UNSW inks quantum computing pact

In an effort to foster knowledge sharing and reduce research costs for a new generation of computing, the University of New South Wales' Centre for Quantum Computer Technology has entered into a joint study agreement with IBM's Thomas J Watson research centre.

Dr Richard Sharp, COO of the quantum computing centre - in which eight Australian universities cooperate - said partnering with a large industry player, like IBM, will benefit the commercial applications of the technology, in addition to research collaboration.

Sharp said in the past quantum computing was put in the realm of science fiction but, because it has been successfully demonstrated, this is no longer the case.

Examples of where quantum computing will shine include searches of large databases, engineering modelling, and sorting through genomics data, Sharp said.

The centre's researchers have a path of some 15 years towards devices that ought to be useful with the first milestone slated for within three years when the centre hopes to create a fundamental building block - a quantum computing chip.

"Full-scale quantum computing may be may be 15 to 20 years away but we are doing work that is useful in the nearer term," he said. "For example, we can manipulate individual atoms [providing] the industry with the ability to design novel transistors."

IBM Australia's corporate affairs executive John Harvey said there are some technologies from which the centre can extract economic rent, but the goal is to be a significant player in quantum physics in 10 years time.

"Twenty years ago I think we would not have entered into an agreement with the UNSW centre for quantum physics because we would have tried to do it all our self," Harvey said. "We are doing an open innovation model where we are taking work from outside and combining it with our own for a better and lower-cost solution."

Harvey said innovation is the only way Australia can compete and be cost-competitive globally.

University of California Berkeley's centre for open innovation executive director and author of Open Innovation, Professor Henry Chesbrough, said that, because the quantum computing centre is a cooperative of eight universities, a variety of perspectives will be seen.

"In a long-term technology that's exactly what you want," Chesbrough said. "There are too many unknowns and you can't really judge what the right path is, technically. By using this approach IBM is gaining access to not just one point of view but eight - plus the multiple points of view that are inside IBM.

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