Behind the Commonwealth Bank’s investment in quantum computing

CBA CIO wants bank to be prepared to take advantage of quantum computing breakthroughs

The Commonwealth Bank’s decision to contribute millions of dollars to quantum computing research is not just about the significant commercial potential of the technology itself but also about developing its own in-house expertise in the area, according to chief information officer David Whiteing.

The bank last year committed to contributing $10 million over five years to UNSW’s Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T). That was in addition to $5 million it announced in December 2014 that it would put towards the centre.

(Telstra last year announced it would also invest $10 million in the centre. The government’s $1.1b Innovation Agenda included $26 million for UNSW’s quantum computing research efforts.)

“There is a commercialisation element of it which we are excited about; that’s only one leg of why we made a commitment,” Whiteing told the Stockbrokers Association of Australia conference.

“Another key part of the commitment was we were able to get involved with the team of 180 researchers and experimenters — we were able to start driving our understanding of what quantum is going to do,” the CIO said.

The bank’s investment means that it is able to help shape and participate in the research. “And we were able to get some of our talented people working, over the next five to 10 years depending on the timescale, to actually build that experience and capability in-house,” Whiteing said.

When technology breakthroughs are made, “it’s not actually about the intellectual property – it’s about your ability to execute,” the CIO said.

“To a large extent, more and more of our world is becoming open source,” Whiteing told the conference.

“Intellectual property is reverse engineered very, very quickly and your window of differentiation from an IP perspective is probably, at best, in the technology space, 18 months. If you’re not out-executing, at some point you will get overtaken.”

“This is a piece of research where Australia is leading the world by — depending on who you talk to — as much as three to five years,” the IT executive said of the quantum computing research being undertaken at the university.

“This is a piece of research that when it comes to fruition, and it will come to fruition, will be fundamentally a paradigm shift in the way that we think of compute technology.”

Quantum computing will allow complex simulations used by financial services businesses to be run continuously with results returned “in seconds”, Whiteing said. “We will be able to take dynamic calculations of risk positions using quantum capabilities,” the CIO said.

In other areas ranging from logistics to cyber security, quantum computing is set to have just as dramatic an impact, he added.

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