Theresa May speaks at opening of London Tech Week

UK government to invest £153m in quantum computing

Image credit: Pool via Reuters

Speaking at the launch of London Tech Week, Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that the government will invest heavily in the development of quantum computing, and said that global tech companies have pledged to invest more than £1bn in the UK.

Opening the annual celebration of London’s technology sector, May said: “Already, we are one of the best places in the world to start and grow a tech business.

“British tech is growing over one-and-a-half times faster than the rest of the economy, adding more than £130bn to our economy every year,” she said. “But if we are going to maintain our position as a global leader, our challenge is how we develop British tech and make it even better. We want this to be the place everyone thinks of – and comes to – first when they want to develop their world-changing tech ideas. This is a challenge shared between industry and government.

“Today, as we sit on the cusp of the next great industrial revolution, we have the opportunity to work together and ensure that the advances we see transform our world for the better, and for the benefit of everyone; government will back you all the way.”

May announced that global companies have pledged to invest more than £1bn in the UK, while the government will invest £153m in the development of quantum computing, adding up to an investment of over £1.2bn.

An additional £205m investment has been pledged by industry to develop quantum computing technologies, with a focus on how these could accelerate drug development.

Quantum computing involves the use of quantum-mechanical phenomena such as superposition to make calculations. Quantum computers use ‘qubits’ instead of bits. While bits can be either a 0 or a 1, a qubit can represent 0, 1, or any superposition of these two states. While quantum computers are in very early stages of development, in theory, a quantum computer could perform calculations exponentially faster than a classical computer.

In 2013, then-Chancellor George Osborne initiated the £270m UK National Quantum Technologies Programme, which established four quantum technology hubs at the Universities of Oxford, Birmingham, York, and Glasgow.

In addition to its commitment to quantum computing, the government will create 2500 places (including 1000 scholarships) available for AI and data science conversion courses beginning in 2020 in order to fill the skills gap in the tech sector, and launch a study into tech competitiveness led by industry figures.

“Given the pace of change in technologies like [AI], there has never been a more important time for London Tech Week,” said Cindy Rose, CEO of Microsoft UK, who will be among the industry figures leading the study. “The UK has a long history of world-leading technological innovation and is ideally placed to capitalise on the AI opportunity for economic growth. We have all the elements we need to succeed, a thriving start-up scene, a vibrant investment community, cloud-first government policy and a great pool of UK and global talent.”

An early announcement at London Tech Week is that billionaire Tej Kohli will invest a further $100m (£79m) into Rewired: a robotics-focused venture studio with a presence in London.

Meanwhile, new figures released by Tech Nation and Dealroom have revealed that the UK has created more ‘unicorn’ tech companies than any other country except for the US and China. The UK produced 13 companies valued at more than $1bn (£790m) in the past year, bringing its total to 72. Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright commented: “These brilliant figures show we are currently punching high in the global pecking order and, thanks to our strong fundamentals of skills and talent, business environment and world-leading research, the future is extremely bright.”

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