Keeping Australia’s Quantum Advantage | information age

Interest in quantum computers is growing as governments and large corporations look for ways to gain competitive advantage through advanced technology.

In this three-part series, Information Age examines how quantum computers work, their applications, and the ongoing role Australian scientists and engineers play in developing the technology.

Australia has been at the forefront of quantum research and has since built an ecosystem of quantum technology experts that is the envy of the world.

But now there are fears that the government’s failure to adequately capitalize on this expertise is being wasted.

Simon Devitt is a senior lecturer at the Center for Quantum Software and Information at the University of Technology Sydney.

Last year he co-writing of a report for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) describing how Australia’s quantum advantage is shrinking as federal support dries up and researchers move overseas.

“During the 2000s, Australia was one of the few countries to be very aggressive in funding universities for the development of quantum technology,” he said. information age.

“We also had tremendous interactions with US Defense and European investors.

“As a result, we’ve generated a tremendous amount of intellectual property, which is why when you look at the domain now, you basically see Australians everywhere.”

Jay Gambetta, formerly Griffith University, is vice president of IBM Quantum.

Christian Weedbrook of the University of Queensland is CEO and founder of Canadian quantum startup Xanadu.

Jeremy O’Brien of the University of New South Wales and Terry Rudolph of the University of Queensland co-founded the Silicon Valley startup PsyQuantum.

And Runyao Duan, who was the founding director of the Center for Quantum Software at the University of Technology Sydney, now heads the Institute for Quantum Computing at Chinese tech firm Baidu.

Brain drain

Of course, it’s not unusual for Australians to seek out international opportunities, but Devitt worries about a quantum brain drain which he says has been accelerated by the pandemic.

“We have lost ten faculty members from Sydney’s quantum community since the onset of COVID,” he said. information age.

“A few were poached by Chinese companies, three went to Amazon, another to Google, a few to Microsoft and other startups as well.

“I think it was around 15-16 nationally over the same period.

“And it wasn’t post-docs or students who left – it was tenured academics who were leading research groups.”

The reason people leave is simple: money.

“Companies walk around saying ‘well this research is pretty cool, I’ll get it for $300,000’ which for the academic is a good amount of money, but for these companies it’s like log on to fiverr.com and offer someone $10 to draw you a logo,” Devitt said.

“Government funding for quantum centers of excellence has dried up and we’re struggling to compete with the money spent by big tech companies over the past five or six years.”

There was some movement late last year when the government announced $70 million in funding to help commercialize local quantum businesses.

And the NSW government has been proactive with the Quantum Terminal part of its Tech Central complex which will host local businesses and the Sydney Quantum Academy.

But there are calls for the government to do more to recognize the value of Australian quantum research, to make Australia a place where talent wants to live and work, and to usher in the next generation of quantum computing experts. .

“Given what we did in the early 2000s and how far we’ve come in this area, it would be ridiculous to give the store away now,” Devitt said.

“If the government doesn’t step in and launch a national initiative, this will all wither on the vine.”

many worlds

For all the commercial, defense and infrastructure value that quantum computing could bring, its development will also lead to a better understanding of how the universe works and why.

Unfortunately, quantum physics carries a lot of baggage, partly because of the strange phenomena it involves like superposition and entanglement, but also because theoretical physicists and philosophers have long wondered how exactly the universe can be. of a probabilistic nature.

One of the earliest explanations is known as Interpretation of many worlds quantum mechanics which explains the randomness of the universe by saying, in effect, that quantum events trigger a splitting of the universe so that every possible outcome occurs in another universe.

David Deutsch was a pioneer of quantum computing when it was still a largely theoretical concept. In his 1997 book the fabric of realityDeutsch assumes that the “many worlds interpretation” is true and suggests that quantum computers would be a means of interacting with these alternate realities.

“A quantum computer would be able to distribute the components of a complex task among a large number of parallel universes and then share the results,” Deutsch wrote.

During our research on this series, we asked quantum experts about the “interpretation of multiple worlds” and if they thought they were communicating with parallel universes.

No one was constrained by this idea.

One even quoted the saying “shut up and calculate,” a phrase taught to students of quantum physics to prevent them from getting caught up in the implications of strange quantum effects.

That’s not to say there isn’t some kind of magic in quantum computing, but it is the magic of science, a pseudo-spiritual connection to the sublimity of the universe that comes from a in-depth study in all its forms.

Connections

We asked Professor Michelle Simmons what effects her deep understanding of quantum computing has had on her daily experience.

“Every atom counts, that’s my motto,” she said information age.

“One of the great results we’ve had recently is that we moved an atom from a lattice location and could see the dramatic effect that has on how things work.

“With just a tiny bit of change, we can see an impact – which basically means everything matters and we’re all connected.”

The quantum world is chaotic.

It is underpinned by probability, by uncertainty, by mysterious phenomena that cannot yet be explained.

But through experimentation, people working on the problem of quantum computing will find new paths for humanity.

“It’s very deep and complicated, but rewarding,” Professor Simmons said.

“Basically, if we can build a quantum computer, it will help us understand things that we’ve never understood before.”

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