Research into quantum computing will benefit from a £270 million government investment over the next five years, according to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s Autumn Statement.
The money will be spent on maintaining five Quantum Technology Centres, which will aim to develop commercial applications for the ideas that are gaining traction in the academic community.
Quantum processors have obvious uses in cryptography and high performance computing, where they can solve certain problems much faster than conventional machines. The technology can also be used for non-computing purposes – for example, quantum gravimeters can measure subtle changes in gravity in order to detect oil fields and mineral deposits, or map underground pipes and cables.
Quantum computers interact with information using quantum bits or ‘qubits’. Because quantum states can be superposed, these can measure both ‘1’ and’0’ simultaneously – just as the famous cat in Schrodinger’s Paradox can be both alive and dead because it is isolated from the outside world in a coherent quantum state.
These devices can therefore process multiple inputs at the same time – effectively in parallel universes – and determine the right answer to problems which have a huge numbers of possible solutions, as long as their qubits can be kept in a coherent state, isolated from the outside world.
There’s more money in the Autumn Statement for other projects in science and technology, like the Global Collaborative Space Programme, which will receive £80 million over five years. Another £10 million is set aside for a town or a city that chooses to run a self-driving car trial (which is expected to be Milton Keynes).
“Driverless cars have the potential to generate the kind of high-skilled jobs we want Britain to be famous for, as well as cutting congestion and pollution and improving road safety,” said the science minister David Willetts.
The new budget aims to boost businesses in general, with plans to spend £160 million over six years on start-up funding, and cut corporation tax from 23 percent to 21 percent in April 2014 and 20 percent in 2015.
Quantum computing is still facing plenty of challenges on its way to commercialisation. Such systems are notoriously hard to work with, and usually require temperatures close to absolute zero, or −273 °C. However, last month a team from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia managed to maintain a quantum memory ‘superposition’ state at room temperature for 39 minutes – almost 100 times longer than ever before.
British Columbia is also the home of the world’s only commercial quantum computer company, D-Wave, which has sold some of its designs to clients including Google and NASA.
The investment package for quantum computing is much higher than £21.5 million spent by the government on wonder-material graphene, announced by Osborne almost a year ago.
The Autumn Statement has also granted a concession to Britain’s data centre industry by allowing it to step outside other green taxes and form its own agreement to reduce emissions.
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