UK quantum computing ambitions need a 'pro-innovation' regulatory approach akin to AI

Quantum computing concept image showing CPU and computing chip on a circuit board.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The UK government is being urged to take a light touch when regulating quantum technologies, with the Regulatory Horizons Council recommending a 'pro-innovation' approach akin to that in the artificial intelligence (AI) space.

In a new report, the RHC called for proactive discussions and planning for future regulation to provide certainty and encourage long-term investment in the country’s burgeoning quantum computing industry.

A pro-innovation approach, the group said, would attract and retain domestic and international expertise and foster a competitive domestic landscape.

The report outlined a series of recommendations, including the creation of application-specific regulatory frameworks that would be adaptable and proportionate to the various development stages of quantum innovations.

It also called for international collaboration and harmonized standards to increase global market access, and for regulation and responsible innovation practices to be baked into the development of quantum technologies.

Andrew Griffith, minister for science, research, and innovation, said the government welcomed the calls for a more moderate regulatory framework.

"I welcome the Regulatory Horizons Council’s report and its recommendations to take a pro-innovation approach to regulating quantum technology as its use in our economy grows," he said.

"Quantum holds immense promise, with the potential to revolutionize disease screening, advance quantum computing, and ultimately transform our lives and boost the UK economy."

The recommendations have also been welcomed by industry stakeholders, including techUK.

Sue Daley, director of tech and innovation at the industry body, said that discussions over potential regulatory approaches to quantum technologies are crucial while the sector remains in a nascent stage.

"This proactive approach not only provides early regulatory clarity but also mitigates economic risks, ensuring that the opportunities for the UK’s quantum businesses are maximized,” Daley said.

The UK government sees great promise in the quantum computing industry

Along with AI, quantum technology is an area the government is keen to exploit in years to come. 

George Freeman, minister of state at the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT), recently described quantum computing as “one of the five transformational technologies in which the UK is a global leader”.

The government’s National Quantum Strategy aims to promote the development of quantum technologies for commercial use, with the backing of £2.5 billion in funding over 10 years from 2024.

In late 2023, the government also announced more than £14 million in funding to further boost support for quantum technologies, including the launch of a UK Quantum Standards Network Pilot and £10.6 million in funding to accelerate the development of components and systems for quantum network technologies.

Jonathan Legh-Smith, executive director at UKQuantum, said recommendations for a pro-innovation approach to quantum technologies will encourage long-term investment and support industry growth.

"As we have learnt from AI, it is essential that we engage early in developing the regulatory frameworks that will reassure the public and businesses that the inevitable innovation afforded by quantum technologies will have the positive change that we anticipate and intend.” he said.

"This need not come at the expense of stifling the very innovation we seek to enable. The recommendations within this report, focusing on the application of quantum rather than the technologies themselves, and promoting the principles of responsible innovation, clearly position the UK as the leader in pro-innovation regulation for quantum."

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.