Quantum Computing Breakthrough: Australia Leading Technological Advancement

A second study by the team, published in Advanced materials in December shows that quantum chips can be built using “ion implantation,” the same technology used to make silicon chips inside computers and smartphones.

“This ensures that our quantum breakthrough is compatible with the wider semiconductor industry,” says Professor David Jamieson, who led this work at the University of Melbourne.

a long way to go

Scientists talk about expanding quantum manufacturing. But today’s machines are still made by hand. And making one that can do useful things is still a long way off.

Loading

IBM’s 127-qubit processor holds the title of the most powerful quantum computer in the world. A useful machine will need “millions, if not billions, of qubits”, says Professor Jamieson.

Professor Turner says different people give different predictions of how long it could take. “Some say five years, others say 50. Some recalcitrants still say it’s impossible,” he says.

Quantum computers are not comparable to ordinary computers: they are not designed for playing video games or browsing the web. Instead, they’re useful for extremely specific problems that are difficult or impossible for mainstream computers to solve – modeling chemistry and cracking widely used encryption, possibly including bitcoin.

There’s a lot of talk about the ability to crack encryption, but it may just be one step in an arms race: companies are already working on developing quantum-proof encryption.

Quantum scientists argue that you can’t design programs until you have the hardware.

Loading

“There are fewer than we would like,” admits Professor Turner. “But it’s not our generation that’s going to figure out all these quantum algorithms — it’s high school kids right now.”

Thanks to major investments in the early 2000s, Australia was once the world leader in quantum computing. It’s still a key player, but “we’re losing our relevance, there’s no doubt about that,” says Dr Simon Devitt, chief executive of quantum technology consultancy, H-bar.

“From 2014, we started to see the rest of the world stepping up. And Australia is sitting here twiddling its thumbs.

Dr Devitt said several key quantum research centers, including the Center of Excellence for Quantum Computing and Communication, are expected to close within the next three years unless their funding is renewed.

“We have no idea if Canberra is going to deliver on a fully quantum-powered initiative, which is something we really need if we’re going to continue to be relevant in this space.”

Liam Mannix’s Examine newsletter explains and analyzes the science with a rigorous focus on the evidence. Sign up to get it every week.

Sherry J. Basler