Davos hopes for economic solace from quantum technologies

Martyn Warwick
By Martyn Warwick

Jan 18, 2024

  • New ‘Quantum Economy Blueprint Insight Report’ signals World Economic Forum’s intent to be in the vanguard of the quantum economy
  • Blueprint claims to be a framework for value-led, democratic access to quantum resources
  • It could encourage global collaboration and knowledge sharing, and increase awareness of the potential of quantum technologies – perhaps

As the 53rd annual World Economic Forum (WEF) continues in Davos, Switzerland, the organising body, in collaboration with IBM and Sandbox AQ, has published a quantum computing report that encourages collaboration, outlines the cutting-edge technology’s potential and educates the world about the significant associated challenges.  

In a foreword to the 62-page ‘Quantum Economy Blueprint Insight Report, January 2024’, the WEF’s managing director, Jeremy Jurgens, explains that the aim of the Forum’s Quantum Economy Network is “to encourage global collaboration and the sharing of knowledge, increasing the awareness of the potential of the technology and building readiness to mitigate cybersecurity risks.” 

This blueprint claims to provide “a framework for value-led, democratic access to quantum resources, extending the Quantum Computing Governance Principles into practice for regional or national strategies.” 

It further “serves as a guide for policymakers, industry and academia to build a quantum ecosystem, focusing on economic growth, job creation and responsible development.” 

It’s not short on vision or ambition. Evidently, the WEF – in collaboration with IBM and Sandbox AQ (an Alphabet spin-out that was launched in 2022) – wants, as early as possible, both to set out its stall and to claim its place on the quantum bandwagon as it gathers momentum, aided by the quantum hype juggernaut that is constantly finding a new and faster gear. There’s no time like the present, though, to be in the quantum vanguard and stake a claim to be a powerful agency in helping countries and companies to define their quantum strategies and determine where their pieces fit into the global jigsaw of quantum development. 

That said, while having a blueprint ready to roll out is well and good, the reality is that it may need to be redrawn several times over as quantum computers develop to the point where they can actually leave the laboratory and be mature and robust enough to be of practical use in daily, real-life, practical environments. 

Thus, some might question whether WEF’s initiative is a tad premature. The WEF, though, is sure its intervention is timely and the report points out that those getting into quantum now will gain “early adopter advantage” that will permit nations and their governments to design and deploy infrastructure so that all the countries of the world will be able to exploit and benefit from quantum technologies. 

Such Alpine blue-sky thinking involves some sweeping assumptions to bolster its thesis, including the supposition that it will soon “be possible to build a useful, fully programmable universal fault-tolerant quantum computer.” 

But will it? The jury is out on that. There is now almost no doubt that such devices will be built eventually but they won’t be marketable tomorrow, or next year, or the year after. Indeed, the likelihood is that they won’t be around until the mid-2030s or even later.

What’s more, the notion that the nascent dawning of the golden age of ubiquitous “quantum utility” will permit existing quantum computers to solve problems more rapidly than “traditional” supercomputers is equally premature. Such utility has been demonstrated only under incredibly controlled experimental conditions in a few laboratories and then only partially. The problems involved in managing even that are manifold and mind-boggling, as we highlighted recently – see The utility era of quantum computing is still years away.

Building quantum strategies with building blocks based on nine thematic categories – a bit like jenga but with superpositioning  

As it stands, the WEF Quantum Economy Blueprint report is very thorough and does indeed take a detailed look at a variety of subjects and issues that may help regions and countries in “initiating, developing, supporting and commercialising their quantum technology (QT) initiatives in this new quantum economy.” 

And, hopefully, it can and will “serve as a reference for policymakers and government institutions, industry and academia to understand the different elements of building a quantum ecosystem, as well as to help them define which part of the quantum value and supply chain to occupy and which approaches best suit them to help accelerate the implementation.”

It also examines the potential for new jobs and economic growth in the quantum economy, as well as areas for protecting economic security, business integrity and cybersecurity, as well as the development of strategies for responsible and sustainable QT development, deployment and use. It also builds on the analysis of existing national and regional QT strategies with a series of case studies and provides a set of “building blocks” based on nine thematic categories from which a quantum strategy can be constructed.

Finally, the report, sensibly and necessarily, concludes that it is “too early to establish the success of any individual national quantum strategy” but adds, “however, what can be learned from the different approaches is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.” 

That is hardly a surprise now, is it? 

Another conclusion is it advises governments to “consider their country’s economic and social identity and what their ecosystem is familiar with regarding best practices.” Meanwhile the WEF’s Jurgens opines that “unlocking the promise of quantum technologies and strengthening the efforts in developing real-world quantum applications requires close public-private collaboration in research and development and scaling globally.”

The paper then looks forward to the “next phase of this initiative” whereby awareness of the blueprint will be promoted to politicians and industry experts alike via roundtables, conferences and webinars to “leverage its global network of foremost experts across its Quantum Economy Network, Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network of Centres and Forum Partners”. Quite…

It also says that, in itself, the report is “a call to action… to policy-makers to join the piloting of the Quantum Economy Blueprint” and adds that “countries and regions that have not yet embarked on the quantum journey, as well as those with advanced programmes, are encouraged to participate” as ”their experience will provide valuable insights into their challenges and successes and will feed back into the design of the Quantum Economy Blueprint and future building blocks.”

In ending, it must be said that whilst geopolitical tension does get a mention in the report, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which is regarded by the west as the most powerful geopolitical force acting against its interests, is mentioned only twice in the entire publication. It deserves and requires greater attention because, as the report does note, the PRC has already spent more on quantum developments than the US, the UK, France and Germany together. Now think about that and the implications for cybersecurity.

More raclette, anyone?

– Martyn Warwick, Editor in Chief, TelecomTV

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