Even fools who keep silent are considered wise…

… Or so the proverb goes. As Parliament has now entered an early “silly season”, otherwise known as the Autumn Recess, an unusual event occurred. Norman Lamb, who chairs the Science and Technology Select Committee, midway through conducting an Inquiry into Quantum Technologies, on the 18th of July, sent an open appeal to the Treasury. But would he have been wiser to keep silent at this juncture?

Indeed, was the Recess what prompted this letter? Lamb states: “Throughout the course of our Inquiry, we have heard of significant opportunities presented on quantum technologies, and the world-leading position that the program has helped to achieve. We have also been warned of increasing international competition as technologies approach commercialisation.” The programme he is referring to is the five-year government funding of the National Quantum Technologies Programme which has its origin in Osborne's Eight Great Technologies, in this case, instigated by the Royal Society.

Once again, note the misleading claim “world-leading position”. All politicians should cease and desist from using this form of words for surely at this juncture on Brexit a little more of the truth and humility on the matter would serve the UK better than platitudes. It’s certain that the US, China and the Dutch would openly contest his claim. Those being interviewed qualified their claims so as not to antagonise their international collaboration colleagues. Lamb, though, is right to be concerned since the UK does have a lead in certain aspects of quantum imaging but by no means does it lead the overall international field - especially in quantum computing or the theoretical mathematical aspects as now understood.

Both this blog and the Technology section of Electronics World have highlighted areas of interest and developments in this quantum field. Consider first the September 2017 “Scrambled Light wavemeter breakthrough” from St Andrews and M Squared Lasers, who submitted a response to the inquiry. Secondly, consider the June 2018 article “A quantum coherent device aims to set a new standard for measuring current”. Alluding to the wave-partical duality aspects, the NPL researcher comments: “The duality between the CQUID and the SQUID devices originates from the fundamental relationship between charge and phase in quantum mechanics”. Is phase a fundamental quantity? On reading this article one of my colleagues (with a PHD in aspects of SQUID design from Straithclyde) stated that, surely, they should be the same? Whereas I replied that surely there should be four of them? Perhaps it is me who is being foolish and should shut up. The truth is that we don't as yet know what is going on here. The clue is in NPL's use of the phrase “We can think of it”.

As there are still far too many unanswered questions in this rapidly evolving field, surely it would have been better for the HoC Science and Technology Committee to close their Inquiry and then make their considered recommendations based on all the evidence presented to them? Instead, of going cap-in-hand to the Chancellor and asking for a blank cheque and spoil what is shaping up to be a landmark inquiry.

Barry McKeown
27th July 2018