But while commercial quantum computer applications may still be 10 years off, now is the time to “disruption check” businesses against the nascent technology and begin making the links with quantum researchers that could pay off in the future.
So says Michael Bremner, a UTS Professor of software engineering who leads the UTS node of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology.
“It would be great if more Australian companies were to pro-actively latch on to these things and begin thinking about how we may be able to develop a new product in the future,” says Professor Bremner.
This week came an encouraging sign of things to come when the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) at UNSW came a step closer to a silicon architecture integrated circuit with 10 qubit computational capacity.
The number of qubits, or quantum bits, is a measure of a quantum computer’s capacity.
The 10 qubit CQC2T device will arrive in three to four years and be capable of handling some simple algorithms. A much larger 100 qubit device is being developed in parallel and should appear within six to eight years.
This week CQCT2T announced a development milestone in the form of a working 2 qubit gate, the building block of a quantum computer, that is up to 200 times faster than other spin-based two qubit gates.
The advantage of the silicon design compared to other quantum compute architectures, such as the superconducting architecture used in IBM’s Q series, Google’s Bristlestone and Intel’s Tangle Lake designs, is high fidelity, which means fewer errors from extraneous noise.
The CQCT2T 2 qubit gate also has long coherence time, which means the qubits hold their spin state longer than competitive designs.
While quantum compute hardware development is well underway globally, there is an equally important development effort going on that looks at creating the algorithms that will sift through problems in our world.
CQCT2T director Professor Michelle Simmons, who was last year’s Australian of the Year, says there some 50 quantum computer aligned algorithms already developed.
The problem is the hardware doesn’t yet exist to process all the algorithms and their corresponding applications.
“What we have realised is that some of the applications that are out there require thousands of qubits and that’s not the point where the hardware is at,” she says.
“There is this funny position in the world where we are trying to find the algorithms that are nearer term to the hardware we are developing.”
Fields where quantum computers could make a difference early include chemical reaction study and the search for new and more efficient catalysts that can speed up reactions and material design.
But commercial applications are a way off, Professor Simmons cautions. “A lot of people think that we are going to have commercial applications in the short term, the reality is we are still about a decade off from having anything commercial.”
But banks know a whole new wave of disruption is on the way and it will hit everything from cyber security to financial markets prediction to customer analytics.
The Commonwealth Bank hasn’t been hanging around with respect to the technology. In 2017 it commissioned a quantum computing technology simulator and has invested $14 million in CQCT2T. Other backers include Telstra and the federal government.
At the time, the CBA said the simulator was set up because quantum computing involved “a completely different way of thinking for programmers and analysts”.
“A simulator gives them the chance to work in this new way now so they are prepared once quantum hardware is available. Through the simulator, quantum computer software can be developed and tested,” the bank said.
The cyber security implications of quantum computing have been top of mind at Westpac.
At an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce event in June last year, then Westpac chief information officer David Curran said quantum computing would have huge ramifications for bank cyber security.
“It changes the whole game from a cyber point of view. From a commercial point of view, it exercises my mind a lot.”
Cyber criminals could be handed “a unique set of opportunities to do what they want to do,” said Curran, who retired from the bank in January.
Rapid developments in quantum computing could leave banks struggling to catch up with the crooks.
“If you change that game to the point … we need a lead time of a whole lot more than just six to twelve months,” Curran said.
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