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Is the Australian Government’s Quantum Computing Gamble Good for the Local IT Industry?

Over the last year, Australia’s potential to become a leader in quantum computing was given a number: potentially adding $6 billion to the economy in the coming decades.

Now, there is meaningful progress being made towards this ambition, and in the medium term, the IT industry needs to prepare for the opportunity and challenge of something totally transformational to the very foundations of computing.

The Australian government’s over $1 billion quantum investments

Australia has been considered to be in an ideal position for quantum computing due to its close relationship with the U.S., smoothing over risk sensitivities in the application of such powerful technology. Consequently, close to 5% of global venture capital investment for quantum technology had already been directed into Australia.

In the lead-up to the May 14 budget, the Australian government announced a significant milestone in its quantum computing ambitions: It signed a $940 million agreement (matched by the Queensland state government) to work with U.S. startup PsiQuantum to build the world’s first “useful” quantum computer in Brisbane.

The technology behind the project is fascinating. PsiQuantum uses photons (i.e., particles of light) to process quantum data. One of the roadblocks to quantum computing is the reliability of the technology. Unlike current digital computers, which represent data as binary 0s and 1s, quantum computing represents information as long lists of numbers; it is a fundamentally different way of processing information, and an immensely more powerful one. If PsiQuantum is able to crack the reliability challenge with its photons approach, then Australia may well house the first quantum computer that is useful for real-world applications.

The Australian government has also made a $40 million investment in local firm Silicon Quantum Computing. This company has a different approach in that it aims to encode quantum data in tiny particles trapped in silicon.

So, while the approach to quantum computing isn’t settled (there are other approaches being trialled beyond the work of Silicon Quantum Computing and PsiQuantum as well), the Australian government has made its bets on which technology is most likely to emerge as the winner.

How this quantum spend ties into the Future Made in Australia

More broadly, this investment into developing quantum computing capabilities is part of the “Future Made in Australia” policy, which includes a $1.7 billion innovation fund designed to foster early-stage development in priority sectors such as quantum computing.

It’s not the first time an Australian government has made innovation a central policy — the L/NP Turnbull government did as well — however, it was a political failure then, in part because it was seen as vague and poorly defined. The firm commitment to innovative technologies by the current Labor government has a more clearly defined agenda and objective.

The question remains: What will quantum computing do for Australia? The technology will, theoretically, be able to perform calculations that are beyond the capabilities of even the most powerful digital computers. While we won’t fully understand the applications that will eventuate from this technology, it is expected to be of great interest in everything from defence to medical research, climate modelling, space technology and artificial intelligence development.

How the IT industry should prepare for this quantum boon

PsiQuantum has targeted an operational date of 2029 for its Brisbane computer, but given that it had a previous date of 2025 to crack the problem, this date might be ambitious. Nonetheless, quantum computing is coming, and it will be completely transformative. For the IT industry, this has implications in several areas, including:

  • Total disruption in cybersecurity: Quantum computers can easily bypass existing security measures, necessitating the development of quantum-resistant encryption. This won’t be an issue at first when the only quantum computers are in the hands of friendly governments, but once the floodgates open and hostile nations, let alone private bad actors, get their hands on the technology, the cyber security arms race is going to accelerate rapidly.
  • Advanced problem-solving: From logistics to financial modelling, quantum computing offers new ways to tackle intricate challenges. IT professionals working with data, in particular, are going to have their ways of working fundamentally changed.
  • Innovation and job creation: The National Quantum Strategy suggests that quantum technologies could add $6.1 billion to Australia’s GDP by 2045. The quantum computers themselves will need people to manage them, creating a big opportunity for technologists who are able to develop their capabilities. PsiQuantum alone is expected to need around 400 specialised jobs, and those are skills that just don’t exist right now. Early movers are going to have a massive and lucrative advantage.

In short, the industry is already talking up the need to develop “quantum literacy” in the same way that current generations need to develop digital literacy. The difference is that with the nature of technology and innovation, things are going to move much faster this time around.

Risks and challenges related to these quantum efforts

Despite the optimism, the results are far from guaranteed. Building a “useful” quantum computer is an unproven venture with inherent risks. The technology is still in its infancy, and many believe that other approaches, like superconducting circuits used by Google and IBM, might lead the race.

However, the level of investment by two governments — federal and state — into PsiQuantum does introduce some certainty into the market. This is the main bet the government is making, so organisations in areas where quantum computing will benefit and the local IT industry can start to prepare for this technology and innovation to have an impact.

What’s necessary for Australia’s quantum investments to succeed?

Australia moving forward and committing to one form of potential quantum computing is a calculated risk with the potential to significantly benefit the local IT industry. It could lead to groundbreaking advancements and position Australia as an early global leader (along with the U.S.) in this cutting-edge technology.

The Australian government’s quantum investments will only be a success if:

  1. The technology actually works.
  2. The local IT industry has the capabilities and appetite for innovation to actually make use of the opportunity.

This post was originally published on this site

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