Quantum computing offers the extraordinary potential to analyze in minutes problems a conventional computer could take thousands of years to solve. It represents “the space race of the computing era,” and few people understand it as well as Professor Michelle Simmons, 2018 Australian of the Year, who is widely renowned for her world-leading research in quantum physics. Professor Simmons directs the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, CQC2T, based at the University of New South Wales. She leads a team of more than 200 researchers at eight Australian universities who are developing a suite of technologies for quantum computing, information storage, and communications. Her research group remains the only one in the world that can manipulate individual atoms to make atomically precise electronic devices.
On September 25, 2018, ITIF held an in-depth discussion about the future of quantum computing and its game-changing possibilities with Professor Simmons. She began by outlining the history of quantum computing, stating that the miniaturization of computer components has played a large part in the creation of quantum computing. She then talked about Moore’s Law and how it has dictated the computing industry throughout its existence. Professor Simmons stated that silicon makes a great quantum computer, and she bases her research on silicon creating a quantum computer. Her research extends to looking at and manipulating individual atoms of quantum states. Professor Simmons explained that quantum computing is better than classic computing because it’s faster. Quantum computing can look at all outcomes at the same time, whereas classic computing must look at each individual outcome at a time. The quantum computing race is set at 50 qubits to outperform classic computing and demonstrate quantum supremacy. Professor Simmons explained that there are five ways to build a quantum computer: silicon spin qubits, ion traps, superconducting qubits, diamond, and topological qubits. She is working on silicon spin qubits. To do quantum computing, you need specially equipped labs to place them in. All the equipment in these labs works together to support a quantum computer. She then took questions from ITIF President Rob Atkinson.
Rob began his questions by asking about when cost reduction and miniaturization will occur for quantum computing. Professor Simmons responded by saying that no one in quantum computing has demonstrated an algorithm that outperforms classic computing. So, until that happens, quantum computing is still theoretical in nature, but she is hopeful that will change soon.
Rob then asked about whether quantum computing needs outside innovation to work. Professor Simmons responded by saying that the science is collaborative, and that science is working together on quantum computing.
Rob then asked quantum computing needs more funding for quantum computing and what the barriers are to create a quantum computer. Professor Simmons said that one big barrier to entry is the large size of a quantum computing team and the need to speak the same scientific language across multiple fields. She also stated that more funding would be great, but that it wouldn’t necessarily create a faster realization of quantum computing creation.
Finally, Rob asked how advanced nations can increase the number of women in STEM fields, an issue Professor Simmons has championed. Professor Simmons suggested that women need to be able to see their career path, and that need is not met because there are so few role models for women in STEM. She also encouraged educators to emphasize the collaborative nature of science to women in order to attract them to enter into science careers.
Ultimately, this conversation illuminated the future of quantum computing and provided answers to next steps forward for this technology.