforms, acknowledging prospects for focused applications, and long term universal quantum computing. And that’s very welcome.
2. Is €1.8bn enough money to do what is needed?
It is hard to be precise, but this new plan triples the public budget for quantum computing. I think it’s enough for this stage of evolution of the industry.
There are clear use cases already for quantum sensing, but for quantum computing we haven’t yet reached the point when it has a clear advantage over classical computers. The demonstrations that have been made so far are very important of course, but their value is mostly scientific.
Once we reach quantum advantage, the industry will grow very fast and then we’ll need more financial resources to scale, for example to fund the growth of startups and build new quantum-safe communication infrastructures. When will that happen is a big question, but I’d say within two to three years we’ll have much more visibility and the strategy will need to be updated.
Money is not all that, of course. Talent will be key. Attracting and keeping the best will be critical and I think that’s something the governments are acutely aware of now. The French government feels very strongly that the country is suffering from a brain drain in the field of AI, and they don’t want that to happen with quantum while there is more time to prepare.
I had the chance to speak with President Macron to introduce the quantum computing startup Pasqal and its chief executive Georges-Olivier Reymond. I was very happy to see that the president knew about our fund — Quantonation — the first VC fund dedicated to quantum tech, with a global footprint, and we are prominently featured in the strategy. Very humbly, I think we helped trigger the emergence of fantastic startups in France, together with BPI France and the many remarkable measures in support of the deep tech ecosystem. What the quantum strategy brings is a thematic focus, and that’s of course very positive and a very strong signal in support of the emergence of a French quantum industry.
This will have to be complemented by other ‘ecosystem building’ activities. That’s something that I feel is missing right now in the strategy.
3. How does this plan fit with other European countries’ quantum strategies?
This ambitious commitment makes France a credible partner for other European countries that have strong ambitions, Germany in particular that has announced a €2bn plan, but also the Netherlands and other countries such as Spain and Italy could use their post-Covid strategy to adopt ambitious strategies too.
Brexit has been a big blow to the European quantum strategy. The UK has been one of the very first countries in the world to understand the magnitude of the second quantum revolution, with important financial support illustrated by their Quantum National Program, the creation of hubs and the emergence of a very strong ecosystem.
The EU Quantum Flagship has been obviously very important, but its focus has been largely on research and we need more. I’ve seen recently very positive signals that show that there is a real willingness at many levels of the European Commission to do all they can to keep Europe a player in the first league. Several quantum startups — IQM, Qblox, Pasqal — have been awarded the highly coveted EIC Accelerator grants, for example.
The European High-Performance Computing Joint Undertaking, which supports high-performance computing initiatives across the member states, is working to create a quantum simulation infrastructure in Germany and France’s supercomputing centres. The European quantum industry is creating the QuIC Quantum Industry Consortium as a counterpart to the US’s Quantum Economic Development Consortium. Now that the EU has a budget we are waiting for the Horizon Europe calls — I must say that the draft working plan was very exciting so I’m looking forward to seeing the consortia and the awards.
I get very positive vibes from Europe, now that many governments realise the urgency of backing the quantum computing industry.
4. How does Europe compare with the US and China in its development and funding of quantum right now?
Europe has finally realised that, although historically it was a heavyweight of quantum R&D, there was a risk that it could be left behind in the quantum race. The cumulated budgets of the EU and national plans are very substantial, and quantum is clearly identified as a priority now. It’s hard to compare for lack of publications, but I’d put the US, China and Europe more or less at the same level.
With IQM, Alpine QuantumTechnologies and Pasqal, Europe has first-class startups developing technologies that can help it build a sovereign quantum computing platform, in association with its High Performance Computing players such as Atos.
I’m a bit worried we are not going fast enough, for example in the field of quantum computing software.
My fund Quantonation has invested in nine startups in Europe so far, we are looking at three to four more investments this year and we see a good pipeline of opportunities but we’ll need collectively to work hard to build a steady flow of high-quality projects over the years and I’m a bit worried this is not going fast enough, for example in the field of quantum computing software.
Now speed of execution will matter, I hope we will have fast track procedures on these programs, else we might fall behind.
5. What are France’s particular strengths in quantum technologies?
There is a strong ecosystem for deeptech startups in France, with lots of government support (minister Cédric O is very vocal on this topic), an emerging VC community and support schemes that are effective. With the association Le Lab Quantique we have worked since 2018 to structure the quantum ecosystem within it and I think we’ve been quite successful at that. We have promoted quantum technologies through hackathons, meetups, conferences and we now also have — together with the Paris Region — more ambitious actions to improve collaboration between startups and end-users.
Regional hubs in particular in Paris Centre, Paris Saclay and Grenoble have been very active early. All these actors have fantastic ideas, there are strong local dynamics. I hope that the governance that will be put in place will respect this, and understand the benefits from such actions, instead of taking a ‘Colbertian’ approach (of state ownership and intervention).
In terms of technology, France is very strong in atomic, molecular and optical physics, as you can see looking at the two pioneering startups, Pasqal (neutral atoms QC) and Quandela (quantum photonics). There is a strong tradition of outstanding work on Fault Tolerant Quantum Computing (INRIA and ENS laboratories, Alice&Bob and C12 startups). Of course, the country also has a chance to leverage the highly successful semiconductor ecosystem around Grenoble and CEA (the atomic and alternative energies research institute), and it’s why Silicon spin qubits are clearly identified as a priority.
Some large corporates have launched programmes already, Atos of course but also Airbus, Orange, Thales, Total and I’m seeing more and more interest by banks and utilities. This is key of course, we need to give evidence of tangible benefits of quantum technologies to fuel the sector’s growth.
6. Where are the most interesting quantum clusters emerging in Europe right now?
There are many places where outstanding research is done of course, from Aalto in Finland to Barcelona’s ICFO, Saclay, Heidelberg or Krakow. I will mention maybe only two clusters with very interesting ecosystem dynamics.
There’s Delft, with QuTech, the University, several startups covering the whole quantum computing stack (Qblox, Orange Quantum Systems, Qphox) and a Foundation called Quantum Delta NL.
In Munich I’ve been collaborating with a student-driven entrepreneurship initiative called ‘Push Quantum’, and the Bayern Region is clearly to be a hotspot for quantum technologies in Europe.
7. What companies are you most excited by at the moment?
I will mention all of Quantonation’s 12 portfolio companies here — I’m quite busy with helping some of them raise their 2nd round of financing, be it series A (Pasqal, KETS Quantum Security) or seed rounds (Qubit Pharmaceuticals) and I think they are really outstanding, and performing even better than we anticipated when we did our first investment.
The academic founders of Pasqal have achieved in their lab a record in the simulation of quantum systems with 196 qubits, demonstrating exquisite control of arrays of neutral atoms manipulated by light. Let’s wait until the paper is published then it will be hard not to call that “Quantum advantage” for Europe, after achievements of similar nature have been achieved by Google and J.-W. Pan’s group respectively with superconducting qubits and photonics.
– Xavier AUBRY managing partner at Zaz Ventures. Zaz Ventures provides innovation funding services (EU funding advice and bid writing) across a variety of domains and has recently been involved in several successful EIC bids with European quantum leaders IQM, Pasqal and Qblox. They have raised 450M Euros of funding for their clients in the Horizon 2020 programme since 2014. Xavier told us about EU funding opportunities for startups, this is very timely with the next phase of Horizon Europe calls soon to start.
– Vincent ELFVING and Benno BROER respectively CTO and CEO of Qu&Co. Qu&Co is a quantum-algorithm and quantum-software developer based in Delft, one of the very first companies in this field born in Europe. Their aim is to bridge the gap between the historically academic field of quantum-algorithm development and the practical computational-needs of their corporate clients. They focused their presentation on a recently published and patented new hybrid quantum algorithm that could unlock the immensely valuable field of computational fluid dynamics for NISQ computers.
Quatre expert(e)s de l’innovation technologique et de son financement – dont Christophe Jurczak et Jean-Christophe Gougeon – appellent, dans une tribune au quotidien « Le Monde », les entreprises françaises à ne pas passer à côté du quantique, prochaine révolution dans le domaine de l’informatique et des communications.
Nous sommes à l’aube d’une révolution technologique. Issue des découvertes de la physique quantique, la possibilité de manipuler des particules élémentaires (électrons, ions, atomes, photons) ouvre la voie à des ruptures dans des domaines tels que l’informatique, les communications, la métrologie ou la cybersécurité. Le cabinet de conseil en stratégie BCG a identifié une trentaine de cas d’usage, et une création de valeur comprise entre 25 et 50 milliards d’euros à horizon 2030.
Les géants du numérique, Google et IBM en tête, mettent au point des prototypes de calculateurs quantiques de plus en plus puissants. Cette course aux technologies quantiques mobilise aussi les gouvernements, à commencer par ceux de la Chine et des Etats-Unis. Le Royaume-Uni et l’Allemagne ont initié une stratégie nationale il y a déjà plusieurs années.
Et la France ? L’année 2020 a débuté par la remise du rapport de la députée Paula Forteza (Français de l’étranger, ex-LRM), et aurait dû s’achever par l’annonce d’un plan stratégique (« Quantique : le virage technologique que la France ne ratera pas »). La crise sanitaire a retardé son lancement, désormais attendu pour les premiers mois de 2021. Il y a pourtant urgence, car sans un engagement fort et rapide de l’Etat pour affirmer ses ambitions académiques, industrielles et économiques, la France ne pourra pas rattraper son retard. [Note: cette tribune a été rédigée avant la publication de la stratégie national quantique le 21/01/2021, mais publiée quelques jours après]
Au-delà de ce plan, notre pays doit absolument construire un écosystème des technologies quantiques. Nous en possédons déjà plusieurs briques indispensables. Une recherche de très haut niveau, tout d’abord, autour de trois pôles situés à Paris, Saclay et Grenoble. Un portefeuille de start-up de grande qualité, ensuite, comme Pasqal, Qubit Pharmaceuticals, Alice& Bob, C12, Quandela, Cryptonext ou VeriQloud.
Des structures d’investissement, enfin, qu’elles soient publiques, avec le plan Deeptech de Bpifrance, ou privées, avec Quantonation, pionnier dans le financement en amorçage de ces technologies. Cet écosystème naissant commence à se structurer, notamment autour du think tank Le Lab quantique, créé en 2018 pour associer start-up, industriels, PME et ETI. La région Ile-de-France soutient à travers lui une approche originale, le « Pack quantique », pour développer les cas d’usage.
Mais le tableau est encore incomplet. Un point doit concentrer toutes les attentions : la plupart de nos grandes entreprises n’ont pas pris conscience de cette révolution. Une poignée de groupes industriels de premier plan ont commencé à se mobiliser, à l’image d’Atos, Thales, Orange, Air Liquide ou Airbus, mais ils demeurent l’exception quand ils devraient être la règle.
Finance, santé, automobile
Car toute entreprise utilisatrice de calcul intensif ou de données massives va devoir développer ses compétences dans le quantique. Les concurrents internationaux se positionnent déjà. Dans la finance, JPMorgan Chase a recruté un spécialiste des algorithmes quantiques venu d’IBM, et Goldman Sachs a créé un laboratoire dirigé par un pionnier des ordinateurs quantiques. Dans la santé, Merck ou Bayer collaborent avec des universitaires et des start-up. Dans l’automobile, BMW ou Volkswagen testent des algorithmes quantiques sur des cas concrets, comme l’optimisation des robots industriels.
Les grands groupes français doivent joindre ce mouvement sans plus tarder. Certes, dans un contexte de budgets contraints par la crise due au coronavirus, l’horizon de 2030, évoqué pour disposer d’un large éventail d’applications, peut sembler lointain. Mais c’est dès à présent qu’il faut travailler sur des cas d’usage, afin de bénéficier rapidement d’un avantage quantique pour certains types de calcul, probablement dès 2023-2025.
L’Etat doit encourager les différents acteurs à collaborer sur des projets qui auront un impact fort, dans la lignée du plan de relance. En se rapprochant des chercheurs, des start-up et des experts, en créant des équipes pluridisciplinaires dédiées à l’exploration des technologies quantiques, les entreprises doivent dès à présent développer leurs compétences, dans un domaine stratégique pour leur compétitivité et pour l’ensemble de notre économie.
Les signataires : Jean-François Bobier, directeur de Boston Consulting Group Paris ; Jean- Christophe Gougeon, responsable sectoriel Logiciel, intelligence artificielle et quantum computing à Bpifrance ; Christophe Jurczak, associé fondateur du fonds Quantonation et président de l’association Le Lab quantique ; Elvira Shishenina, présidente de l’association QuantX.
Dans cet article publié dans la revue “Les Grands Dossiers de Diplomatie” Jean-Christophe GOUGEON et Christophe JURCZAK présentent l’écosystème du quantique en France, Le Lab Quantique et le startups associées, les atouts nationaux mais aussi les risques a ne pas prendre le train en marche rapidement.
The Paris Region quantum ecosystem is extremely rich in academic groups, startups, expertise and talents, and also global companies that are prospective customers for technologies that have the potential to disrupt many sectors, be it Finance, Automotive or Biopharma. The Region has been funding programs in support of academic groups for many years (SIRTEQ) and has now decided to shift gears and support also actors downstream in the value chain, technology developers (hardware and software) and end-users with an ambitious new programme called PAck Quantique (PAQ).
Valérie Pécresse, President of the Paris Region Council, declared: “we wish to continue to position the Paris Region as the leading region in the world on quantum. We have decided to fund the PAQ programme with 1.5 million euros over 3 years, starting with 0.6 million euros in 2020 for 3 projects including a collaboration between the EDF group and the startup Pasqal ”.
PAQ funding will go to projects tackling major industrial challenges associating, on the one hand, actors of the Paris Region quantum ecosystem that is extremely rich in startups, expertise, talents and global companies leading adoption of quantum technologies, and on the other hand quantum computing resources provided in the short term by the startup Pasqaland in the longer term a future European high performance quantum / hybrid computing infrastructure provisioned by GENCI, a public company working to increase the use of High Performance Computing (HPC) for boosting competitiveness within the French economy, across all scientific and industrial fields. Le Lab Quantique and GENCI will ensure that the whole ecosystem benefits from the funded projects, with the conviction that now is a time for fruitful and original collaborative approaches, until quantum advantage will be reached for real life applications.
The first 3 projects are the following:
AQUARE associating Pasqal (neutral atoms based quantum computing) and giant utility EDF on smart mobility and optimization of charging of shared e-vehicles fleet
AQCMED associating Qubit Pharmaceuticals and Pasqal on drug discovery and accelerated computational drug design workflows in hybrid HPC / QC architectures
AQMuSE associating the French branch of US based QCWare and energy company Total to address generalized pooling problems in logistics
Qubit Pharmaceuticals and EDF will have guaranteed early access to Pasqal’s world leading 100+ qubits quantum processor as early as 2021.
Christophe Jurczak, President of the association Le Lab Quantique, declared: “We are very happy to be associated to the PAck Quantique, a unique initiative in the world which aims to drastically reduce the obstacles that limit today – even beyond pure performance of pilot quantum processors – co-developments between technology providers (hardware and software) and customers intended to benefit from quantum acceleration. This is a first step and, with GENCI, we are working on an ambitious project to federate most actors of the Paris ecosystem in a place downtown Paris – La Maison du Quantique – to create synergies, benefit from shared space and infrastructures, to accelerate the emergence of a quantum industry“
Press reports allude regularly to a “quantum advantage” in the field of long range detection of hidden targets or threats, which would have a substantial impact for the military. We’ve asked two world expert in the field to tell us about the science, the opportunities and the challenges. A great post by Giacomo Sorelli and Nicolas Treps from Laboratoire Kastler-Brossel and ONERA.
Given the opportunities and threats created by quantum technologies, significant investments have been made over the past 5 to 10 years, in both the public and private sectors.
Several governments have launched large multi-year programs with funding in excess of US $ 1 billion. In the private sector, multiple venture capital funding operations have been carried out. At the same time, many large multinational companies already working in the telecommunications, IT or sensor markets are recognizing the potential of quantum technologies and investing in their development and commercialization.
Through the analysis of tens of thousands of patents and scientific publications, and research on public and private funding of research and startups, Michel Kurek evidences gives us an original and up-to-date analysis of the sector that, no doubt, will be closely examined by stakeholders in the emerging quantum ecosystem.