Will Australia’s billion-dollar bet on building the world’s first ‘useful’ quantum computer in Brisbane prove successful?

Will Australia's billion-dollar bet on building the world's first 'useful' quantum computer in Brisbane prove successful?

The Australian government has pledged approximately A$940 million (US$617 million) to Silicon Valley-based quantum computing start-up PsiQuantum. The funding will be split equally between the Australian government and the Queensland government, with the condition that PsiQuantum locates its planned quantum computer in Brisbane and establishes a regional headquarters at Brisbane Airport.

PsiQuantum aims to build the world’s first “useful” quantum computer, which could have significant applications in areas such as code-breaking, material and drug discovery, climate modeling, and solving complex computational problems. Many companies and governments worldwide are competing to be the first to develop a working quantum computer.

Quantum computers operate differently from traditional computers, utilizing principles of quantum physics to perform calculations that are not feasible for digital computers. While quantum algorithms have shown promise in solving problems more efficiently than digital algorithms, no reliable quantum computer capable of running these algorithms has been built yet.

PsiQuantum’s approach involves using individual particles of light called photons to process quantum data, which is expected to be less error-prone compared to other technologies. The Australian government has also invested around A$40 million in Sydney-based Silicon Quantum Computing, which aims to encode quantum data in tiny particles trapped in familiar materials like silicon.

There are various approaches being pursued globally, including trapped ions and superconducting circuits, with no clear winning technology. It is likely that a hybrid approach will eventually prevail.

PsiQuantum has set a timeline for an operational quantum computer by 2029, although some view this projection as overly optimistic. Progress in quantum technology has been steady but faces challenges in creating a device that is both large enough to be useful and free from errors.

While the Australian government’s investment demonstrates a commitment to advancing quantum computing technology, concerns have been raised about transparency and the selection process. Critics argue that there has been insufficient public disclosure about why PsiQuantum was chosen over local competitors, highlighting the need for a more open dialogue to maintain public trust in large-scale technological investments.

In addition to hardware development, the success of quantum computing in Australia hinges on training and education in quantum theory and software. Efforts such as the Australian Quantum Software Network and various quantum education initiatives aim to develop the necessary expertise and create specialized jobs. The government predicts that the PsiQuantum project could lead to significant economic growth and job creation in Australia by 2040.

Overall, Australia is positioning itself as a key player in the global race for a quantum computer, with a focus on both hardware development and building a skilled workforce in quantum technology.