Atomic-scale quantum circuit
What can Michelle Simmons show us about the future?
Image credit: Lead researcher and former Australian of the Year, Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons. Photo: SQC
We often debate about how soon Quantum computing will be commercialized fully on a mainstream level. We used to think that the emergence of this nascent field would take a lot of time.
However recently there seems to be more research, hype and applied experiments in the field that suggest otherwise.
Curiously in late June, 2022 Australian scientists have created the world's first-ever quantum computer circuit – one that contains all the essential components found on a classical computer chip but at the quantum scale.
Some are suggesting that after a Sydney-based firm built the world's first atomic-scale quantum integrated circuit, Quantum computing could go mainstream, sooner than later, such as in 2027, instead of something like 2035.
I do not know what I believe, but it’s fun to debate and try to summarize R&D, hype and startup PR vs. the actual reality. We do know that there has been a serious spike in VC funding of this space and adoption by National Defense agencies all over the world.
There also seems to be serious realization that machine learning at the intersection of Quantum computing will change industries on a fundamental level with new computing capabilities leading to more breakthroughs. Some of the most futurist industries like Space-tech, genomics, biotechnology, the Metaverse and the future of finance and engineering could benefit the most.
The landmark discovery, published in Nature on June 22nd, 2022, was nine years in the making.
"This is the most exciting discovery of my career," senior author and quantum physicist Michelle Simmons, founder of Silicon Quantum Computing and director of the Center of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology.”
They Believe in Quantum Supremacy Down Under Too
I’m happy that QC is on the map Down under. It seems like nearly every day or week now we are talking about Quantum Advantage or Quantum Supremacy, it’s a bit too much. Sydney-based firm Silicon Quantum Computing (SQC) built the first integrated silicon quantum computer circuit manufactured at the atomic scale, in what has been touted as a "major breakthrough" on the road to quantum supremacy.
It makes for a good headline, but some academics who work in the field are also suggesting the hype is getting out of hand and that progress will be slow due to the lack of PhDs globally working on this. So there are academic, funding and R&D bottlenecks at work.
However QC is now a selling point for major Cloud leaders like Microsoft, Amazon and Google. What prevents them from simply acquiring the best startups in the field? Nothing, consolidation is bound to take place.
The circuit, which operates as an analogue quantum processor, has come less than a decade after SQC’s 2012 declaration that it had fabricated the world’s first single atom transistor and has been achieved two years ahead of schedule.
Founder Michelle Simmons said her team has used the processor to accurately model the quantum states of a small, organic polyacetylene molecule – definitively proving the validity of the company’s technology for modelling quantum systems.
Silicon Quantum Computing, was founded just five years ago.
The company has already been the recipient of $83 million in seed backing from the federal and NSW governments, Telstra, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and UNSW and plan to kick off a new $130 million funding round as per Quantum Insider.
The team of quantum computer physicists at UNSW Sydney have engineered a quantum processor at the atomic scale to simulate the behaviour of a small organic molecule, solving a challenge set some 60 years ago by theoretical physicist Richard Feynman. This is impressive for Australia’s clout in the space.
It’s essentially made up of 10 carbon-based quantum dots embedded in silicon, with six metallic gates that control the flow of electrons through the circuit.
You can read the paper here published in the journal Nature, the researchers described how they were able to mimic the structure and energy states of the organic compound polyacetylene – a repeating chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms distinguished by alternating single and double bonds of carbon.
If the momentum we have in 2022 keeps up we could conceivable see much more from Quantum computing before 2030 that could alter the future of society and technology.
However in terms of regulation around A.I. we are already very much behind, even as the incentives for new technology loom and pull us into the future even faster than before.
It worries me seriously, but I mostly feel positive about the hype:
“Development of SQC’s atomic-scale circuit technology will allow the company and its customers to construct quantum models for a range of new materials, whether they be pharmaceuticals, materials for batteries, or catalysts. It won’t be long before we can start to realize new materials that have never existed before.”
I’m happy that startups are able to scale backed even by Government funding and huge corporate pilots with some of the biggest companies in the world. At the end of the day, science and technology benefits all of us.
It’s also just exciting:
Everyone agrees that the first working quantum computer will represent a quantum leap into a higher-tech future, and the race is on to build it.
We watching something being born.
These are moments in the history of science too!
I would suggest you use the app for more immersive engagement with this publication. (Android app coming soon!)
Not only did Simmons and her team create what's essentially a functional quantum processor, they also successfully tested it by modeling a small molecule in which each atom has multiple quantum states – something a traditional computer would struggle to achieve.
Around 2024 heralds a time in human history where we will be working with things like nano-technology at the atomic scale transforming the very fabric of nature in a more organized way. It’s not just a more transhumanistic era, it’s potentially going to lead us to become an inter-planetary species and one that is capable of solving things like climate change and wealth inequality at scale. That’s the future thinking for which is the real reason I write on Substack.
I guess this is also a visible leader who is a woman in Quantum computing (Quantum Insider). That’s important to celebrate too. Simmons founded SQC in 2017 with $83 million in seed funding from UNSW, Telstra, Commonwealth Bank, and the NSW and federal governments.
What will “Silicon Quantum” become in the years ahead?
You can follow Michelle Simons here on LinkedIn.
Achievements like these are years and decades in the making however:
“We spent about five to ten years optimizing the manufacture of our qubits out of atoms in silicon, and realized the quality of the qubits was really outstanding,” Simmons said in an interview with Quantum Insider.
There’s so many approaches being made in the emergence of Quantum Computing, surely one of them will become dominant. I personally like Photonics, but it’s a bit too soon to say. To improve the publication of Quantum Foundry, I’m on the looking for student and PhD level guest columnists who want to share their research or experience, I hope to interview them as well to create more immersion and education.
Quantum computers are expected to be thousands, even millions of times faster than classical computers, and perform calculations far more efficiently than even the most powerful classical computers. It’s hard for us in 2022 though to completely understand how this might change the world.
When superpositions are extended over multiple systems – or atoms – you can have an “entangled state” where one qubit is correlated to another. Changes to one qubit can affect the other when they are entangled. This has the potential for unhackable encryption technologies.
Contemporary society is getting so entangled with artificial intelligence already one wonders how these further layers will interact with human systems in the future of work, finance, governance and the economy, among other things.
Thanks for reading!
If you want access to more content and to support the emergence of this channel, which I can say is the fastest growing Quantum Computing Newsletter on Substack today and especially next month in July, 2022 (started seriously in April), please do support (basically the price of a cheap meal). I have no affiliations with any group corporate entities and I’m just an amateur futurist.