Australia to fund $620M quantum computer claimed to be first at 'utility-scale'

PsiQuantum's coming home

Australian researchers pioneered the development of solar panels, but the nation now imports them in huge quantities – a situation that's become emblematic of the nation's poor record of turning local innovation into jobs and profits across the supply chain.

In more recent times, Australian researchers have done pioneering work on quantum computers, and government policy has emphasized cashing in on that work by ensuring that businesses built on Australian innovation have significant local presences.

Which is why Australia's federal government, and the state of Queensland, yesterday pledged AU$940 million ($620 million) to support a startup called PsiQuantum so it can build what's been described as "the world’s first utility-scale quantum computer."

PsiQuantum was founded by Australian researcher Jeremy O'Brien, but is headquartered in the US and has collaborated with Microsoft on work at the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Australian policy is all about making sure companies of that calibre with local roots do more work at home – especially in light of a recent push to improve sovereign manufacturing capability.

Which is why governments down under see the $620 million of equity, grants, and loans announced yesterday as a sensible investment – it's hoped they'll see a top-line quantum computer installed on local soil.

Details of just what will run – or when – are scanty. PsiQuantum's statement mentions plans to have a site "operational by the end of 2027." The machine to run at that site has been promised to have "utility scale" – a term that the quantum computing community sometimes uses to describe a machine more capable than any classical computer.

PsiQuantum's approach to quantum systems sees it build with standard silicon wafers, and to use photonic qubits and tech adopted from optical communications kit.

The result is machines with optical fibres connected to a photonic processor – an arrangement that doesn't need the massive cryogenic cooling required for other quantum computer designs.

The startup asserts its approach also delivers fault-tolerant machines that are therefore more reliable.

Which still leaves open the question of what Australia's machine will be used for. The usual "solving the problems of the future" rhetoric is flowing thick and fast today, along with some commentary to the effect that this machine will give local industry a tool with which to consider those problems without having to go offshore. All of which should make Australia better at commercializing whatever its innovators dream up next. ®

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