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Professor Mary O’Kane

NSW Government announces $26 million fund to support development of first quantum computer

Looking to push ahead in the digital “space race” to develop the world’s first commercialised quantum computer, the NSW Government has announced a new $26 million fund to support research organisations working to develop the technology.

The government has also said that it will be making further announcements about investments to support quantum computing development and high-level skills, with the aim of making NSW the first state in the world to finalise and commercialise the technology.

Speaking about the fund, Deputy Premier and Minister for Skills and Small Business, John Barilaro said that it will support local researchers who are already “pushing the boundaries” with quantum computing.

“It’s impossible to overstate the potential benefits of this technological innovation in terms of economic growth and job creation,” he said.

A significant step up on standard computers, quantum computers will be able to – in theory – process highly complex problems, such as predicting events and encrypting data, before presenting a solution.

Currently, these problems are incredibly difficult for computers to solve as they require the computer to sift through vast amounts of possible solutions, and as the problem becomes more complex, the amount of time it takes to examine all the possibilities seems exponential.

Simply put, quantum computers provide an alternate way to process data and can check every possible answer to a question at once, before churning out the most correct answer/s.

If commercialised, the technology could aid the development of new drugs, chemicals and materials for the health and agriculture sector, boost encryption as well as support the progression of artificial intelligence systems.

The government’s aim for the technology will be to help detect serious medical conditions, predict weather and major storms more effectively, improve encryption to protect financial information and communication, save travel time by analysing traffic movements, and develop cheaper agriculture fertilisers for farmers.

Professor Mary O’Kane, NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, added that the technology could also help forward physics and engineering in new directions.

“This research could…possibly leading to technological spin-offs that we can’t even contemplate yet. NSW has significant strengths in information and communication technology, including data analytics, photonics, and quantum computing, all of which offer potential to tackle data-heavy problems more quickly,” she said.

The funding is the latest move in Australia’s push towards quantum computing, with the federal government announcing last September a $70 million agreement between the research community, business and the government to help forward the technology.

Twenty-five million dollars was pledged over five years through the government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda to facilitate the development of a prototype silicon quantum integrated circuit, which would help build the first functioning quantum computer.

Another $25 million was pledged from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), with a team led by UNSW professor Arne Laucht announcing only a month later another step towards constructing the technology after creating a new stabilised quantum bit capable of processing calculations faster – a major step towards developing quantum computers.

Meanwhile in the global race, major tech companies themselves are looking to jump ahead and become the first to develop quantum computers.

November last year saw Microsoft announce that it would be doubling down on its quantum computing efforts by appointing Microsoft executive Todd Holmadhl as research lead, as the company looked to “get over the hump” to create machines that have “never existed before”.

Image: Professor Mary O’Kane. NSW Government.

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