Israeli scientists, entrepreneurs and senior officials gathered in a panel last week to examine where Israel stands in the global race for quantum computing. The meeting came one week after Israel’s Innovation Authority announced it was establishing a consortium to develop the hardware and software necessary for quantum computing in Israel.
This consortium initiative is part of a larger government program announced almost five years ago by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the ambitious goal of making Israel one of the world leaders in the field.
The new consortium will enjoy a 115-million-shekel ($33.6 million) budget, the highest allotted by the Innovation Authority to any project, and consist of five Israeli companies: Elta Systems (which is part of Israeli Aircraft Industries), Quantum Art, Classic, Kedma and Rafael. They will have the support of groups of academics from the Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan, the Technion and the Weizmann Institute.
According to the conditions set by the Innovation Authority, the consortium will develop systems that will include all the components for quantum computing, such as a quantum processor, oversight and control systems, a fully automated environment and a program to reduce noise.
With the goal of bypassing other international competitors, the authority instructed that the quantum processor itself utilize ion entrapment and superconductivity technologies.
Quantum computers are not intended to replace traditional computers. Rather, this technology should provide solutions to the kinds of calculations that classic computers have difficulty solving. This is important, for instance, in the development of new drugs, optimization with multiple variables and encryption. It is especially important strategically, for the development of new defense and space technologies.
In August 2020, the United States launched a billion-dollar quantum technology development plan to get ahead of other superpowers. According to 2022 reports, France, Germany and India have also each committed to spending similar sums in coming years. China has not released numbers, but experts believe it will invest up to $15 billion into quantum computing in the coming few years.
According to a BCC Research 2022 report, the annual growth rate of the global quantum computing technologies market exceeds 30%. The report predicts significant general growth in the market, from $390.7 million in 2021 to $1.6 billion in 2026. Currently, the leading countries investing in the development of quantum technologies are China, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, followed by France and Germany.
In global investment terms, Israel still lags behind. The Israeli Quantum Machines company, established in 2018, raised $75 million in four years. Israeli Classiq, which specializes in tools for quantum software development, raised $48 million since it was established in 2020. Like these two companies, most Israeli quantum companies are still at the startup phase.
In the Middle East race for “quantum superiority,” apart from Israel, the three other major players are Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Qatar. Turkey is also invested, but to a lesser degree.
The Saudis and Emiratis have each partnered with academic centers in the West for advancing quantum computing research. Israeli authorities, on the other hand, are working with local universities and local high-tech companies for two reasons: Israel’s already existing know-how in the domain and the sensitivity and strategic implications of this issue.
That being said, Israel would like to cooperate with its greatest ally the United States in this domain. The strategic dialogue launched September 2022 between them was designed, among other things, to bring down the walls preventing cooperation, especially in quantum computing and artificial intelligence.
The Israeli market underwent a shift in 2022. Until February last year, the government had been focused on quantum applications. Israel’s Rafael, for instance, was working with the Israeli security establishment on a variety of quantum sensor issues. Then Israel's strategy changed to advancing the development of the first Israeli-made quantum computer.
One of the important breakthroughs in the field of quantum computing was reached by a group of researchers in Israel’s Weizmann Institute. Ten months ago, this group, headed by Professor Roee Ozeri, presented what it described as “Israel’s first quantum computer,” which it called WeizQC. According to the Weizmann institute, it is one of only 30 quantum computers around the world, and one of the only to use the ion entrapment method.
Commenting on Israel’s advancement, Ozeri said, “I don't think the gaps with the world are very big. Israel today is in a place that is close to the forefront of global technology.”