Quantum computer concept art

UK government acquires its first quantum computer

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The UK Ministry of Defence has reportedly acquired the government’s first quantum computer to explore ways in which the technology can be used to bolster the UK’s defence.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) will work with Orca Computer to develop defence applications with quantum computing.

While most computers process data in bits, with a binary value of either zero or one, quantum computers use a two-state unit for data processing called a qubit, which represents several digits simultaneously through a process known as superposition. By being able to bridge binary digits, and cope with high levels of uncertainty, the devices can make highly complex calculations that cannot be done by regular computers.

Stephen Till of the Ministry’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DTSL) called the purchase a “milestone moment”.

However, Professor Winfried Hensinger, head of the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies at the University of Sussex, told the BBC that the true potential of quantum computers will take time to fully materialise, as these devices “can't actually solve any practical problems yet”.

Orca's system uses photons to optimise machine-learning tasks like image analysis and decision-making. The MoD will work with Orca's small PT-1 model, which the company says is the first of its kind to be able to operate at room temperature. 

According to comments made to The Times, the MoD will focus on combining Orca’s device with traditional computers for defence applications. The ability of Orca’s technology to function at room temperature is a key aspect of this collaboration, as the devices could perhaps be used under battlefield conditions.

Richard Murray, chief executive of Orca Computing, said the company's work with the MoD is a "significant vote of confidence".

Quantum computing has been on the rise over the past few years, with experts suggesting that the technology could provide up to £4bn of economic opportunities globally by 2024 alone, while productivity gains could surpass over £341bn within the next few decades.

The UK has shown ambitions to be the world’s first quantum-ready economy. As part of this, in 2020, the UK pledged £10m of funding back in 2020 to build the country’s first quantum computer.

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