Telstra just wants a quantum computer to offer as-a-service

Even though it is backing the team at UNSW to create a quantum computer, Telstra is agnostic on where it ultimately comes from.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Due to the changes needed to algorithms and computational thinking, Telstra chief scientist Hugh Bradlow believes the first commercial users of quantum computers will need some help adjusting -- and the Australian incumbent telco will be there to offer that help at a price.

"I can assure you they are not going to walk in on day one and know how to use these things," Bradlow said on Wednesday evening.

"We want to be able to offer it as-a-service to them ... they will need a lot of hand holding, and they are not going to run the equipment themselves, it's complicated."

Telstra and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) are two of the companies backing the work of a team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) that is looking to develop quantum computing in silicon.

At the end of 2015, both companies contributed AU$10 million over five years to UNSW.

Despite racing against far greater funded rivals, head of UNSW's quantum effort professor Michelle Simmons said she is happy with the funding the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology has received.

"At the moment, you have to prove you have the best hardware of anything out there to know whether you are going to go further or not," Simmons said. "I guess one of the things we've been very much driven by is milestone-based research.

"Can we actually develop the qubits, qubit by qubit, and prove that they are better than other qubits that out there? And so if you have lots of money in the beginning, and you are not doing that systematic thorough approach, it's actually not that helpful to you. You have to do it, proving it along the way."

Simmons said her team is currently looking at producing a 10-qubit system by the end of the decade, and, if successful, will be looking to move up to 100 qubits.

In October last year, the UNSW team announced that they had created a new qubit that remains in a stable superposition for 10 times longer than previously achieved.

A year earlier, the team built the first 2-qubit logic gate in silicon.

"The prototype chip we want to make within five years is a pretty shrinkable manufacturing process, and it will be able to perform a variety of calculations; we hope it will be able to potentially solve the problem that currently can't be solved on an existing computer," Andrew Dzurak, scientia professor at the university, said at the time.

"That particular type of problem may not be the sort of problem that is going to excite many commercial people in the first instance, but it will be an important principal."

Even though UNSW is at the frontier of quantum computing, however, Bradlow said Telstra just wants to get its hands on one.

"We are agnostic at the end of the day; we just want a quantum computer," he said. "We do hope Michelle's team wins ... we've gone and put our money on it because we think it's got the best odds, so it's not just a random bet, but we are obviously keeping across anything that is out there.

"Over the last year and a half, I've probably visited every major group in the world, and they all have very different views and by seeing multiple views you get a much better perspective.

"So it's important to keep across everything."

For its part, CBA is preparing for a quantum future by using a quantum computing simulator from QxBranch.

"The difference between the emulator of a quantum computer and the real hardware is that we run the simulator on classical computers, so we don't get the benefit of the speed up that you get from quantum, but we can simulate its behaviour and some of the broad characteristics of what the eventual hardware will do," QxBranch CEO Michael Brett told ZDNet in April.

"What we provide is the ability for people to explore and validate the applications of quantum computing so that as soon as the hardware is ready, they'll be able to apply those applications and get the benefit immediately of the unique advantages of quantum computing."

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