Finalist: Q-CTRL and quantum’s quiet obsession

Rachael Bolton

Quantum computing is having a moment right now. It is the hot topic on the lips of world leaders and investors alike. Just last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was promising the UK will be going “big on quantum computing”. And our own Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced a new Blueprint for Critical Technologies that includes a A$100 million investment over the next decade to establish a new Quantum Commercialisation Hub.

And there is a reason that everyone is suddenly so obsessed. It’s a completely different manner of computing than anything we have seen before. It is expected to make enormous leaps forward for infrastructure and defence-critical research areas like artificial intelligence and cryptography.

Technology company Honeywell projects the quantum computing industry will come to be worth US$1 trillion over the next 30 years.

Many will recognise Australian startup Q-CTRL as a global leader in this rapidly expanding sector and founder and chief executive, Professor Michael Biercuk, as one of its leading lights.

Michael Biercuk
Q-CTRL founder and chief executive Professor Michael Biercuk

The company made headlines earlier this year after publishing new methods for reducing errors in the quantum computing process, caused by environmental “noise” – far and away the biggest challenge in the field and something that has up till now bridled it’s scalability and growth. Q-CTRL has now been named as a finalist in the Defence category for the InnovationAus 2021 Awards for Excellence.

The important thing to know about quantum computing is that it’s not a replacement technology for any current computer.

It’s a tech with the potential to solve problems we can’t even begin to grapple with yet: climate modelling, more efficient solar capture and battery storage, unbreakable encryption, investment products, more effective medicines.

“Quantum computing is as different from conventional computing as today’s computers are from an abacus,” explains Prof Biercuk.

“We shouldn’t think of quantum computing as the next generation laptop or cloud server. Instead, we should think of it as a totally different way to encode and process information.”

Without going into the deep physics of the thing, quantum computers work by running through billions of scenarios and accurately calculating the probability of any given outcome.

It is theorized a quantum computer will eventually be able to calculate problems it would take a contemporary supercomputer billions of years to solve.

“One of my favorite areas of development for quantum algorithms is in quantum chemistry and materials science,” says Prof Biercuk.

“We’re currently very good at characterizing chemicals and materials – determining color, hardness, reaction rates, etc – but we’re terrible at designing materials with the properties we want, mostly because we don’t have the ability to model these problems in computers.”

A quantum computer can, theoretically, run through all the possible structure combinations to essentially invent a new material perfectly fit for some specified purpose.

“Quantum computers are good at different problems than our general-purpose machines today because they obey different rules – rules that happen to exploit some properties of quantum physics that can give advantages for certain types of problems,” says Prof Biercuk. “The excitement comes from just how important those problems are.”

And it is the nature of the problems that quantum computing will be able to solve that has everyone so stirred up.

China, in particular, has been making gains in the fields of quantum computing and quantum communication over the last several years, setting up what some people refer to as the Space Race of the 21st century, or more accurately the Quantum Race.

Because of the applicability of quantum computing in the fields of cybersecurity, defence logistics, and financial market structures, being at the forefront in cracking the code on quantum is considered of vital importance.

And correcting for environmental noise is the absolute lynch pin to the whole endeavour. Until that is perfected, quantum computing won’t be able to advance past a few hundred qubits (the quantum analogue to a traditional computer bit).

That makes Q-CTRL a really big deal. Its tools already deliver over 25 times the performance benefits for quantum algorithms demonstrated in existing hardware.

“We foresee that over the next several years we will cross the threshold of quantum advantage – where it’s actually beneficial to select a quantum solution over the best conventional alternative,” says Prof Biercuk. “The quantum future is closer than we ever thought possible.”

Q-CTRL is a finalist in the Defence category for the InnovationAus 2021 Awards for Excellence.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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