Can Europe Catch Up with the US (and China) in Quantum Computing | Rectangle

Related Expertise: Quantum Computing, Emerging Technologies

Can Europe Catch Up with the US (and China) in Quantum Computing?

By François CandelonJean-François BobierMaxime Courtaux, and Gabriel Nahas

Quantum computing is close to becoming a reality. The technology will deliver enormous benefits to business, but it will also pose major challenges to governments and companies because hackers will be able to use it to break into any conventional government, business, or military network. The threat—as much as the opportunity—has sparked a global quantum computing race in which the US is the current front-runner, followed by China and the European Union. Although the EU’s prospects appear bright, insufficient coordination among member states, limited private investment, and a lack of business talent suggest the possibility of trouble lies ahead. To ensure quantum sovereignty, the EU’s governments, policymakers, and businesspeople must tackle the emerging risks.

Some key points:
  • To lead in quantum computing, a country must coordinate the activities of all government entities involved in the effort, secure the commitment of private companies to develop systems and deploy applications, and produce scientific and business-oriented quantum talent.
  • The EU is among the world’s leaders in public investment in quantum computing, but the US remains ahead in winning patents, establishing startups, and attracting private investments, with China close behind. The EU has a strong record in producing scientists and academics, but not quantum-business-focused talent.
  • To keep pace with the US and China, the EU must interconnect the quantum computing efforts of its member states and stakeholders. It must prioritize public intervention while aligning its ambitions and strategies across counties and stakeholders, develop a private sector that can advance quantum computing innovations at scale, and create business-oriented quantum talent.

After decades of research, quantum computers are close to becoming a reality. Several technological breakthroughs have been announced in recent times, and investments in the field reached an all-time high in 2021. The myriad benefits of quantum computing, from optimizing logistics networks to revolutionizing drug discovery, are knocking at our door.

If the European Union (EU) wishes to capture some of those benefits, it must improve its present position with regard to developing and using quantum systems. Otherwise, the EU will yield ground to the US and China, and lose the chance to become a technological powerhouse.

Current Position. Many countries are engaged in a global tussle for leadership in quantum computing. Becoming a leader will require achieving success on three fronts: support from government entities, commitment from private companies, and attention to developing talent. In this report, we will evaluate the major players’ positions on these three dimensions to understand the EU’s current and future status.

Our research indicates that the US is currently the front-runner, leading its peers on every dimension, especially in private-sector efforts. A trio of pursuers—the UK, China, and the EU—are well positioned too, particularly in terms of government support and talent pools.

The EU is among the leaders in public investment and has adopted robust plans, such as the European Commission’s Quantum Flagship. But the US remains ahead in winning patents, setting up startups, and making investments, with China in hot pursuit. The EU is also among the world’s leaders in producing talent, along with the US and China.

Emergent Risks. Although the EU appears strong, the reality on the ground is less positive, as the continent displays multiple symptoms that may portend trouble down the road.

First, the EU has scattered its efforts across the continent without forming an interconnected quantum ecosystem. Although the Quantum Flagship program is supposed to coordinate efforts, most countries on the continent continue to work in silos. Even at the national level, our analysis shows, European countries have not achieved the level of coordination between stakeholders and companies that countries such as the US and China have managed.

Second, the EU is creating a private sector with little or no ability to scale. The European nations lack the type of private investments that enable quantum computing startups to scale in the US, which is a venture capital powerhouse. Moreover, the EU lacks big digital players—such as Google, Amazon, and IBM—that have the power to consolidate the quantum sector.

Third, the EU has a people market that focuses on developing academic talent. Although the EU has almost as many top universities focusing on quantum computing as the US does, BCG estimates that the latter has two to three times as much talent at work in quantum technology businesses.

Ensuring the EU’s Quantum Sovereignty. The EU, its member governments, and policymakers should immediately implement bold plans to tackle the emerging risks, acting on all three fronts to ensure the region’s quantum sovereignty.

First, the EU should interconnect all quantum computing efforts by its member states and stakeholders at the European level. Success depends on governments’ commitment to working together to advance the region’s quantum computing capabilities. The EU must prioritize public intervention while aligning its ambitions and strategies across counties and stakeholders.

Second, the EU needs to foster the conditions necessary to develop a private sector that can scale. Its startups should not remain early-stage ventures indefinitely; instead, they should scale and become digital giants. Governments and policymakers will need to work together to tackle the EU’s investment gap, especially in late-stage funding, while supporting the creation of a market for quantum computing applications by offering incentives to boost adoption by incumbents.

Third, the EU must create business-oriented quantum talent, ensuring that people leave academia and support the development of private quantum technology initiatives. Accomplishing this task entails developing the region’s talent pipeline from end to end, and securing adequate funding for the purpose. Moreover, the EU must strive to become a magnet for international talent.

Only by tackling these challenges can the EU realistically hope to succeed in the quantum computing industry. Otherwise, the advent of quantum computing could sound the death knell for the EU’s competitiveness and technological independence.

The BCG Henderson Institute is Boston Consulting Group’s strategy think tank, dedicated to exploring and developing valuable new insights from business, technology, and science by embracing the powerful technology of ideas. The Institute engages leaders in provocative discussion and experimentation to expand the boundaries of business theory and practice and to translate innovative ideas from within and beyond business. For more ideas and inspiration from the Institute, please visit our website and follow us on LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter).

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