Abu Dhabi could achieve technological sovereignty thanks to quantum computing, says expert

Emirate looks to become world's FinTech centre by building quantum computer

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Quantum computing will enable financial services to take a significant step forward, chief researcher at Abu Dhabi's Quantum Research Centre said.

And thanks to local investments in advancing the field, Abu Dhabi would be in a strong position to achieve “technological sovereignty,” Prof Jose Ignacio Latorre said.

He made his comments during the launch of Fintech Abu Dhabi’s Global Startups Tour, which seeks innovative and disruptive financial technology [fintech] start-ups to compete in a series of pitching competitions held globally.

Quantum computing should be able to compute for a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the energy. It's a win-win situation.

Stopping off at more than 20 countries, including the UK, the US, India and China, winners from each competition will be invited to the Fintech Abu Dhabi festival in November.

By the end of the summer, Abu Dhabi's Quantum Research Centre will have completed the development of the emirate’s first quantum chips, Prof Latorre said.

The centre, which is part of the Technology Innovation Institute, itself a branch of the government's Advanced Technology Research Council, is also developing a fully fledged quantum computer.

“The question is, ‘Who will have this technology?’ Is it only a corporation, a North American corporation? Is it a country?” said Prof Latorre, who teaches theoretical physics.

“Abu Dhabi decided two years ago to launch a centre for technology and innovation, the Technology and Innovation Institute, that aims to compete at the highest possible level. At the heart of the idea is to achieve technological sovereignty.”

Unlike traditional computers, which use “bits” arranged as combinations of ones and zeros, quantum computers employ “qubits” and make use of quantum mechanics, in which particles can exist in two states simultaneously.

This massively increases their computing power by allowing them to evaluate multiple outcomes at once.

As well as offering the potential for rapid advancement in areas such as medical research and drug discovery, Prof Latorre said quantum computing would speed up the calculations required in financial services.

“Finance is one of the sectors that uses computers a lot … but you cannot do all the computation you should because its costs energy, it costs money,” he said.

“Quantum computing should be able to compute for a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the energy. It’s a win-win situation: you save the planet and you do better computation.

“There are problems addressed by classical computing in a perfect way and problems that you should use a quantum computer for.”

Fintech start-ups proliferate in Abu Dhabi 

A man takes a photo of a model of the IBM Q System One quantum computer during the 2020 CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Steve Marcus
The IBM Q System One quantum computer on display at CES in Las Vegas, Nevada. Steve Marcus / Reuters

In a panel discussion on whether UAE fintech is going global, Ellen Moeller, head of EMEA partnerships at Stripe, a San Francisco-based company that offers software to manage online payments, said key areas of interest for fintechs included ensuring that transactions were a “very frictionless experience” for consumers.

“They’re used to calling a taxi from the touch of a button,” she said. “Why shouldn’t it be so simple when we’re talking about financial services? There’s a lot of opportunity for innovation for fintech.

“The final piece is regulators and central banks embracing this innovation. I think we’ve only scratched the surface of fintech innovation and there’s lots more to come.”

She added that the UAE “has all the right ingredients” to be a world-class technology and fintech hub, including a deep pool of talent and good investment climate.

“We’ve seen the UAE do a remarkable job at fostering fintech,” she added.

The region is seeing rapid growth in the number of tech start-ups in a range of fields, according to Vijay Tirathrai, managing director of Techstars, a company in the US state of Colorado, that supports tech start-ups.

Healthcare, agriculture and advertising technology are some of the sectors seeing expansion, but fintech, e-commerce and their related fields account for around a quarter of start-ups in the Mena region, he said, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt the dominant players.

“We’ve seen a significant explosion in the tech hubs in the region,” he said. “Abu Dhabi is particularly exciting for me.”

Companies Mr Tirathrai said were especially worth watching included neobanks, which offer online-only financial services and are looking to disrupt conventional banks, which he said tended to be slower adopters of innovation.

Described as the region's leading fintech festival, Fintech Abu Dhabi takes place from November 22 to 24 and will operate in a hybrid format, involving virtual and in-person sessions.