This story is part of the special report In Search of Sovereignty, on Europe’s effort to support domestic technology.
Europe may have missed the big data revolution, but it’s determined to be ahead of the pack when it comes to computing power in the 21st century.
Thierry Breton and Margrethe Vestager, two top officials at the European Commission, have thrown their weight behind a push to build new supercomputers and harness the enormous potential of so-called quantum computing.
While traditional computers process “bits” of information that have the value 1 or 0, quantum computers are able to process bits that can be a 1 and a 0 simultaneously. These are called quantum bits, or “qubits,” and they allow quantum computers to conduct massive calculations in less than a blink of an eye.
That kind of processing power, EU leaders hope, will help Europe lead a new technological revolution based on industrial, agricultural or energy data.
Quantum computers could help Europe better calculate the molecules of fertilizers to make them more energy-efficient, create more powerful batteries, or create more lightweight materials faster, said Heike Riel, the department head of science and technology at IBM’s research center in Zurich.
Europe has some catching up to do. The U.S. and China currently have the most supercomputers, and hold the most patents on quantum computers and technology.
The Chinese government reportedly spends at least $2.5 billion a year on quantum research. In 2018, President Donald Trump signed a law that earmarked $1.2 billion for quantum research, and in February proposed funding quantum information research by $237 million in the 2021 budget.
The European Commission launched its €1 billion Quantum Technologies Flagship program in 2018, which will provide funding for European quantum research over the next 10 years.
The European Commission has proposed to spend €2.4 billion through the Digital Europe program. EU leaders slashed the bloc’s funding for Digital Europe to just under €6.8 billion. Quantum projects will also receive some funding from the EU’s €80.9 billion Horizon Europe research program.
For Europe to take the next step in quantum research, it needs to put its money where its mouth is.
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