Big Bet on PsiQuantum Raises Concerns and Hopes for Global Leadership

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Big Bet on PsiQuantum Raises Concerns and Hopes for Global Leadership

Australia's Big Bet on PsiQuantum

Quantum computing is poised to revolutionize various fields, from medicine and energy networks to defense. Industry pioneer Stephen Bartlett, with federal funding, is establishing a national quantum center at Sydney University. He believes quantum technologies will be disruptive, enabling new and faster ways of computing.

The Albanese Government aims to make Australia a global leader in the quantum race. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese compares the potential impact of this technology to the transformative power of smartphones compared to landlines.

However, the government's recent joint investment of almost $1 billion with the Queensland government in the US-based company PsiQuantum has raised eyebrows. Some, like AI scientist Toby Walsh, question the lack of transparency and the focus on a single company, especially with promising homegrown Australian talent exploring alternative approaches.

PsiQuantum, founded by two Australian expats, promises to build the world's first useful quantum computer by 2029 using photons. CEO Jeremy O'Brien believes the term "impossible" will soon be irrelevant in their field. As part of the deal, PsiQuantum will establish a regional headquarters in Brisbane and hire 400 staff.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick views this investment as a moonshot, similar to Project Apollo. However, Walsh argues that AI already shows significant progress and deserves more funding, potentially offering even greater economic returns than quantum computing.

Chief Scientist Cathy Foley, who was on the technical advisory panel for the PsiQuantum deal, acknowledges the risks and challenges but believes it's worth pursuing the possibility of developing one of the first fault-tolerant quantum computers in Australia.

While the UK has also invested in PsiQuantum, its commitment is significantly smaller. Some, like Independent Senator David Pocock, express concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the terms of the investment and the return on taxpayer money. They urge the government to secure a share of the potential upside if PsiQuantum succeeds.

Further concerns arise from the government's decision to bypass its own Quantum Advisory Committee and allegedly run a limited and secretive EOI process favoring PsiQuantum. Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic defends the process, claiming they sought advice from the public sector and approached 20 domestic and international firms before selecting PsiQuantum.

Despite the concerns, Bartlett emphasizes the importance of large government investments in local quantum companies to achieve a breakthrough. He believes supporting diverse approaches is crucial to ensure Australia's leadership in this rapidly evolving field.