Quantum computing has come of age in the last few years and appears to be the buzzword on everyone’s lips. But is quantum computing just a fad or a technology revolution? In part one of this series, Dr Simone Shu-Yen Lee discusses the vast potential of quantum computing and looks at how Australia is responding to this evolving industry.
There are ever-increasing signs that quantum computing is becoming a major new industry with the potential to change and disrupt many current technologies.
For instance, the 2022 Nobel Prize for Physics was presented to researchers from the field of quantum mechanics. The winners, Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger, were awarded for their work demonstrating the potential for investigating and controlling particles in entangled states. These entangled states are fascinating because something that happens to one particle in an entangled pair affects the other, even if they are far apart. This new focus on quantum computing has very interesting repercussions and opened up our eyes to developing new computing technologies with powerful effects.
The Australian Government has seen the signs and appears willing to move Australia towards being a player in a quantum computing future and has announced the finalisation of a national Quantum Strategy for advancing the quantum technology sector.
As emphasised by Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist, at the recent Australian Institute of Physics Congress 2022 in Adelaide, there has been an amazing depth of research in quantum technologies in Australia over the last 20 years, and the pay-off has been an explosion of quantum computing start-ups in Australia. 
The CSIRO has projections which estimate that commercialising quantum computing technologies could lead to an Australian industry worth AUD$6 billion and tens of thousands of jobs by 2045. 
There are currently about 20 quantum computing start-ups in Australia, an incredible amount considering the very sophisticated technologies, skills and experience required. These start-ups include Silicon Quantum Computing, Q-CTRL, Quantum Brilliance and Quintessence Labs, just to name a few. Many of these are founded or strongly guided by many Australian universities, and their researchers.
So, what is so exciting about quantum computing technologies?
What is quantum computing?
The concept for quantum computing is widely touted as being proposed by Richard Feynman in 1982 who suggested a quantum machine which worked on quantum mechanical principles.
There are several quantum mechanical principles proposed for exploitation with the potential for incredible computing capabilities, but one main important principle is superposition.
What is superposition? Unlike classical bits in a classical computer which have a binary value, for instance either 0 or 1, quantum bits (colloquially coined ‘qubits’) can take on a mixing of the “0” or “1” values. In quantum computing, this mixing of values is known as ‘superposition of states’. Therefore, qubits can take on a range of values including superposition which mean being in both “0” AND “1” states simultaneously – this isn’t inherently possible for a classical computer.
The ability to form this superposition of states gives qubits the potential to form large computational spaces from just a small number of particles. For the nerds out there, a quantum computer of n number of qubits can have a superposition states of 2n possible outcomes – an exponentially increasing computational space! This potential ability to have access to exponential large computational spaces will allow quantum computer to tackle large scale space problems.
What is the potential for quantum computing?
There are quantum computers that already exist which are available to the public for use, typically via cloud-based services. These computers only consist of a few qubits and are currently mainly utilised by researchers, and algorithm and software developers.
Google has a working 54-qubit computer, while IBM has a 65-qubit computer. This does not sound too exciting until you realise that (theoretically) a 65-qubit quantum computer already has the computational power of 265 which is 3.6 x 1019! This gives you a taste of the incredible potential for quantum computers to offer significant speed increases in solving complex computational problems. Imagine the power from a 1000 qubit quantum computer or even a million qubit quantum computer!
From the current quantum computers that can only handle a few qubits, it is clear that quantum technologies are in an incubation stage – with the reality of a quantum computer fitting into your pocket being perhaps decades away. But the current quantum computers have already achieved leaps and strides as they are already much less bulky and require less room to operate.
There is enormous potential for huge advances in computer simulations for all types of applications from weather prediction to drug discovery and development, sensitive and accurate quantum sensors, and advanced navigation and timing technologies for defence. This greater power to perform computer simulations and advance science is part of what will form the basis of a new quantum industry and disruption current technologies.
Part two is now available to view
In part two of this series, we look at patent filings for indications about what type of quantum technologies are being commercialised, and who may be the future leaders and trends in quantum computing.