The Hon Anoulack Chanthivong MP, NSW Minister for Innovation, Science and Technology, launching the Quantum Algorithms and Applications report at Sydney Quantum Academy [SQA/Wilson da Silva]

QUANTUM COMPUTERS get all the attention, but it will be the algorithms they run that will have dramatic impacts. And while Australians are leaders in the field, it will take ongoing government support for them to succeed commercially – or that lead will evaporate.

These are some of the recommendations in a new report from the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer launched last week, Quantum Algorithms and Applications. Produced by Prof Michael Bremner and A/Prof Simon Devitt from the University of Technology Sydney, it lays out a path for the country, and especially New South Wales, to exploit its world-leading expertise.

At a launch event co-hosted with the Sydney Quantum Academy, the Hon Anoulack Chanthivong MP, the NSW Minister for Innovation, Science and Technology, said the report “provides a roadmap on the next steps required to realise the real-world applications of this game-changing technology.”

Bremner, co- author of the report, said the depth of local expertise in quantum algorithms was already notable, but needed to be bolstered.

“There are at least seven companies working on quantum algorithm, software and theory research in New South Wales – Eigensystems, Q-CTRL, BTQ, Google, Diraq, Silicon Quantum Computing and Quantum Brilliance,” Bremner told an audience of industry and research players at The Quantum Terminal. “But there’s no large-scale national research effort to bring all that together and coordinate that research.”

To address this, the report calls for the creation of a flagship, world-leading research institute focused on quantum algorithms, software and theory: “While Australia already has a notable pool of research expertise in [quantum algorithms], it is not sufficient for the nation to maintain ongoing leadership in an increasingly competitive international ecosystem.”

Prof Michael Bremner (left) and NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer Prof Hugh Durrant-Whyte (centre) at the launch; the panel discussion with Dr Marika Kieferova, Bremner and Prof Stephen Bartlett [SQA/Wilson da Silva]

“Determining what can be done with quantum computing, sensing or communications as the technology becomes ubiquitous will be critical in realising commercial outcomes from intellectual property over the coming decades,” the report argues.

In a panel discussion at the launch event, Prof Stephen Bartlett, Director of Sydney Nano at the University of Sydney, said there will be an explosion of applications once researchers can utilise the power of quantum properties, like superposition and entanglement. But the theoretical underpinning for creating quantum algorithms is currently limited and needs to be developed.

The Quantum Algorithms and Applications report from the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer [OSCE/Tony Zerna]

“Right now, quantum computer scientists are designing these algorithms with, basically, pen and paper, because we don’t have quantum computers that can be used to construct these algorithms. So, we are quite limited in thinking about the application space,” he said.

Dr Marika Kieferova, Senior Lecturer at University if Technology Sydney and a research scientist at Google Quantum AI, agreed.

“The problems that industry would like us to solve, the vast majority of them, are optimisation problems, but it is a very, very difficult area,” she told the audience. “The calculations quickly become intractable for current quantum hardware. And we don’t have very good techniques currently to analyse them, or quantum computing theoretical approaches that can handle them.”

Unlike developing quantum hardware – which requires large capital investments, developing quantum algorithms is relatively inexpensive. And as today’s information technology industry has shown, in the long run it is software that really captures value, making this area ideal for long term investment. The report calls for the creation of a ‘quantum skunkworks’; a government backed accelerator that helps researchers to advance theoretical ideas toward application, or take the first steps towards commercialisation.

Another crucial component will be growing local brainpower: “If quantum computing is to generate major economic benefits for Australia, then we need 10,000 people working in the field in the country to capture that value,” Bremner added, quoting a CSIRO estimate of the number of Australian jobs quantum computing could create by 2040.

For this to occur, the report calls for training capacity at universities, in NSW and in Australia, to be greatly increased and to learn from the Sydney Quantum Academy model.

Prof Michael Bremner giving a summary of the report to an audience ndustry and research players at Sydney Quantum Academy [OSCE/Tony Zerna]

Unlike other high technology sectors for which Australia is mostly a customer, there’s still “the potential to be a significant part of the quantum supply chain,” the report argued.

Bartlett pointed to examples overseas, where software companies arose from an established base of computer science research. Once a cluster of expertise is formed, it becomes the seed for a growing ecosystem. “We have that strength in quantum algorithms in our universities. How do we seed that so it can snowball into companies?”

Prof Hugh Durrant-Whyte, the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, praised the report, telling the audience it laid out a path for the creation of a local quantum software industry: “It sets a really great benchmark for what we need to be capable of doing [with a quantum computer] – if we can do this now, we’ll be able to do this in 10 years, and we need to be able to do this in 20 years.”

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