Australian Public and Private Sectors Join Forces for Quantum Computing

The firm, Silicon Quantum Computing aims to develop a 10-qubit silicon-based device by 2022.

The public-private-academic partnership is unusual, but its founders hope it will unlock the power of quantum computing.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), together with four other stakeholders, has founded the country’s first quantum computing company, Silicon Quantum Computing (SQC), with a total of A$83 million (approximately $65 million) in investment.

Other founders include telecommunications firm Telstra, the Australian Federal Government, the New South Wales Government and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to develop and commercialize the first silicon-based quantum computer. CBA has an equity stake worth A$14 million (approximately $11 million) in SQC.

SQC will work with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) and will operate from new laboratories within CQC2T’s UNSW headquarters.

CQC2T is led by UNSW Professor of physics Michelle Simmons, whom CBA has been working with since 2013.

Quantum computing is an experimental area of technology development, but one that scientists believe may have significant technological— and social— implications. Quantum computers make use of the ability peculiar to subatomic particles, where they exist in more than one state at one time. With all these extra states, a qubit has the capacity to store tremendous amounts of information in volumes that far outstrip a simple bit. Therefore, this also means it has more room to do more computations.

Where a quantum computer differs is in its use of quantum bits—or ‘qubits’—which have more than just the two states of zero and one. A quantum computer is essentially a machine that uses quantum mechanics to control more of these states.

According to Dilan Rajasingham, head of emerging technology at CBA, developing a 10-qubit quantum integrated circuit prototype in silicon is one of the firm’s goals, but the intent is to develop a device with hundreds of qubits.

“There is work underway which will ensure that the 10-qubit deviceeven though it’s an interim goal, and not the primary goal for the companyis a [milestone] on the way to developing that computer. Any of the work that we do is on the way to developing a device with hundreds of qubits in size,” he says.

The benefits of taking the silicon approach as opposed to a superconducting approach, which is what D-Waveanother company that has developed a quantum processing corehas done, or a donor-based approach, is that it has the highest coherence times in the industry, adds Rajasingham.

“That means we can do a lot more processing, and you need a lot of error correcting and a lot of mechanisms around it in order to keep the computer real. The approach is fundamentally different and we believe that the technology that Michelle [Simmons] is developing, in the long term will result in something of considerable value,” he says.

Quantum computing will provide CBA an opportunity to gain better insights into and analytics on its customers through real-time analysis of their behavioral patterns and interactions. This will enable CBA to be able to create more tailored products, insights, and advice, he said.

“We can’t do it alone. It’s got to be an ecosystem-focused strategy and an ecosystem play, hence the academia-public-private partnership that we are part of. It is also an opportunity for Australia to move away from commodities and into high tech,” he adds.

Rajasingham says CBA’s strategy for quantum computing, in general, involves both hardware and software. The results from the software application are openly and freely shared with SQC to help with developing the hardware. 

In April 2017, CBA deployed QxBranch’s quantum simulator, enabling Australian developers to experiment on the platform. Since deploying the simulator, CBA has participated in four small experiments. “Those experiments include applications like machine learning, and database search speed up using Grover’s algorithm. We’ve also looked at the problem of quantum supremacy but more from an academic perspective and also around challenging mathematical problems,” he says.

The bank looks to increase the number of experiments, in order to learn more about quantum computing technology, and to further inform SQC’s development.

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