Telstra's chief scientist Dr Hugh Bradlow says quantum computing is the next space race. Josh Robenstone
Telstra's chief scientist Hugh Bradlow has tipped quantum computing as the space race of this century, and he says Australia's University of New South Wales is in a strong position to come out on top.
The telecommunications giant has invested $10 million in the university's Australian Research Council Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, which houses 180 researchers who are at the forefront of single-atom engineering, which is critical to the creation of a quantum computer.
Speaking at the Future Assembly conference in Melbourne on Friday, Dr Bradlow said the winner of the quantum computing race would shape the future of the 21st century.
"There's one quantum computer in existence from a company called D-Wave Systems in Canada, which has been around for a while, and isn't a perfect quantum computer in any sense ... Google claim that they will be able to demonstrate what they call quantum supremacy by the end of next year and IBM actually have a quantum computer online and they have had 33,000 people sign up to use it," he said.
"Amazon, Intel and others are working on it and Microsoft as well, but no one is quite sure of the state of their advancement. We've invested in the University of New South Wales that have one of the leading Quantum compositions in the globe and we're obviously pretty excited by what they're doing.
Traditional computers are built around what's known as the con Neumann architecture, wherein memory, as well as program instructions, are stored in random-access memory (RAM) and connected together. This architecture is unable to be scaled to a level necessary for quantum computing, because it consumes too much power.
Dr Bradlow said the challenge facing computer scientists and innovators at the moment was developing "non-von" architectures, which would enable the creation of a quantum computer that could process data and solve problems in a manner that uses as little power as possible – possibly as little as the human brain, which only requires about 20 watts.
"I don't think any of you will ever have one in your pocket," he said.
"These will always be complex machines based in the cloud, and one of the reasons for that is ... you need a dilution fridge to make it work, you have to get the temperature down to thousands of a kelvin ... so it's about -273 degrees centigrade.
"We're some way off being able to build it, but there is a real space race going on and the different technologies that people are applying and who wins that [race] could well determine the future of the 21st century."
While the world's biggest tech companies are investing in quantum computing, the challenges are unlikely to be solved in the near future. But, society is already reaping the benefits of machine learning.
In October Microsoft made a major breakthrough in speech recognition, creating a speech recognition system that for the first time made the same, or fewer, errors than a human transcriptionist, with a word error rate of only 5.9 per cent. In 2010, the error rate was 30 per cent.
IBM has also sent its cognitive computer Watson to medical school. The computer is undertaking the same course that students take, with the big difference being that it can ingest hundreds of thousands of medical journals a year, while humans are limited to about 300.
The hope is that Watson will be able to aid doctors in coming up with the correct patient diagnoses.
Dr Bradlow said that when the perfect quantum computer is successfully created, it will be able to solve problems that at the moment would take "longer than the entire lifetime of the universe".
Source:Yolanda Redrup - AFR