Quantum computing: Where Australian enterprises are likely to use it

Even with mature access to quantum computing possibly still years away, the industry says enterprises should be getting ready for it now.

Quantum computing

Australia has been well positioned in quantum computing research for some time now, and attention within large enterprises has increasingly turned to how to use it. Although Australia is largely made of small and medium businesses, there are uses of quantum computing that they too can take advantage of, although typically indirectly.

Multinational organisations have been investing heavily in quantum hardware. Google, IBM, and Microsoft, along with a handful of US-based start-ups such as Rigetti Computing and Xanadu, were leaders in 2020 according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Quantum computing in its early forms already is available through the cloud, from companies such as Alibaba, D-Wave Systems, IBM, and Rigetti.

IBM argues that giving enterprises early access to quantum computing technology that is under development will increase interest and, therefore, lessons around the use of the technology as to what it means and what it can do.

How small and medium businesses are likely to actually use quantum computing

In late 2021, IBM fellow Jay Gambetta told Computerworld Australia the areas he believes quantum will be accessible to enterprises in the country will first be in simulating quantum physics, which can benefit industries such as materials science and chemistry. Next is what quantum can do that classical computing can’t, such as calculations. That will translate to interest in the use of quantum computing for machine learning and financial applications, he said.

But the use of quantum computing may start much more simply, as Forrester analyst Samuel Higgins expects small and medium businesses to experience quantum computing less as a special form of computing and ultimately just as a better form of the service they get today. “When they log into their cloud services, be they software or infrastructure services, 10 or 15 years in the future, rather than an SSL certificate that's securing their connection using traditional classic computing methods, it will just be achieved using quantum computing methods and devices,” he says.

As another example of indirect quantum computing usage, the market is likely to see network communication cards and devices that support quantum-based cryptography before there is a quantum processor or quantum processing of any kind at the edge, Higgins says.

There are other areas where quantum is expected to be used indirectly by businesses, such as in cryptography. That may be seen both in the production of better cryptographic keys and secure communications, as well as in a proactive defence mechanism, Higgins says. That appears to already be the case: In October 2021, the Australian Department of Defence launched a quantum challenge to test how quantum technology can be applied to the Australian Army. According to tender documents of the time, the Australian Army has found that quantum technologies can affect two of the major technological drivers of what it calls accelerated warfare: robotics and autonomous systems, and cyber and information warfare.

Australian-led quantum breakthroughs

Australia has been investing in quantum computing research for years, both by research institutions and by state and federal governments that want a part in it. This has resulted in many packages and investments including a quantum research hub launched by La Trobe University, RMIT University, and Quantum Brilliance to focus on enhancing the computational power of diamond-based quantum computers.

Those investments continue. In November 2021, the Australian federal government announced a $111 million investment to support commercialisation, adoption, and use of quantum computing. In August 2021, the New South Wales government announced the Quantum Terminal as the first collaboration space of the Sydney tech precinct Tech Central.

Most major universities in the country are receiving funding of multiple millions of dollars, Higgins says, for research around quantum communications and quantum sensing, including things like capturing of information about geopositioning.

That investment has been paying off. In April 2021, a science undergraduate at University of Sydney found a way to increase the ability to reduce a common quantum computing problem. Pablo Bonilla Ataides was asked to look at some commonly used error-correcting code to see if he could improve it, which he did by flipping half of the quantum switches, or qubits, in the design, to double the ability to suppress errors.

More recently, research led by the University of New South Wales reached 99% error-free quantum computing in silicon.

The dangers of the quantum computing hype

The recent investments in quantum computing in Australia have been welcomed by industry as it helps not only research and development but also awareness around the technology. But that increased awareness may be leading some people to think they know a lot about something that is not even ready yet and likely close to a decade away from being used in mass, or at all.

Data gathered by Forrester on organisations’ and people’s plans to invest and adopt quantum and how familiar they are with the technology has left Higgins with the impression that most people do not understand quantum at all. “I think software developers and technology executives think they understand this space [quantum computing] very, very well, and I would argue that I think they'd be hard pressed to do that,” he says.

“It's a complex emerging space, yet when we asked people ‘how do you expect your investment in the following emerging technologies to occur in the next 12 months?’ worldwide, 73% of people said that they thought they were going to be increasing their investment — and 71% of firms in Australia said the same thing,” Higgins says.

This quantum hype can be detrimental to organisations that don’t understand the technology and could lead to, among other issues, directing crucial investment capital into a technology that may not be of use for some of these organisations. “[Quantum] is not going to be some separate thing. It would just be an evolution in cloud computing and for specialised use cases,” Higgins says.

Higgins fears that technology executives may struggle to answer a question as simple as “beyond cryptography, can you give one use case for quantum computing technology that would be useful to your business today?”.

Adding to the problem is that nearly 80% of software developers said they believe themselves to be subject matter experts in quantum. Higgins warns of the danger around any technology that becomes hype. According to CSIRO, quantum computing is yet “to cross the valley of death” into the land of practical usage.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon