POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Quantum Technologies

Published Monday, April 24, 2017

Quantum Technologies use the behaviour of matter and light that is normally only observed at very small scales. This POSTnote introduces recent advances, applications, and UK initiatives to support their development and commercialisation. It also reviews policy concerns such as privacy, access to new technologies and secure communications.

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Scientists have found ways to exploit the behaviour of matter and light at the level of atoms to create, for example, the technologies that underpin lasers, cameras and computers. Now, our ability to measure and manipulate individual atoms and other particles is leading to a new generation of quantum technologies for timekeeping, imaging, sensing, communications and computing. Some of these technologies are starting to become commercially available, while others are still under development.

Quantum Technologies are leading to new products and services in many areas, such as infrastructure, navigation, medicine and underground mapping. Other applications, currently unforeseen, are also likely to emerge in the future.

There is a global effort to develop and commercialise these technologies. In 2013, the UK Government announced funding of £270m (over five years) to create the National Quantum Technologies Programme. The UK’s quantum technologies community has suggested that the emerging quantum industry could create hundreds or thousands of high value jobs in the UK.

Key Points

The key points in this briefing are:

  • Estimates suggest that quantum technologies could become comparable in size to the consumer electronics sector (worth an estimated £240bn a year globally).
  • Quantum technologies have many potential uses including in navigation, health, telecommunications and oil and gas exploration. Trade in some technologies could be limited by export controls.
  • A new generation of quantum technologies are becoming commercially available, others may take over a decade to develop.
  • Quantum technologies may have implications for privacy.
  • Universal quantum computers that could run any quantum algorithm (sequence of calculations) would undermine many current encryption protocols. These are a cornerstone of electronic security, used to protect sensitive financial, identity or national security data.
  • Organizations are advised to prepare for new encryption systems.



POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders. They are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank the following interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing:

  • Professor Frances Balkwill, Barts Cancer Institute
  • Professor Simon Benjamin, University of Oxford
  • Paolo Bianco, Airbus
  • Professor Kai Bongs, University of Birmingham
  • Claire Boyer, European Telecommunications and Standards Institute
  • Dr Stephen Brierley, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Charles Curry, Chronos Technology Ltd
  • Professor David Delpy, National Quantum Technologies Programme
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
  • Government Office for Science
  • Dr Richard Gunn, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
  • Dr Philip Inglesant, University of Oxford
  • Professor Marina Jirotka, University of Oxford
  • Professor Sir Peter Knight, Imperial College London and the National Physical Laboratory
  • Professor David Last, Consultant Engineer
  • Dr Adam Lewis, European Commission
  • Jack Lemon, Consultant
  • Dr Graeme Malcolm, Msquared Lasers
  • Dr Helen Margolis, National Physical Laboratory
  • Dr Nicole Metje, University of Birmingham
  • Dr Richard Murray, Innovate UK
  • National Cyber Security Centre
  • Professor Jim Norton, University of Sheffield
  • Professor Miles Padgett, University of Glasgow
  • Mark Pecen, Approach Infinity, Inc.
  • Professor Jonathan Pritchard, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
  • Andy Proctor, Innovate UK
  • Kelly Richdale, ID Quantique SA
  • Professor Tim Spiller, University of York
  • Dr Andrew Shields, Toshiba Research Europe Ltd
  • Dr Stephen Till, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
  • Max Turner, University of Birmingham
  • Professor Ian Walmsley, University of Oxford

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.