Podcast with Oscar Diez, European Commission.
My guest today is Oscar Diez, head of the Quantum Computing Sector at the European Commission. Oscar and I talk about funding opportunities for quantum, the comparison between Europe, the US and China, the challenge of commercializing world-class research, and much more. We hope you enjoy this episode. Please let us know how we did by emailing email@example.com, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org
THE FULL TRANSCRIPT IS BELOW
Yuval: Hello, Oscar. And thanks for joining me today.
Oscar: Hello. And thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
Yuval: So who are you and what do you do?
Oscar: Okay. So my name is Oscar Diez, and I’m working as head of Quantum Computing at the European Commission. We are based in Luxembourg, but we have also a lot of people working in the Commission in Brussels. And what the name says, the name of the sector, basically we are part of the unit HPC and Quantum Computing. It says quantum computing, but in reality it is quantum technologies. We are dealing not only with quantum computing, but also the other quantum technologies, like quantum communication, quantum sensing and metrology, and quantum simulation, and basic science in quantum.
Yuval: So if I remember correctly, the EC is the executive part of the European Union. What does the EC do in terms of quantum computing or quantum communication and so on? What is the goal of the body that you’re heading?
Oscar: So there are different things. That you said, the EC, basically it’s the executive body of the EU. And there are different things. One of the main things that we are doing is basically funding. So basically we are establishing, so we have different funding programs, especially for research. We are mainly focused the actions in quantum in that part, in research. Also, lately we created also a funding program for infrastructure. So basically, it’s for buying infrastructure. For example, in our unit, as I said before, it’s HPC and Quantum Computing. We were still buying the computers for Europe that basically are used by researchers.
So we are doing mainly research and deployment of infrastructure in our case. There are different things. For example, we can talk if you want about we are starting to create a quantum fund for financing basically the startups on quantum in Europe. And later there are some, but we are not entirely doing that. There can be legislation. That we can provide proposal for legislation. For example, the example is artificial intelligence what you’ve probably heard.
Yuval: So the research funding I assume is targeted primarily at the universities in corporate researchers. Is that correct?
Oscar: I will say it’s quite open. And if you see basically on the funding opportunities when we publish calls, one of the things that also we ask not only for universities and research centers, but also for SMEs and other organizations. So it’s not only. It’s to that mainly. Most of the projects are focused on universities and research centers. That is where most of the research is happening. But we try to have the industry involved as much as possible. And in most of our projects you can see that it’s not. It’s maybe I will say 20, 30 to 40% of industry also or private partners.
Yuval: If you can tell me, how much money was allocated to these programs? I think there was about €1 billion in 2018, but maybe there have been other allocations since. And if you’re willing to share how much has been already committed and spent?
Oscar: So I don’t have all the figures here. I can tell you in kind of a high level. You are right. Basically it’s the committee for the Quantum Flagship. That is the name that we provided basically to this funding for researching quantum. It was around 1 billion. So we did one set of calls in 2018, and we are running now another set of calls. Normally it’s every two or three years that we do calls. And we are preparing, for example, the funding for the program 23, 24. We have spent around I think, if I’m not wrong, 30, 40% of that 1 billion. And of course, all these things change. The framework programs are normally seven years long. But in this case, it was part of the previous framework program for research, that is the program called H2020. And we are getting also a part from the current program Horizon Europe.
Yuval: The European Union is made of member states. How do you ensure equity both in terms of access to funding, but also in terms of the outcome? So if the EU has a quantum computer or several quantum computers, is there a way to assure that even the smaller member countries, member nations have access to it?
Oscar: So yes. From the point of view of accessing to the funding, all the calls are open to all the EU member states. And normally we have all associated countries. So from that point of view, everybody. Most of the calls we request that at least we need to have at least three of the partner needs be from different countries. So we need to have three different countries. It’s up to basically the countries or the partners to decide who they will like to. Because it depends on the program, it depends on the type of call. But they decided that at least there are three different countries. And later we have in some calls, for example, quantum is one of them. What we have is we request also some participants from what you call widening countries.
Let’s say for example Malta. There are some countries, they don’t have all the level of research and infrastructure level. They don’t have the same investment at big countries like Germany. And that also we ask the participation of these countries also. That’s from the point of view of access to funding. Later from the access to, for example, system. An example will be with the quantum computing or the supercomputers. Basically what we do is we open also calls to researchers. The researches, they normally are people from university or research centers. Can be from one or multiple. And they provide the proposals. And normally there is an evaluation committee that will decide.
They take into account also the participation of different countries. And normally they have access to countries where normally these, for example, widening countries where this will not be so easy for them to have access to these type of computers.
Yuval: In terms of technology blocks. I think a lot of countries, a lot of continents have decided that quantum is a strategic technology and it’s really an important to be able to have mastery and access to it. And obviously in the EU, there are programs, such the programs you run, and then there’s funding from individual countries. I think that Germany has significant funding as well as France and others. But the EU is often compared to the US where there’s Federal funding, and also to China where there’s also centralized funding. What is your opinion on how does the EU stand relative to the US and China in this race for quantum supremacy or quantum advantage or just high level quantum technology?
Oscar: Sorry. If I understood, so you’re talking from the point of view of the funding?
Yuval: Or the results. I mean, I think the funding is more or less public information. At least in the US and in the EU. How would you say that the EU is doing relative to US and China in this sort of new space race?
Oscar: It’s a difficult question. So one of the things, one of the I will not call it an issue, but I think one of the challenges that we have, it’s the fact that we have actions that are done, are coordinated at European level. And also you have seen for example Germany or more recently France, they announced their own program. We have contact with these countries in order to be aligned and to try to cooperate as much as possible. So both between the different countries and also with EU. With the example of this corporation is, for example, the EuroQCI. But regarding the results, how are these compared to other big countries. I think that Europe, it has been always a big player in quantum. I think is one of the big players. I think we have very good research here.
I think what is one of the issues that we are seeing, and I think it’s not new and it’s not only in quantum in Europe, is that in order to move from research basically to market, this kind of jump. Basically, we could improve in that area. And that is something that we are trying to solve, but it’s not easy. It’s basically say you have these small companies or startups, that the access to, for example, to capital is not as easy as, for example, in the States. And that is clear and it’s something that we have seen. So I think we to work on that are. But I think from the research point of view and also from the results on what we are achieving until now, I think maybe we are not in the news so often as, for example, big companies like IBM. But I think there is very good research in Europe and there are very good achievements.
Yuval: And I certainly agree with you on the research side. There are fantastic research institutions in Europe. And we at Classiq are collaborating with some of them, such as Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. But sometimes it looks like transitioning to commercialization, as you said, could be improved. And we may have seen it both on cloud providers where most of the cloud providers are US-based. We’ve seen it recently, unfortunately, on corona response where I think the vaccine development and production, also some questions. So how does EU think about if the problems are clear or the things that need to be improved are clear, who’s coordinating the solution? Is it the EC, is that locally?
Oscar: So first, I cannot provide you an answer for all this. I’m talking, and this is as I said before, this is my personal view. I’m not trying to say that this is basically the EC point of view. But going a little bit more in detail or more concrete into quantum technologies, we know that there is an issue. Recently we have done a study where we were reviewing these topics, we were reviewing what are the key difference with other markets, for example the US, and what are some of the solutions. So we know that there is an issue. We are working at EU level and also in coordination with EU member states.
As I said, one of the things that we are doing in order to solve that is the creation of quantum fund basically to facilitate. So there are different actions on that area, especially on quantum. This is one of them, but we know that there is an issue and we are trying to sort it out. But it’s not easy to change. It’s a change on mentality also from the point of view of providing funding and basically having a different ecosystem. It’s not something that you will change from one day to the other.
Yuval: Absolutely. Now earlier in the conversation you mentioned that even though the section is called quantum computing, there’s a focus on quantum security and quantum sensing and quantum communications. Do you have an estimate of how the rough percentage is? Is it equally divided? Is it 60% on quantum sensing and everything else for the others? Can you give us any sense of how the budget is divided?
Oscar: I don’t know in top of my head. I will say that it’s currently a higher percentage for quantum computing obviously because it’s getting probably more momentum, and also quantum communication in our side because we are working basically in the creation facility for the EuroQCI. Basically it’s quantum communication infrastructure for Europe. So that will be the two mains. Basically most of the budget at this stage is going there. I will say maybe this will be maybe 30, between 30 and 40% each. And the rest will be divided between the quantum simulation and quantum sensing and metrology. And including also the basic science.
There are still a lot of potential we believe in basic science and we are still funding what we call low-tier calls. And also in quantum sensing and metrology, one of the things that we have seen is that at this stage it’s one of the more advanced from the point of view that is closer to market. So we are still heavily funding those areas from the purchase point of view.
Yuval: We are recording this podcast towards the end of January 2022. Are there any open calls that you would like to draw our listeners’ attention to? Something that they should look up and perhaps consider submitting a proposal?
Oscar: Yes. In fact, all the eyes are on Europe, the calls. Basically, there are things that are closing at the end of February. So they still have time. We have calls in quantum computing, in different types of quantum computing, and basically in more what we call high-tier also quantum computers and low-tier quantum computers. We have also calls in quantum communication. We have calls in basic science. So there are quite a lot of calls. Also in sensing and metrology, quantum simulation. So they are currently open. They will close soon. February, as I said. And there are also a set of calls that are closing in February, but probably will be extended util March. That is more on the deployment of infrastructure. And this is more on the quantum communication infrastructure. So there are different calls there for deploying quantum infrastructure at national level and also the coordination for the implementation at European level.
Yuval: So where should people go if they want to learn more information? How do they reach out to you? Do they go to a particular website? What’s the best way?
Oscar: The best way I will say is the Quantum Flagship website, that is qt.eu. So qt.eu. And also if they want more in detail on the calls, they can go to what you call European participant portal, and there you can search for quantum and they will see all the calls there. But if they go to qt.eu, they will find all information, including also the Research Strategic Agenda. It’s a PDF document where they have all the agenda for the next years on what we are doing in quantum. It’s a very important document.
Yuval: Oscar, I appreciate you providing us with all this information as well as your personal viewpoint. And thank you so much for joining me today.
Oscar: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Originally published at https://www.classiq.io.