Dr. Mona Nemer
Chief Science Advisor of Canada
Opening Remarks for the Quantum Days Conference 2022
February 8, 2022
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Good morning, I would like to start by thanking the organizers for the opportunity to speak to you today.
Thank you, Andrea, for that kind introduction. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of you during the past year at various occasions including during a round table that my office organized. Let me tell you how much I appreciated these informative exchanges.
In fact, many of you also took part in the roundtables organized last summer by the department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
You will be pleased to hear that the report on those discussions was publicly released earlier this morning on the department’s website. Your input has been invaluable.
It is because of your pioneering work that Canada is a key player in the global quantum race and has been almost from Day 1.
The fact that several countries are interested in establishing structured collaborations with Canada in quantum science and technology is a testament to your research excellence and leadership in a promising field.
What an exciting time! The implications of the “second quantum revolution” are vast, and it is clear that, going forward, quantum technologies could underpin an immense amount of further research and of course applications.
After all, as Feynman said, “Nature isn’t classical, dammit!”
As a chemist and health researcher myself, I especially look forward to seeing how chemistry, drug design and materials science might benefit from quantum technologies.
What for decades seemed to be a dream goal, now appears to be closer to being reachable than ever before.
Every week we hear announcements of the latest achievements, new milestones, different collaborations and mergers, updated strategic plans and further investments.
Many countries now have national strategies to ensure they will not be left behind – the stakes are high. Some have passed the stage of defining and announcing strategies and are actively funding and rolling out ambitious plans.
This global acceleration underscores the urgency for a Canadian strategy. We have the opportunity to learn from others and adapt the best approaches to our situation.
Here are my thoughts, based on what I have heard from you and what I see happening in other countries. I’ll limit them to 5 points.
We need to acknowledge that the quantum landscape is evolving rapidly, and so must we. We need to be agile and ready to make necessary adjustments to our strategy on the go.
That being said, it is critical for Canada to develop a game plan—a quantum roadmap—to direct our actions towards our stated objectives, and to continue to position ourselves as leaders in a field where international competition will continue to intensify.
This roadmap should help us move forward together towards our goals. For example, we have seen our French friends commit to :
"Develop a hybrid computer, especially for chemistry, logistics, artificial intelligence, and as early as 2023."
Such a clear goal gives everyone the opportunity to synchronize related activities in a concerted effort.
A roadmap, together with the necessary commitments, would be indispensable for guiding future investments, maximizing collaborations across sectors, and ensuring national benefits and a coherent and strategic international role.
We need to make effective longer-term investments. The development of the quantum technology sector, and the widespread use of quantum technologies across our economy, will require a production and learning/training infrastructure as well as a well-prepared workforce, especially in quantum engineering and programming.
Given the time and resource commitment needed to develop and maintain a leading edge infrastructure and workforce, the roadmap must include a multi-year plan for coordination of major infrastructure, training and staffing involving colleges, universities and the private sector.
We need to engage internationally as a team — a national team— with a game plan and a strong and respected champion who can speak for Canada and be recognized- and respected- by other countries. There are many Canadian and international collaborations on which we can build.
- With that global outlook in mind, we need to mobilize quantum science and technologies in a way that will help Canada deal with some existential challenges. We need to ask:
- How will Canadian quantum S&T excellence contribute to achieving net zero GHG emission targets?
- How will it help mitigate and adapt to climate change?
- How will it help ensure Canada’s national and economic security?
- How will it help keep Canadians healthy and ready to fight pandemics?
- How will it help Canada make a better use of its natural resources?
In considering these challenges, engagement of end-users should not be an after-thought.
It is hard to predict how quantum computing, sensing, communications and materials will change our economy and lives. I think it is safe to say that most of us are probably underestimating the likely impact.
Nonetheless, we need to start thinking “disruptive-technology readiness” in all industrial and service sectors.
This means encryption that is quantum-ready, but also envisioning the opportunities for quantum technologies and computing in some strategic areas for Canada such as telecommunications, transport, natural resources, health, and agriculture.
That said, engagement of the public should not be an after-thought either. Responsible innovation should be our ultimate goal.
Last month, The World Economic Forum published a document proposing Governance Principles for the new Quantum era.
These principles cover Open Science and Innovation, Sustainability, a Quantum-Secure Digital World, a quantum-ready workforce, Accessibility and Inclusiveness, and several other topics that will certainly be part of this conference.
We need to have an open discussion about these topics, and not only between scientists!
Your active participation will ensure we increasingly play as a team, that we own the podium and that we engage with end-users to promote innovative solutions in key Canadian sectors.
I look forward to working with all of you towards these exciting goals.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide the opening remarks at the second meeting of Quantum Days Canada.
I will be happy to answer a few questions, time permitting.