Finland in the frontlines of the quantum revolution in the EU

5 May 2023

The Academy of Finland and Business Finland have long supported cutting-edge research and innovation in quantum technology in Finland. The country has a remarkably diverse quantum technology ecosystem even by European standards. Leading expertise in quantum research must be ambitiously supported on national and EU levels even in the future. Nordic and European cooperation can create future business of global importance, which is an investment in the prosperity of Finland and the whole of Europe.

Quantum technology is expected to revolutionise our lives in ways we cannot even fathom yet. Quantum computing may offer solutions to such complex challenges as creating climate change models, developing new medicines and improving cyber security. The number of potential applications of quantum computing is vast. They are expected to bring more revenue than business that is directly based on quantum computing.

There is excellent quantum knowledge in Finland, the Nordics and Europe. There have also been significant investments in building quantum computers and innovation ecosystems. To ensure that important business is created in Europe, not in the United States or China, Europe must be even more ambitious and invest even more in quantum research. There must be wide-ranging cooperation in Europe to develop quantum ecosystems and to ensure that the currently existing, excellent quantum technology ecosystem in Finland and the Nordics is fully utilised. These were the topics discussed in the Nordic-Baltic Quantum event that took place on 30 March 2023 in Brussels.

Finland spearheads quantum research

The Nordic-Baltic Quantum event was a clear indication that there is common will to strengthen EU cooperation. Quantum communities from the Nordic and Baltic countries demonstrated their wide quantum knowledge in R&I to EU citizens and decision-makers. In their opening speech, the President of the Academy of Finland Paula Eerola and Business Finland’s Director General Nina Kopola emphasised the excellence of Finnish quantum knowledge and the importance of European cooperation and RDI funding. They also underlined the significance of quantum technology to the EU’s strategic autonomy.

Investments are made by public and private sectors both globally and within Europe. The Nordic countries have an especially excellent quantum technology ecosystem based on long-term commitments to cutting-edge research. It is in the interests of all European countries to utilise it as fully as possible. – Paula Eerola

Leading expertise in quantum technology in Finland was demonstrated by Antti Vasara (VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland), Tiina Kupila-Rantala(CSC – IT Center for Science ltd), Pertti Hakonen (Aalto University/InstituteQ), Erja Heikkinen (Ministry of Education, Science and Culture) and Sabrina Maniscalco (University of Helsinki/InstituteQ/Algorithmiq ltd. IQM, QuontrolOx and SemiQon represented Finnish businesses.

Gustav Kalbe (DG CNCT), Kristine Rudzite-Stejskala (DG DEFIS) and Christian Trefzger (DG CNCT) from the European Commission gave talks at the event. The main message of the Commission was that Europe must invest in the industrial and commercial applications of quantum technology and develop a wide-ranging European quantum ecosystem. The EU’s Quantum Technology Flagship Programme that started in 2018 was considered a significant example on taking quantum technology as a strategic priority and utilising it in practical applications.

According to Gustaf Kolbe, building an industrial infrastructure is paramount so that quantum technology can be introduced to the mass market during the next decades. One of the key challenges for scalability is adapting quantum innovations to the realities of production processes and costs. The Programme Manager for Quantum Tech and Electronics at the European Innovation Council EIC, Samira Nik, remarked that Europe lacks innovation funding concerning the transfer from lab to market and the scalability of operations.

The EU must be ambitious and invest in technology and knowledge – We must make sure that significant business is created within the EU and that it stays in the EU. We cannot end up in a similar situation as we’re currently in with AI, platform economy or cloud services, where business value creation is concentrated in US businesses, although there’s significant research done on these subjects in the EU. – Nina Kopola

Quantum knowledge in Finland is the result of decades-long work

Finnish quantum researchers and businesses have succeeded in the EU’s funding calls. They have also participated in the EU’s Quantum Technology Flagship Programme.

The Academy of Finland has funded Centres of Excellence in quantum research since 1995. The Centres have had a significant role in promoting start-ups and cooperation between businesses. A brilliant example is the Finnish IQM, which is a significant developer and manufacturer of quantum computers in the EU. The quantum research in Finland stems from 1965, when a low-temperature laboratory was established in Otaniemi. The laboratory later enabled research into quantum phenomena.

Currently, the Academy-funded Quantum Technology Finland Centre of Excellence brings together the scientific and technological knowledge in its field and the cutting-edge research infrastructure that supports it. Possible areas of application include quantum sensors, simulators, communication and computing, which can offer groundbreaking scientific, economical and societal benefits.

In December 2022, Business Finland launched the Quantum computing campaign, whose aim is to build an globally attractive ecosystem to solve the business challenges of Finnish and foreign businesses through quantum computing. The two-year campaign is especially intended for the development of software and applications, which are fields with enormous business potential.

The importance of European cooperation

As European countries cannot succeed alone in the midst of the ever-growing competition between superpowers, the strongest impact will be achieved through cooperation. Nordic Quantum is a new Nordic consortium based on decades of productive cooperation between Nordic countries. The aim of the consortium is to become a world-leading partner in quantum technology and produce highly educated work force and strong local collaboration.

Small countries in the EU can have a most significant role in developing quantum technology in the EU. We must take into account the knowledge in dual-use technology and how we can defend democracy that we stand up for together. Developing quantum technology and businesses that are intertwined with it is both a necessity and an opportunity for Europe. – Nina Kopola

Expertise alone cannot guarantee Europe succeeds in the quantum revolution. Competition is fierce. China invests by far the most in public funding for quantum technology and holds the most quantum patents in the world. North America is also a forerunner in the development of quantum equipment and software. However, Europe has a chance to win the quantum race by making ambitious investments in equipment, software and applications of quantum technology. This requires the development of wide-ranging knowledge in education institutions, ICT companies and businesses that use quantum applications.

It is paramount that Finland and the whole of Europe invest in developing quantum innovations and commercial applications of high-quality research. Additionally, a shortage of skilled workforce may well become a hindrance in the development of the quantum field, which is why investment in wide-ranging education must be a priority.

Finland’s national aim is to raise research and innovation spending as a proportion of GDP to 4 per cent by 2030 and increase the number and expertise of highly educated young adults. We’ll have exceptional opportunities to invest more in the development of new, disruptive technologies. – Paula Eerola

The initiative The European Quantum Software Institute concentrates on quantum research and education in Europe. In the Nordic-Baltic Quantum event, Professor Andris Ambainis from the University of Latvia introduced the initiative in a presentation that emphasised the importance of software education attracting talents in Europe. Funding for software development has for now been insufficient and it should be increased significantly.

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Author: Touko Närhi works as a Junior Policy Officer at the Finnish Liaison Office for EU R&D in Brussels.

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