France will allocate 1.8 billion euros to quantum technologies

Posted January 21, 2021, at 06.00

“A Massive Plan” and “an absolutely great effort”. The services of the Elysée do not lack words to describe the plan that Emmanuel Macron will formalize on Thursday morning in Saclay (Essonne) in front of part of the French ecosystem of quantum technologies. To carry out their work in this future area, research centres, start-ups and industrial groups will have a budget of 1.8 billion euros over five years.

This is very little compared to the $10 billion that China has announced for its national quantum laboratory. It is also less than in the United States, where, if the federal administration will release $1.2 billion between 2018 and 2023, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Amazon also participate extensively in the research effort.

However, this is more than Canada, Switzerland and the UK. In Europe, only Germany is more committed, with a planned investment of 2 billion euros in 2020-2021, according to a study by Wavestone and the France Digitale association.

200 million euros in public funds per year

“Quantum is a field which will be the cause of very strong transformations, including economic, and which, if we are not positioned within the next five to ten years, will be a big question of loss of sovereignty in the face. off to countries , who obviously invest a lot in these areas”we point to the Elysée.

The French plan will aim to carry out research aimed at making the famous quantum computers useful – whose computing power can surpass that of traditional supercomputers – but also to develop quantum sensors with unmatched precision and inviolable quantum communication.

A year ago, a parliamentary report tabled by MP Paula Forteza called on the government to step up in the face of this revolution. This wish, widely shared by the industrial world, has now been fulfilled, in addition to the 1.4 billion euros then timidly hoped for in the sector.

Until now, the public authorities have invested around 60 million euros a year in these cutting-edge technologies, and the new plan therefore calls on them to triple this support: the central government and its research bodies will now inject 200 million a year for five years, or 1 billion. The other 800 million euros comes mostly from industrialists in the sector, while the executive board expects 200 million euros from European grants.

Inspired by the AI ​​blueprint

With its famous physicists (CEA, Alain Aspect, Serge Haroche), its industrialists (Atos and Thales for the design of quantum technologies; EDF, Total and Orano for their use) and its start-ups, France already has the assets to build a world-class ecosystem . But it also has weaknesses, especially the underfunding of its research, which pushes many researchers to accept gold bridges abroad.

In a context of strong international competition, most of the amounts in this quantum plan will therefore be directed to research work. The government is inspired by the systems implemented over the past two years of the Artificial Intelligence plan. In detail, the training of more than 150 young researchers each year will be financed.

Focus on quantum computing

“This plan is a strong signal that will allow us to unite energies”, rejoices Charles Beigbeder, the creator of Quantonation. Support for the training of researchers reassures this specialist investment fund, which feared seeing the number of researchers ready to launch start-ups drying up.

Considered the most promising field, quantum computing will account for the lion’s share of the manager’s plan. Of the 1.8 billion envelopes, 350 million will go to the development of quantum simulators and 430 million to the quantum computer. The balance will fund work around sensors, communications and cyber security in the age of this technology. While waiting for a European strategy, this choice complements the choice in the German plan, which favors the field of quantum communication. But nothing is fixed. The amount of each envelope may change in the event of a major scientific discovery.

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