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A £1bn investment has put the UK at the forefront of the Quantum Technology revolution

Data-driven innovation is a driver of sustainable growth and an opportunity for business to build back better, harnessing the world leading knowledge of UK higher education institutions.

Our world is enabled by data. Satellite navigation finds our position, we talk to our cars and houses, our utilities coordinate via the internet of things and high bandwidth mobile communications puts the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. They helps us to design new materials and improve disease detection and monitoring.

The UK has always been at the forefront of using data and the associated knowledge. 250 years ago, the application of quality data and knowledge to engineering made the West Midlands the birthplace of the industrial revolution, triggering the ascent of the UK to become the world leading economy.

220 years later, UK computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and the UK became a leading player in the digital revolution. Using data in the industrial internet of things with machine-to-machine communication and machine learning is driving the Industry 4.0 agenda with a digital transformation of automation.

However, the UK remains one of the most under-roboticized industrial nations, with only 70 robots per 10,000 employees as compared to 300 in Germany and 700 in Korea. This provides a policy opportunity for investment and support to jump directly to Smart Robotics, which provides the essential physical link, between the software of digital manufacturing design, scheduling and logistics, and the real materials and components on production lines.

Advanced robotic manipulation, driven by computer vision, multi-sensor fusion and artificial intelligence, enable robots to take novel tasks such as recycling and re-manufacture maintaining previously created value in a maximally sustainable circular economy. Examples include the recycling of magnets for electric generators and the dangerous and complex disassembly of electric vehicle batteries on the way towards a net-zero carbon economy.

While data-driven innovation support the transition to low-carbon technologies, we need to tackle the energy consumption of data processing. The carbon footprint of information and communication technologies surpassed that of aviation and they are predicted to reach 20% of global electricity consumption by 2030, rising rapidly. To counteract this trend, we need policies in place to support the transition of academic energy innovation to business, turning the cooling needs of data centres into smart heating opportunities for homes and driving energy from waste technologies.

We have the opportunity to shape “building back” with data driven innovation to become the world leading smart and sustainable economy. In order to reap the dividends, we will also need to adapt IP protection and security of business know-how to stand up in a data-intensive world, where every item constantly communicates with every other item. We have to enhance the flow of expertise from GCHQ and their academic centres of excellence to businesses to protect our valuable data and consumer products, such as car-fobs, are safe against malicious manipulation. Further work is also needed on explaining the decisions taken by data-driven algorithms to ensure that we understand when they may fail and how they may fail; and on ensuring that they do not amplifying existing inequalities that are embedded in the data on which they are trained and evaluated.

The next revolution is on our fingertips. After spearheading the industrial and digital revolutions, the UK is leading again, a £1bn investment has put the UK at the forefront of the Quantum Technology revolution. Quantum computation and communication will allow us to extract even more quality information from large data sets and communicate it safely.

Quantum sensors allow us to take a different look at data-driven innovation based on the quality of data. Instead of processing and power-hungry data mining, a novel sensor modality can deliver quality information much more directly and efficiently, disrupting how we live and do business. For example, the invention of practical radar systems by researchers at the University of Birmingham, provided unprecedented quality data of movements in the sky, which not only was a decisive factor in WWII, but also underpins global air space control today and is translated by Birmingham academics into the automotive sector to enable safe autonomous driving in the future.

In addition to further enhancing radar towards safe urban flight with packet delivery drones and flying taxis, Quantum Sensors will address productivity in the construction sector and support carbon sequestration with quality data of the underground, allow to navigate under the sea to drive the blue economy and provide new diagnostic tools for brain health in an ageing society and brain machine interfaces.

Overall, boosting the creation of quality data, the extraction of quality information and the secure use of it in smart manufacturing having UK academic excellence work in unity with business will allow us to build back a better economy for everyone.