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The UK government formally launched the country’s National Quantum Computer Centre on Wednesday. The creation of this centre was first announced in 2018 and the government has committed £93-million to the initiative. The launching of the centre was announced at the Virtual Quantum Summit at the London Tech Week by British Science Minister (equivalent to a Deputy Minister in South Africa) Amanda Solloway.
At the same time, she also announced the setting up of Britain’s first quantum computer that will be commercially available to businesses. This is being funded by a joint government-business investment of £10-million. Both initiatives reflect an ambition to give the UK the world’s first ‘quantum ready’ economy.
The National Quantum Computing Centre will serve to unite the efforts of academia, business and government to overcome the major obstacles to implementing quantum computing. These include scaling up the technology, achieving commercial viability and determining how quantum computers can provide economic value. It will also provide access to quantum computers for both research institutions and businesses.It is based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
“Quantum computers are extraordinary new tools with the potential to allow us to tackle previously insurmountable challenges, promising benefits for all of society through applications in areas such as drug discovery and traffic optimisation,” highlighted scientific and technological research and development funding agency UK Research and Innovation CE Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser. Conventional computers store information in binary 0 and 1 form, and each binary digit is called a bit; for a quantum computer, the basic unit of information is a qubit (from quantum bit); qubits are not a binary digits but represent atoms, ions, photons or electrons, plus their various control devices, which operate together as memory systems and processing systems.
Quantum computers use the particle physics phenomena discovered through quantum mechanics, such as superposition and entanglement (as well as the long-known phenomenon of interference). Superposition is a combination of states that are normally described separately – if a musician plays two musical notes at once, that is a superposition of those notes. While a bit must be either a 0 or a 1, because of superposition, a qubit can simultaneously be 0 and 1, and every fraction in between. The problem is that qubits cannot maintain superposition for very long before they ‘decohere’ and lose the information they hold.
“I am pleased with the progress made on the formal structures and governance of the centre,” reported National Quantum Computing Centre director Dr Michael Cuthbert. “The next steps initiating centre recruitment and commissioning technology work packages are very welcome tangible steps as the centre moves from initialisation and conceptual design to facility construction and operational delivery.”
Regarding the UK’s first commercially-available quantum computer, this will be based at Abingdon, also in Oxfordshire. It will be developed by US quantum computer and superconducting quantum processor manufacturer and integrated systems enterprise Rigetti Computing. This company has also developed a quantum cloud services platform, which allows its quantum computers to be integrated with any cloud, whether private, public or hybrid.
“I am delighted that companies across the country will have access to our first commercial quantum computer,” enthused Solloway. “This is a key part of our plan to build back better using the latest technology, attract the brightest and best talent to the UK and encourage world-leading companies to invest here.”
“We are excited to deliver the UK’s first quantum computer and help accelerate the development of practical algorithms and applications,” affirmed Rigetti Computing CEO Chad Rigetti. “By providing access to quantum hardware, the collaboration aims to unlock new capabilities within the thriving UK ecosystem of quantum information science researchers, start-ups, and enterprises who have already begun to explore the potential impact of quantum computing.”