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B.C. poised to become a quantum technology powerhouse

Experts say commercial quantum computing will be disruptive, available in five years.
Louise Turner, CEO of Surrey-based Quantum Algorithms Institute, at the Inside Quantum Technology Vancouver-Pacific Rim conference held earlier this month

B.C. is on its way to becoming a global powerhouse for quantum computing, a cutting-edge technology that has the potential to transform numerous industries and enable the development of previously inconceivable technologies.

The Inside Quantum Technology Vancouver-Pacific Rim conference that took place last week in downtown Vancouver attracted many companies and organizations from the quantum industry in B.C. and across Canada, as well as those interested in learning more about it.

“Quantum computing is the next generation of computing that will go faster and be more energy efficient and solve problems that we cannot begin to address with classical computers today,” said Louise Turner, CEO of Surrey-based Quantum Algorithms Institute (QAI), co-host of the conference.

She said quantum computing will be game changing as it will provide “huge advantages” for companies or organizations by, for example, modelling diseases and health properties, issues in agriculture, capital flows, and processes and chemicals that will help address climate change.

A quantum network could also make the internet more secure; could bring benefits to a wide array of industries, from self-driving cars, to mining, to aviation; and, ultimately, provide opportunities for great jobs, successful businesses and wealth creation, Turner said.

“The opportunity of quantum computing is in the same way that the computers that we take for granted everyday have revolutionized life for us. We are very excited that this is an opportunity that British Columbia has on the ground floor to take advantage of,” she said.

B.C. is one of the four major hubs in Canada that are leading and developing quantum technologies and research commercialization. The other three are in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta, according to Lisa Lambert, CEO of Quantum Industry Canada.

There are more than 60 quantum companies in Canada and around eight of them are based in B.C. This includes world-leading firms such as D-Wave Systems, the world’s first company to offer commercial quantum computing services, and Photonic Inc., which raised US$100 million from investors including Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) last year.

B.C. is also home to 1Qbit, the first dedicated quantum software company, and BTQ Technologies Corp., which provides quantum resistance, security and encryption solutions.

“I’d say the ‘quantum coast’ maybe a little bit more modest and there’s more work to do in telling the story about just the incredible assets that are here and the incredible potential in B.C.,” said Lambert.

She said B.C. has the unique advantage of being able to grow its quantum industry with leading research institutions such as the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University (SFU), and access markets including Korea, Japan and Australia where exciting quantum developments are happening.

“The world has woken up to quantum,” said Lambert. “I could really envision B.C. becoming a center of gravity for the commercialization of quantum technologies.”

Quantum industry faces massive growth explosion

Although the quantum industry remains relatively small, it is at the start of a potentially massive explosion in growth, said Turner, who expects the technology will revolutionize many industries much how artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the nature and scope of work.

“There have been some technical advancements which mean that the reality of delivering quantum computing is closer,” she said. “Companies like IBM (NYSE: IBM) who have an early-stage quantum computer today are saying commercial quantum computing will be available in five years.”

Coquitlam-based Photonic, which is building one of the world’s first scalable quantum computing and networking platforms, has grown rapidly. Founded in 2016, the company hired its first employees in 2020 and has more than doubled in size every year.

Today, it has a team of 140.

“The mathematics [of quantum] is well known, the physics is proven and now there’s an engineering process that’s going on,” said Paul Terry, CEO of Photonic.

He said as the team continues to refine their engineering, and that Photonic is also helping companies and organizations understand how they can benefit from the adoption of quantum computing so that they are ready to go when quantum computers arrive.

“In that three-to-five-year timeframe, you will see companies getting [a] competitive advantage from their use of quantum. The flipside is also true, which is companies that don’t embrace quantum will fall behind really quickly,” said Terry.

“What we are going to see in less than five years is a supply-demand mismatch with people wanting access to quantum and not being able to get it because they weren’t there early enough.”

Turner said when quantum computing is more widely available, it will have an even bigger impact on industry than AI.

“It will be more like an industry solution: You won’t have a quantum phone or a quantum laptop, but you will benefit from all the drugs that have been made as a result of calculations on a quantum processor, from more efficient business, from the AI you use being driven by quantum computing,” she said.

“And quantum and AI are very closely linked. [Quantum] will power AI; AI solutions and algorithms will help drive new solutions using quantum computing, so the two will build on each other.”

Canada is home to the second-highest number of small and medium-sized quantum enterprises globally, second only to the U.S., according to Quantum Industry Canada.

Last year, the federal government announced the National Quantum Strategy and a $360 million investment to grow the country’s quantum technologies, companies and talent.

Quantum is also a priority for the B.C. government, according to Brenda Bailey, minister of jobs, economic development and innovation.

The federal Pacific Economic Development Canada announced in late May more than $11 million in funds under the Regional Quantum Initiative for three B.C.-based organizations that are leading quantum computing innovation:

  • Over $3.4 million to 1QBit to develop and commercialize their topological quantum architecture design;
  • $4.3 million to establish the Quantum Fabrication Centre at SFU; and
  • More than $3.2 million to increase UBC’s capacity to commercialize quantum technologies.

“There’s an incredible opportunity ahead of us right now in the tech world in regards to how AI and quantum interface,” said Bailey.

“This is very, very important for British Columbia to pay very close attention to this and to be a big part of what is coming.”

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