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UK to build commercially available quantum computer

The UK government is backing a quantum computing project that will provide businesses with access to the technology

The government has backed a plan to build a quantum computer to serve businesses that want to experiment with quantum computing and how it can be harnessed in their industries.

With a £10m investment from government and industry, the quantum computer will be hosted in the National Quantum Computer Centre (NQCC) in Abingdon in Oxfordshire.

The computer is part of the government’s ambition for the UK to become a quantum-ready economy. In fact, science minister Amanda Solloway said the UK wants to be the world’s first quantum-ready economy.

“[This] could provide UK businesses and industries with billions of pounds worth of opportunities,” she said. “This 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.”

Quantum technologies have the potential to complete complex calculations, which currently take days, orders of magnitude quicker. Quantum computers will be able to make calculations that traditional computers are fundamentally unable to do. If practical, they would mark a leap forward in computing capability far greater than that from the abacus to a modern computer.

The quantum computer will be built by Rigetti Computing, which developed a cloud-based platform allowing computer programmers to write quantum algorithms. The tech company will work alongside Oxford Instruments, Standard Chartered, quantum software startup Phasecraft and the University of Edinburgh.

“We are excited to deliver the UK’s first quantum computer and help accelerate the development of practical algorithms and applications,” said Chad Rigetti, CEO of Rigetti Computing.

Uses for quantum computing include:

  • Drug and materials discovery, where it can untangle the complexity of molecular and chemical interactions leading to the discovery of medicines and materials;
  • Supply chain and logistics, by finding the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics and supply chains;
  • Modelling financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments;
  • Making facets of artificial intelligence (AI), such as machine learning, much more powerful when datasets can be too big, such as searching images or video;
  • Securing cloud computing by using the laws of quantum physics to enhance private data safety. 

“By providing access to quantum hardware, the collaboration aims to unlock new capabilities within the thriving UK ecosystem of quantum information science researchers, startups and enterprises who have already begun to explore the potential impact of quantum computing,” said Rigetti.

NQCC director Michael Cuthbert said: “I am pleased with the progress made on the formal structures and governance of the centre. 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.”

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