It is fantastic to see Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons, a quantum physicist, receive the 2018 Australian of the year award. Professor Simmons’ area of expertise is researching quantum computing, which offers exciting opportunities to reshape the boundaries of research and technology.

Similar to many businesses today, technology and computing are fundamental to our quantitative work at Aither. We are frequently tasked to assess the best course of actions for our clients to take, often in scenarios where there is a great deal of uncertainty about the future may look. A relevant example is the adaptive management of Australia’s coastline, which is threatened by the future impacts of climate change. When considering coastal adaptation decisions there are an enormous number of possible scenarios to explore, exacerbated by a large number of management options.

To be best equipped for decision making under uncertainty, we need to model these real-world systems as accurately as possible. However, this can often come at a cost; the more realistic the model, the greater the complexity, and number of computations that are required sky rocket. With the rapid increases in processing power and accessibility to cloud-based computing resources, we can affordably and readily solve increasingly complex problems. However, as said by Professor Simmons, there are still problems that could take thousands of years to compute with today’s capabilities.

Compared with traditional computers, which operate sequentially, quantum computers can effectively process algorithms in a simultaneous or parallel fashion, allowing specific problems to be solved in ways which are not possible with traditional computing capabilities.

The initial focus of quantum computing is likely to be cutting-edge research and intensive technology applications. However, it is reasonable to expect that quantum computing will become readily accessible over the cloud and applied to enhance and redefine a spectrum of computing applications, including the management of Australia’s coastline.

The next thing on Professor Simmons' radar is to build a quantum computer — one that could solve problems in minutes, that would otherwise take thousands of years.

"It really starts to allow us to do things that we simply wouldn't be able to do in a timely fashion," she said.

Something like this would have the potential to revolutionise things like artificial intelligence, self-driving cars and drug design.

This insight was written in response to the article ‘A chess game got Australian of the Year Michelle Simmons on the path to quantum physics’ by ABC News which first appeared on on 26 January 2018.