Economic impact of quantum technologies

 

Quantum Technology Landscape

Quantum technologies refer to the practical use of the science of quantum mechanics. This science reveals how matter and energy behave at extreme scales of atomic and subatomic particles. Quantum science usually falls into three main areas of technology applications: sensing and imaging, computing, and communications. Scientists and engineers across the world, increasingly funded by national strategies, are racing to develop technologies that can deliver incredible capabilities which will far exceed those of conventional technologies.

Canada is at the forefront of this global effort. A recent study by McKinsey and Co., which evaluated worldwide quantum research efforts, ranked Canada as 5th in the world in total expenditure on quantum science, 1st in the world in quantum computing science, and 1st in the G7 in per-capita spending on research. With $1 billion invested in R&D in this area over the past decade, a critical mass of world-leading university talent has been established across the country. This amassed expertise provides Canada with a unique opportunity to translate its science excellence into innovation leadership. Canada is already showing prominence in this area. At present, the most capable commercially-available quantum computer is made by D-Wave in Vancouver, and new disruptive technology companies are beginning to appear (1QBit, Anyon Systems Inc., ISARA, evolutionQ, RANOVUS).

What are the potential impacts of quantum technology?

In Fall 2017, interviews were conducted with leading quantum experts from across Canada to gain their perspectives on the potential for quantum technology, a prospective timeline for adoption of these technologies, and to identify how well placed Canada is to capitalize on and commercialize breakthroughs within this field. The table below highlights some of the potential impacts of quantum technology identified by these experts.

Sector Potential impacts
Communications
  • Cut through conventional encryption
  • Create a global network of communication links whose security is underwritten by unbreakable laws of physics
Mining/Extraction
  • Ultra-sensitive detection of leakage and faults
  • Detection of reservoirs
Finance
  • Increased computational powers to optimize trading algorithms
  • Precise clocks for high speed trading
Defense & Security
  • Gravity sensor that can spot hidden nuclear submarines
  • Simulating new materials for lighter and stiffer airplanes or satellites
Health
  • An improved MRI that works 40 times faster at 25% of the cost
  • Selecting promising drug candidates from scientific literature
Energy
  • Design batteries that will supersede lithium-ion technology
Big Data
  • Sifting through impracticably large data sets
  • Better machine learning and deep learning/quantum artificial intelligence

What does this mean for the Canadian economy?

Third-party economists conducted interviews on the introduction and adoption of new technology and relied on experts to project the inflection point where the technology will take off in terms of general adoption. The interviewees concluded that quantum technology would have a massive impact in the next 5-25 years, first through innovations in sensing and imaging followed by communications. Finally, quantum computing was projected to have the longest development cycle.

Traditionally, Canada has been able to capture 4% of the global market share in a technology trade. However, it was the consensus of the interviewees that Canada's current leadership position could lead to a greater capture of the global market share for quantum technologies (closer to 8%).

It was projected that by 2030, Canada will be able to grow an $8.2 billion quantum technology industry, employing 16,000 people and generating $3.5 billion in returns for the government. By 2040, when quantum technology is expected to reach 50% adoption, it could grow into a $142.4 billion industry, creating 229,000 jobs and generating $55 billion in government returns. The Canadian economy in 2040 is projected to be $4.2 trillion, putting quantum technology at approximately 3.4% of the economy in that year.

Year Annual revenues Jobs Govt. taxable returns Size compared to GDP
2030 $8.2 billion 16,000 $3.5 billion 0.2%
2040 $142.4 billion 229,000 $55 billion 3.4%

For comparison, similar sectors that contribute an equivalent amount to the Canadian economy in 2016 dollars include the Canadian aerospace sector and communications services, such as wireless and wired telecommunications carriers and cable and program distributors. This would mean future quantum technology companies the size of Bell, Rogers, and Telus adding value to the Canadian economy, along with highly trained specialists, such as quantum programmers, engineers, and technicians. This will make Canada an international hub for expertise, particularly if its leadership position in quantum computing is maintained in the years ahead.

Anchor industries, such as the photonics sector which currently employs 25,000 people across Canada in 400 companies and generates $5 billion in revenues, will also see growth. Their capacities in design, manufacturing, and distribution can support the development of quantum systems and devices, building on the legacy and expertise of firms such as Nortel and JDS.

Canada has a unique opportunity to merge its position as a global leader in quantum science excellence with one of technology leadership. Seizing this opportunity would drive the growth of a vibrant Canadian quantum ecosystem with world-leading research and development, innovative technologies, and globally-reaching Canadian companies leading to dynamic social, economic, and environmental solutions for Canada.