Guest blog from Steve Brierley and Simon Phillips at Riverlane and OQC as part of our #UnleashInnovation week 2024.

Recently, we’ve seen a flurry of quantum strategies and roadmaps from the world’s governments and quantum hardware companies. If you look at those proposals in detail, there’s one common thread: quantum error correction (QEC).

This is a savvy move. At the end of 2023, the wider quantum community agreed that we cannot unlock quantum computing’s predicted $850bn in value unless we can achieve a large number of error-free Quantum Operations, or QuOps, for short.

The exact number of QuOps required to unlock commercially and socially relevant applications is expected to be around a trillion (aka a TeraQuOp) – and the UK Government is aiming for this figure by 2035 with Mission 1 of its quantum strategy.

In the interim, there’s a short-term goal of one million QuOps (MegaQuOp) by 2028.​ To put this in perspective, today’s machines are capable of a few hundred QuOps.​

​​The road to the MegaQuOp

​Is the UK Government’s goal achievable? Yes. In fact, we’d argue that we could reach the MegaQuOp threshold sooner because we can achieve it without any radical new physics, networking, or cryogenics technologies.

Progress in QEC has also accelerated in recent times. In the last six months, both big tech and quantum start-ups have made multiple breakthroughs, increasing the number of error-corrected qubits to 48, developing the QEC codes to reduce the number of required qubits ten-fold, novel qubit designs by OQC and with Riverlane building the quantum decoders to enable efficient universal quantum computers.

The missing element in all QEC experiments is scalable real-time decoding demonstrations, alongside overcoming the unique challenges of each qubit platform.

That’s something Riverlane is working on with its full QEC Stack solution, Deltaflow, helping quantum computers accelerate their path to performance beyond the supercomputing threshold.

We are also seeing the emergence of enterprise-ready quantum, quantum computing taken out of controlled lab environments for the first time and embedded into secure commercial locations.

OQC recently launched OQC Toshiko: an upgradable 32-qubit platform and the world’s first Enterprise Ready Quantum Computing Platform. As the first company in the world to integrate quantum computing into commercial data centres, OQC is bringing quantum out of the lab and into the data centre; demonstrating the innovation and moment of quantum hardware.

Thanks to this fast-moving progress, the Boston Consulting Group revised its quantum computing forecast stating there will be “equal long-term value, error correction sooner” and therefore an acceleration in progress to commercialisation by 2027.

Error-free future

With every new wave of technology, there is an opportunity to create the next trillion-pound industry. Today, the UK has the perfect confluence of skills, relationships, and early technological lead at the tipping point in large and reliable quantum computing – thanks, in part, to the government’s continued commitment to quantum with last year’s £2.5bn commitment boosting its £1bn investment in 2014.

However, it’s vital for the UK to maintain this early lead. Other countries are publishing equally ambitious quantum strategies. For example, France has set a goal to build two universal fault-tolerant quantum computers with 128 logical qubits by 2030. Denmark, Australia, Germany and the US also have similar ambitions to the UK.

Reaching Quantum Mission 1​ ​

So, how can the UK achieve Mission 1 and reach a MegaQuOp by 2028?

Our answer is simple. Buy stuff. Now.

If quantum computing start-ups must wait five years for bigger systems to emerge or government procurement processes to run their course, they will struggle to survive.

A successful public-private partnership model, which delivers economic, social and security returns, requires predictable government investment in early and subsequent generations of quantum technology. Without this we can’t unlock private capital to step forward and invest at the post Series A and B level.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening with government testbeds. The UK’s National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) recently announced the global winners of its UK programme to build a whole bunch of smallish quantum computers that it can test out at its new lab facilities. Silicon Valley itself emerged from a similar approach.

Investment by NASA and US government research agencies seeded the development of integrated chip technologies that in turn snowballed into the Silicon Valley led global boom in computing.

In quantum, we need ​to ​maintain this private-public investment model to accelerate our quantum computing capabilities, allowing us to reach a MegaQuOp by 2028.

This certainty from the UK government will give private capital markets the confidence to support the development of a MegaQuOp capable device, enabling a multiplier effect to increase the impact of UK government investment.

Quantum hardware and error correction companies are already working together and – with continued support from the government – we can leverage our full expertise and further develop the ecosystem to achieve the UK’s Quantum Mission 1.