Inside WEF: Industry Leaders Outline the Keys to Building National Quantum Ecosystems

March 15, 2023
Jack Hidary was joined by distinguished guests from across sectors, including Jim Breyer (CEO, Breyer Capital), Kay Firth-Butterfield (Head of AI and Machine Learning, WEF), Colin Bell (CEO, HSBC), and Dr. Cathy Foley (Australian Chief Scientist)

At the recent World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, SandboxAQ CEO Jack Hidary hosted a lunch panel discussion, previewing WEF’s National Quantum Blueprint. The paper aims to address the growing quantum divide, and SandboxAQ is thrilled to have participated in its creation. This roadmap offers a set of best practices for building national quantum ecosystems, which can be adopted by countries of all sizes. Jack was joined by distinguished guests from across sectors, including Jim Breyer (CEO, Breyer Capital), Kay Firth-Butterfield (Head of AI and Machine Learning, WEF), Colin Bell (CEO, HSBC), and Dr. Cathy Foley (Australian Chief Scientist) to lend their perspectives on how all nations can join the quantum future.

Jack opened the lunch by laying out what is at stake as we enter the quantum era. With 250 million people joining the internet every three months, the world is closing the final gap of the digital divide. However, a new divide is now opening – the quantum divide. Quantum technology is poised to impact all areas of society, from clean energy and pharmaceuticals to banking, infrastructure, and government. 

HSBC CEO Colin Bell described the quantum future as having two opposing but equally crucial aspects: drawbacks in the form of cybersecurity threats and benefits in quantum’s ability to unlock new capabilities in many areas of life. On the one hand, quantum computers pose a threat to current cryptographic methods, and governments and industries of all kinds must upgrade their systems to protect sensitive data. 

On the other hand is the immense promise quantum technologies hold. Jim Breyer, CEO of Breyer Capital, pointed out how essential investing in next-generation technologies like quantum navigation is for national security. 

Colin Bell spoke about quantum’s promise for business in solving exponential problems. For financial institutions those exponential problems concern fraud, portfolio optimization, and risk management. Likewise, countless other sectors have similar breakthrough quantum applications.

Yet, only 15 countries have a quantum blueprint, leaving 180 plus countries without a national strategy on quantum. This divide is only going to get bigger if not actively addressed. WEF’s quantum blueprint provides a plan to do just that; however, as Jack emphasized, putting that plan into action globally will require a lot of work across sectors. “It's companies, it's individuals, it's venture capitalists, it's government leaders, and the nonprofit NGO sector.”

Australia was one of the early leaders in quantum. As the country’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Cathy Foley provided valuable insight into what it takes to build a quantum ecosystem. The Centers of Excellence, which were introduced in 2000, show the importance of basic research funding and collaborations between universities. The fruits of this research led to partnerships with industries and the development of Australia’s blueprint. 

Dr. Foley also stressed collaboration between nations and the importance of smaller countries finding a specific area of specialization in the quantum supply chain.

One way smaller countries can begin, WEF’s Kay Firth-Butterfield said, is to share resources and talent with larger countries. For example, Singapore shares talent resources with the United Arab Emirates and the UK. Israel, another small country, can be a model for catalyzing funds from VCs, public funds, and universities. Dr. Foley also highlighted the shortage of STEM students in Western countries and suggested a path toward partnering with developing nations to educate international students in quantum sciences. At the same time, Dr. Foley encourages collaboration to help countries develop quantum ecosystems that will allow them to retain homegrown talent.

"There are wonderful education systems around the world,” Foley said, “but everybody's pulled out of their countries of origin by better prospects in the Global North. We need to do better with that, especially for quantum."

Summing up the prevailing sentiment at the lunch, Jim Breyer concluded, “These are some of the most profound technologies I have seen in my long career in tech.”

Jack Hidary agreed but added, “It's not going to happen on its own. There's a role for everyone in this work. This is really just the beginning.”

The World Economic Forum is expected to publish the Quantum National Blueprint later this year. 

In the meantime, we encourage you to reach out to discuss how you can begin implementing quantum initiatives today.

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