Australian Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic has announced the country’s first National Quantum Strategy which scientists believe might lead to a new type of world-leading supercomputer.
The strategy is to be funded with part of the Albanese government’s National Reconstruction Fund which aims to invest one billion dollars for technologies including quantum. The strategy identifies five priority areas:
- Investing in research and development and commercialisation,
- Securing infrastructure and materials,
- Growing a skilled workforce,
- Supporting national interests, and
- Promoting a trusted, ethical, inclusive ecosystem
The government says that the quantum industry could create 19,400 jobs and bring $5.9 billion in revenue by 2045.
“I can’t emphasise this enough, quantum technologies will be truly transformative,” says Husic.
“In the last 15 years, Australia has invested quite a lot in the fundamental science of quantum technology. This strategy is more about how we’re going to support the development of the technology into actual products and building a quantum technology ecosystem in Australia, as well as continuing to support the fundamental research,” RMIT University’s Professor Jared Cole, who specialises in quantum theory and its applications, tells Cosmos.
Cole was involved in the focus group discussions held between the government and experts in preparing the National Quantum Strategy.
University Queensland Associate Professor Tom Stace, whose superconducting quantum hardware startup company Analog Quantum Circuits is listed as a case study in the National Quantum Strategy document, tells Cosmos that, historically, government funding has propelled the development of computing and other technologies.
“The fact that government is recognising that this is a sector that is early in its technological life and needs government input to support that its development is extremely encouraging,” Stace comments. “I guess you could compare it with the early days of digital computer development and then subsequently of digital networking, which were all driven by government demand and funding.”
Stace says that Australia needs to prioritise “getting basic research out of universities, which is where it is largely done” – an area in which the country “lags behind.”
The strategy includes the “ambitious” goal to build the world’s first “error-corrected quantum computer” in Australia.
Quantum computers promise to be thousands or millions of times faster and more powerful than today’s “classical” computers. But quantum effects make them error ridden.
Tom Stace says that current codes for error correction in quantum computers would require up to tens of millions of quantum bits (qubits). Current quantum machines have only a few hundred qubits at most.
Jared Cole notes that many “big names” such as Google and IBM are involved in quantum computing research in superconducting and ion-trapped qubits.
“But in Australia, we have expertise in silicon and nitrogen vacancy centres in diamond,” Cole says. “These architectures are not as advanced as particularly the superconducting ones that the big tech companies are using. But we have strong reasons to believe that there’s an advantage to working with silicon in the long term.”
Cole says it’s unclear if Australia will develop the first error-corrected quantum computer because the big US-based companies are “very close to that.”
“But the hope is that a lot of the technologies that Australia is pursuing will overtake them. And I think that this quantum strategy is about supporting that and helping build the supply chain and the ecosystem to help that happen.”
Quantum computers will be particularly useful in simulating the chemical structure of molecules and chemicals – helping to design drugs, optimise new materials, or develop new processing techniques.
Cole says quantum technologies are already transforming the technology of sensors and clocks. He says that further investment in researching quantum technologies will improve things like GPS and imaging techniques in hospitals.