How the UK is Steering International Quantum Standards

Thought LeadersBen Sheridan Head of R&DBSI

In a new interview feature, AZoQuantum speaks with Ben Sheridan about the first international quantum standards committee, which the UK has been chosen to lead. We discuss BSI's role in establishing this committee and the implications for the quantum industry both in the United Kingdom and around the world. 

Please can you introduce yourself and your professional background?

I’m Ben Sheridan, the lead on quantum technology innovation at BSI in its role as the UK’s National Standards Body. I’m a condensed matter physicist by training and well-versed in all things quantum.

Can you elaborate on BSI's role in establishing and leading the first international quantum technology committee? How does this align with BSI's overall mission?

We’re proud to helm the first international committee as quantum moves from hypothetical to a range of commercial applications. It is the first committee of its kind within the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) framework. That means it’s the first time that international partners have come together to deliver a set of standards across quantum information technology, quantum communications, quantum metrology, quantum sources, detectors and imaging.

The UK has been chosen to lead in developing new best practice standards to respond with agility to new industry challenges and pioneer a quantum-enabled world, bringing benefits across society and helping us to deliver our purpose.

Quantum technology promises revolutionary advances for industry and society. It capitalizes on the unique properties of quantum physics to achieve functionality and performance that cannot be achieved using classical physics. The hope is that these technologies will one day make it possible to solve complex problems that are currently unsolvable with even the most powerful high-performance classical computer.  This could allow us to reach entirely new frontiers in sensing, timing, imaging, and communications.

Why do you believe the UK was chosen to lead this initiative?

The UK is a world-leader in quantum technologies, with a strong quantum eco-system. In 2014, the UK set up the National Quantum Technologies Programme, the first of its kind in the world to support research and then to take technologies out of the research environment. This program has built leading capabilities in quantum computing, sensors and timing, imaging, and communications and shaped a path to the market.

quantum standards, BSI

Image Credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com

As part of the UK’s National Quantum strategy, the focus has been on international collaboration beyond our shores. This includes expanding multilateral arrangements with leading quantum nations to exchange knowledge on quantum programs, developments, regulation, and security. These include the OECD, Global Technology Forum, WEF, and the G7. The Secretariat role for the JTC on Quantum Technologies will help facilitate further collaborations with participating countries.

What are the biggest challenges in developing international standards for such a dynamic area of technology?

As quantum is such a new area, the biggest challenge we face is establishing ways of finding common ground. At this early stage, coordination is vital.

Which of the applications of quantum technology do you foresee having the most significant impact in the near term?

Technology has the potential to become a force for positive change in society and accelerate progress towards a fair society and a sustainable world. The three main obvious early-stage applications are in much faster computing, resulting in higher levels of encryption and security, and sensors with sensitivities.

The first services could be simulations in the financial markets, aiding the climate challenge, or underpinning transport systems where existing supercomputing capabilities are not of sufficient power to give a sensible result.

How will BSI collaborate with other countries, especially Korea, as the chair of the committee, in the standardization process?

We bring a wealth of expertise in committee management to this, and we are committed to leading and driving the development of international standards to guide the evolution and integration of quantum technologies, fostering innovation for the benefit of industries and society globally. We are looking forward to working closely with our international partners to build a solid foundation for collaboration and find common ground to accelerate the development and adoption of quantum technology.

Will the UK Government’s National Quantum Strategy have any impact on your activities?

The Government’s National Quantum Strategy sets out a pressing need for a comprehensive, robust, and consistent suite of standards that cater to the global quantum marketplace. We intend the output of the committee to help deliver a set of standards across quantum information technology, quantum communications, quantum metrology, quantum sources, detectors, and imaging.

Can you discuss BSI's involvement in the Quantum Standards Network Pilot?

The Quantum Standards Network Pilot is a collaboration involving BSI, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), UK Quantum, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), NPL and the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC).

It provides a focal point on standards for the UK industry, helping overcome barriers to realizing the potential of quantum technologies in applications ranging from healthcare to finance, defense to communications.  BSI is responsible for leading international efforts in accelerating quantum tech innovation through standards.

Another will be to work with the government and regulators to create a governance system that points the industry towards a more purposeful direction without inadvertently suppressing innovation through unnecessarily burdensome regulation. Ultimately, we would like to help the industry move successfully from start-up to scale-up.

How do you envision the landscape of quantum technologies evolving over the next decade?

Quantum is gradually moving beyond hypotheticals toward a range of promising commercial applications[1], including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, drug development, financial modeling, the discovery of electronic materials, weather forecasting, and climate modeling. Our work in the new committee is designed to underpin this with international consensus.

What are the immediate next steps?

We are laying down the foundations of the international committee by firstly engaging with the relevant quantum-leading countries and participants to sharpen the scope and work program with the aim of hosting the first plenary in late May in South Korea. This will be followed by the second one in Edinburgh during the IEC General Meeting in October this year. To feed into this process, BSI has also convened a UK national mirror committee, which is growing fast to support the work of the new committee.

Where Can Readers Find More? 

[1] https://scienceexchange.caltech.edu/topics/quantum-science-explained/quantum-technology

About Ben Sheridan 

I’ve worked more broadly on emerging technologies most of my career, having started out as a designing semiconductor devices. I then moved into running R&D programs before working at BSI specialising in leading the efforts of the business in supporting the emergence of new industries based on these innovative technologies.

Skyla Baily

Written by

Skyla Baily

Skyla graduated from the University of Manchester with a BSocSc Hons in Social Anthropology. During her studies, Skyla worked as a research assistant, collaborating with a team of academics, and won a social engagement prize for her dissertation. With prior experience in writing and editing, Skyla joined the editorial team at AZoNetwork in the year after her graduation. Outside of work, Skyla’s interests include snowboarding, in which she used to compete internationally, and spending time discovering the bars, restaurants and activities Manchester has to offer!

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