“For an innovation to achieve impact, it’s a question of applicability, not technological potential.”



Susan Wegner, Vice President Artificial Intelligence & Data Analytics at Lufthansa Industry Solutions (LHIND) about the development of industrial use cases for quantum computing

Quantum computing is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, investments that go beyond funding the further development of hardware are crucial to this phase, says Dr.-Ing. Susan Wegner, Vice President for Artificial Intelligence & Data Analytics at Lufthansa Industry Solutions. In our interview, she explains why her company joined QUTAC, how it is involved in the consortium and what digital sovereignty means to her.


Dr.-Ing. Susan Wegner, Vice President Artificial Intelligence & Data Analytics bei Lufthansa Industry Solutions

Dr.-Ing. Susan Wegner, Vice President Artificial Intelligence & Data Analytics bei Lufthansa Industry Solutions. ©Philipp Stelzner


Thank you for being with us, Dr. Wegner. You and your company Lufthansa Industry Solutions (LHIND) have just joined QUTAC this February. What drew you to join?

The main reason is that we see things the same way as the founding members do: no company in Germany or for that matter Europe can rise to the quantum computing challenge on their own. At Lufthansa Industry Solutions we’re lucky to be working with highly qualified staff doing pioneering work with enthusiasm and dedication. But the complexity of the field goes far beyond what we can aspire to accomplish alone. It requires us to be in mutual exchange with others early, so we can all move forward together. We knew the answer straight away: we want to join.

QUTAC is focused on developing quantum computing applications. What use cases does LHIND bring to the consortium?

Our use cases are closely tied to our core business, aviation. They usually involve optimization problems in the mobility and logistics areas. In one of these use cases, we are working with QUTAC partners to optimize freight routes. In our global mobility landscape, the question of what route a package should take to reach its destination as quickly as possible has become a highly complex one. We have to select from hundreds of possible routes and aircraft types.

What approach are you taking here?

A machine learning approach is ideal for this problem, which means using artificial intelligence to solve the optimization mathematically by making use of the data made available to it. Its ability to do so mainly depends on the availability of relevant data. The more data you can “feed” to the AI, the closer its solution comes to the optimal one. At Lufthansa Industry Solutions we’ve been able to achieve good results on this with conventional computers – albeit with severe limitations. The amount of available data we would like to use is far in excess of what conventional systems can process at the moment. With quantum computing we hope to break through this bottleneck soon.

You have mentioned the importance of mutual exchange. What does cooperation through QUTAC working groups look like?

A key part of our task at the moment is mapping out the expertise that each member brings to the table. That enables us to find the most fitting combination of talent for each use case and develop solutions together. It also involves reliable benchmarking. We assess where quantum computing promises the greatest advances, not just in theoretical terms but very practical ones, considering the hardware that currently exists or will exist in the near future. Apart from that, our collaboration is becoming increasingly hands-on. Employees are sharing code they have developed and colleagues at other companies are helping to refine it.

Most quantum computers are still prototypes. Why is QUTAC working on use cases at this early stage? Isn’t it more important to bring the hardware to maturity first?

No. Hardware development is important, but for an innovation to achieve impact, it’s a question of applicability, not technological potential. Besides, for quantum computing hardware to reach greater maturity it will largely depend on which applications turn out to be promising, and what requirements the technology has to meet in order to make them work. It is crucial, however, that we learn to think in different time horizons when it comes to quantum computing.

What do you mean by that?

We have to be aware that we are observing – and participating in the emergence of – a completely new technology and the ecosystem surrounding it. This process needs time and early commitment at all levels. We have to go beyond the sequential mentality to some extent: ‘hardware first, then software’ is not an approach that will get us to where we want in this case. We need to be clear today about the direction we want to develop in over the next ten to twenty years, and set the course accordingly. This covers not only hardware and software, but also training the people who will ultimately be operating both.

QUTAC wants to help form an economically successful, independent quantum computing ecosystem in Germany and Europe. Digital sovereignty is what the consortium aims for at its core. What does this term mean for you?

Independence. And once again, hardware has a major role. Germany and Europe will need their own powerful quantum computers, as well as companies that are confident in using them backed up by appropriate software. Otherwise, we will make ourselves dependent on other countries in one way or another. The current political situation in particular shows that this wouldn’t be in our interests.

So Germany and Europe should aim for a pioneering role themselves?

Ideally, yes. But that does not mean that German companies should tie themselves to German or European suppliers. That would mean closing off options. Instead, it has to be about creating alternatives and building a market, so that companies have a choice over the resources they want to use. But all this is only one part of a bigger picture. A functioning ecosystem also includes universities that can train the skilled workers of tomorrow. And lastly, we need what’s happening right now at QUTAC: working in partnership and cross-industry to pool resources.

QUTAC also wants to bring an industry perspective to bear in the political debate, to better contribute to quantum computers’ economic success. What support do you look for from politics?

Research funding is already very extensive from federal and state governments, which is an important signal. However, it is crucial at this stage for companies who are developing applications to get more support. Individual companies are making very high investments, and development phases are long. They’ll need a lot of stamina before their pioneering work pays off. Those in politics should help keep it financially attractive for companies to do this kind of forward-looking research and development in quantum computing, by providing targeted support.

How is Lufthansa Industry Solutions involved in quantum computing outside of QUTAC?

Among other things, we are a founding member of the Artificial Intelligence Center Hamburg (ARIC). ARIC was originally just about promoting and sustainably using AI in the Hamburg metropolitan region but is now also going to be addressing quantum computing via the Quantum Innovation Capital (QUIC) initiative. We’ll be contributing through various participation formats such as lectures or brown bag sessions.

Dr. Wegner, thank you for talking with us.