Quantum computing promises to help solve some the world’s biggest challenges, from developing targeted drugs more cheaply and quickly to combating climate change. So, it is no surprise that venture capitalists and governments are pouring money into this space.
China has announced the most public funding to date of any country, more than double the investments by EU governments ($15.3 billion compared to $7.2 billion) and eight times more than US government investments, according to McKinsey.
Israel’s plan to invest $370 million in the sector pales in comparison. But make no mistake about it. Its ambition is much greater than its budget.
Israel intends to create a quantum technologies innovation ecosystem and it will succeed “mainly because of out-of-the-box thinking, entrepreneurship and because of our experience in taking research and speedily executing it into products,” Ami Appelbaum, the Chief Scientist and Chairman of the Board of the Israel Innovation Authority, a speaker at DLD Tel Aviv, said in an interview with The Innovator at the conference.
The public money Israel has earmarked for quantum is part of some $2.4 billion the country is spending over five years on areas that include AI infrastructure, bioconvergence, and climate tech. All are considered strategic investments to achieve global leadership.
“Quantum is a new revolution, as important as the invention of the wheel or the creation of fire,” says Appelbaum. Beyond the economic implications, quantum technologies have huge implications for national security and “Israel can’t afford to fall behind on this,” says Appelbaum.
The country plans to use the same playbook it used to create global innovation hubs in areas such as mobility, cybersecurity, food, and medical devices in its approach to quantum technologies, including quantum computing, quantum communications and quantum sensing, he says.
A First Of Its Kind Quantum Center
In July Israel announced that it is establishing a first-of-its-kind quantum center that includes three different quantum technologies with a joint control layer. It selected Quantum Machines, an Israeli company that specializes in universal quantum control hardware and software platform made for quantumsystems, to establish an Israeli quantum computing center. The quantum computing center will enable, for the first time worldwide, access to research and development in all layers of hardware and software on the three different quantum processing technologies: superconducting qubits, trapped ion, and optic computer. The center will provide services to the quantum computing community in both industry and academia by providing a full stack quantum computer to run direct computations with a future option for Cloud accessibility.
This is important because the big tech companies that offer access to quantum technologies require customers to use their tech. “It is just data in and data out, you can’t make a system change to the operating system or change algorithm or the processor,” says Appelbaum. Israel can provide capacity for researchers, academia, and industry to start testing their own algorithms and operating systems, he says.
The Israeli quantum center will enable a fully operational infrastructure within 12-18 months with over 50 qubits computing power in at least at one technology, enabling those who want to test quantum technologies to start exercises on real machines to deal with research challenges such as optimization and simulations.
The quantum processors that will be initially used are not Israeli, but the intention is for Israel to develop its own. “We need our own capability in order not to be dependent on anyone,” says Appelbaum.
In January the Israel Innovation Authority announced of the formation of the largest consortium in its history. The consortium, which includes IAI Group’s Elta Systems division, Qedma, Quantum Art, Classiq, and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, will promote two quantum processor technologies – trapped ions and superconductors – which are among the most advanced and mature technologies today, alongside deep layers of quantum software. The key developments that will be prioritized by the consortium include quantum processors, system-building blocks, coherent control tools, noise characterization and reduction software, and a fully automated software environment from the application level to physical implementation.
“What I like about the way the Israeli quantum ecosystem is being built is that it will include various types of quantum technologies such as trapped ions, cold atoms, super conducting and photonic-based platforms, “ says physicist and data scientist Deborah Berebichez, a speaker on a panel about quantum computing at DLD Tel Aviv moderated by The Innovator. “The diversity makes it more likely that at least one successful technology will emerge.”
Replicating A Successful Model
For those who are skeptical about Israel’s ability to compete on the global stage as a quantum technologies innovation hub Appelbaum points to the country’s success in mobility.
Although Israel does not produce cars, it has become a global mobility hotspot by building an innovation ecosystem. Hundreds of Israeli startups with applications in mobility have received funding from investors. Most of these investments are focused on companies developing autonomous-driving-related technologies, as well as cybersecurity and telematics. The most notable success story is Mobileye, developer of computer vision used for autonomous driving, which was acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion in 2017, the largest exit ever made by an Israeli company.
GM – lured by a $12 million grant by the Israeli government – was the first to open its Israeli hub over ten years ago.. Other OEMs such as as Daimler, Ford, and Hyundai, followed as have tier-one suppliers such as Bosch, Denso, and Continental. All of them seek relevant innovation ideas in local companies that develop technologies with applications in the automotive world. Many of these local offices also conduct R&D, either working jointly with Israeli start-ups or employ engineers from the local talent pool to develop in-house technologies.
Israel has used the same playbook to build other innovation ecosystems. Take the case of medical equipment. The government announced that companies that set up R &D in Israel will get $15 million from the government. One of the winners was General Electric. GE ended up expanding its R &D in Israel after meeting every milestone. When it came time to decide where it was going to manufacture the medical equipment GE chose Israel over the U.S. and SE Asia. This will not only create business for subcontractors and expand the ecosystem it will add“billions of dollars to the Israeli economy in terms of exports, IP, taxes, job creation,” says Appelbaum.
Israel believes it can use the same strategy to create a quantum technologies innovation ecosystem. “We are working on this at different levels, to attract startups and more professors and more students in quantum to create the talent in Israel, to build a processor, operating system, Cloud, algorithms and – beyond the hardware – many levels of software that researchers, industry and the defense sector can use,” says Appelbaum. “We are building a ladder that will help them to start climbing as soon as possible.”
If it gets it right, the benefits to Israel may be as outsized as its ambitions.
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