Exploring Canada’s quantum future

More than 190 researchers, leaders and policymakers gathered for the second annual Quantum Connections Conference May 1 and 2 at the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre. The conference built upon last year’s event with a focus on the potential impacts of quantum on business, government policy and security.

Dr. Norbert Lütkenhaus, executive director of IQC opened the conference by recognizing Canada’s quantum community’s global reputation and growth.

"As I thought about this conference, I reflected on our conversations last year and the conversations and events we’ve had since then.  This past year has only strengthened my belief that if you want to study quantum or start a business in quantum then you should be here in Canada," Lütkenhaus said.

There have been numerous investments in Canadian quantum research and business in 2024, including $17.2 million in support for quantum projects from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, $7 million in investment to quantum projects at the University of Waterloo through NSERC Alliance grants and up to $14.9 million from the federal government in support for Quantum Valley Ideas Lab to accelerate the development and adoption of quantum science technologies.

"This is great progress and shows what we are capable of while working together to build a stronger quantum nation," he said.

Following the opening remarks, Lütkenhaus was joined by Blake Johnson, Quantum Engine lead at IBM, for a fireside chat moderated by Kayleigh Platz, IQC’s director of communications and strategic initiatives.

The conversation looked at the state of today’s quantum industry and what the future has in store for quantum research and commercialization.

"Finding that sweet spot of product-market fit is crucial. It’s when technology or an industry becomes integral, moving beyond the early adopter phase driven primarily by public and private investments to something more organic," Johnson said. "Currently, we’re at a critical juncture where we need to be careful not to get sidetracked by other technologies or external factors like economic downturns. To truly unlock the potential value for companies and the world, we must focus on achieving that product-market fit."

The day’s first panel, Quantum + Business, discussed creating commercialization opportunities for quantum computing. The panel emphasized the need for Canada to create a comprehensive strategy to develop and promote quantum computing, including the importance of startup funding and early-stage strategic investments.

Dr. Donny Cheung, Google’s Health care and Life Sciences AI product portfolio lead for Google Cloud, said it is also important not to oversimplify the technology’s potential or underestimate the challenges involved.

"It’s like sitting in 1920 and trying to imagine what Tinder is like in the future. We don’t know. We have some ideas of what impact quantum is going to have, but it is incredibly difficult to find that killer application," Cheung said.

"Researching and developing real-world quantum solutions requires a quantum-ready workforce. Canada has the right ecosystem of post-secondary and research institutions and industry partners to build this workforce," said Dr. Anindya Sen, acting executive director of the University of Waterloo Cybersecurity & Privacy Institute. "That’s our Canadian advantage, and I don’t think it’s easily replicable in other parts of the world."

The Law + Policy panel discussed understanding the legal and policy-making aspects of emerging technologies like quantum. During the conversation, Simon Hodgett, partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, expressed that quantum leaders need to consider the policy and ethical implications of quantum advancements.

"When we go to market with a technology, we’re thinking about the policy, legislative and ethical implications of that technology. What are the negative implications that we’re going to need to deal with that are unique to the technology’ There are some really significant concerns about quantum that need to be dealt with, and I think artificial intelligence is blazing the trail for how to deal with policy and how to deal with the downsides of a technology," Hodgett said.

The first day of the conference ended with a keynote talk by Aleksander Kubica, a professor in applied physics at Yale University. In keeping with the conference’s theme, Kubica shared how video games like quantum chess can be used to demonstrate quantum phenomena to inspire the next generation of quantum leaders.

The second day of the conference began with Quantum + Impact. This panel discussion examined what is needed to bring quantum information science and technology to a broader audience to support new industry and commercial success.

"Balancing intellectual property protection with shared ownership is critical to supporting community-driven ideation is vital," said Dr. Meg Panetta, lead quantum scientist at Qubic. "It is really important not to underestimate the value of community and sharing in terms of elevating your ideas, interest and elevating your ability to execute."

The conference’s last panel was Quantum + The Near Future, which focused on the current state of quantum technologies in Canada.

"The industry is moving faster than I ever realized possible. That speed means there is a need for collaboration in quantum research to address its potential impact on society," said Dr. Razieh Annabestani, panelist and deputy director of the Quantum Sensing Challenge Program at the National Research Council Canada.

"When I started in quantum, I never imagined that we would sit here to talk about how we can commercialize it - it was so abstract at the time," Annabestani said. "It’s a fantastic experience to be on that journey from abstract all the way to policy."

Calista Besseling, Canadian ambassador of Girls in Quantum, closed out Quantum Connections with a keynote talk about how we can all break down barriers to attract more girls and women into quantum. Besseling shared her journey into the field, and the role Girls in Quantum has in expanding awareness and education worldwide.

"Everyone in this room - you have the expertise and the experience to inspire this next generation of folks to grow this field in exciting ways," Besseling said.

This year’s Quantum Connections conference was sponsored by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Nord Quantique, IBM Quantum, the National Research Council Canada and Xanadu.
Alex Kinsella