• Michael Biercuk spoke about the potential of quantum computing at TEDxSydney. (TEDxSydney)Source: TEDxSydney
"The most profound impacts of new technologies are those we least anticipate," says Michael Biercuk.
Ben Winsor

27 May 2016 - 3:56 PM  UPDATED 27 May 2016 - 3:56 PM

Associate Professor Michael Biercuk is an experimental physicist at the Quantum Control Laboratory at the University of Sydney.  

This week he spoke at Sydney’s annual TEDx conference on the potential of quantum computing. In his talk, Biercuk said quantum computing had the power to build simulations and models to a level of detail which is impossible for traditional computers.

But the true implications of quantum advancements, he said, probably haven't been thought of yet.

“History has showed us that the most profound impacts of new technologies are those we least anticipate,” Biercuk said.

“There are very smart people who often can call it well in advance, but frequently they cannot capture the entirety of what is coming down the road,” Biercuk told SBS Science after his presentation earlier this week.

To Biercuk it means governments have an important role in funding longer-term research. He is critical of the Turnbull government’s new approach to funding, which emphasises shorter term commercialisation.

“It is an oversight to simplify the role of academics into effectively subsidised research arms for corporations,” he says.

What do scientists want from the 2016 Australian federal election?
From long-term funding to bipartisan support, members of the Australian scientific community weigh in on their political expectations.

In his talk, Dr Biercuk said that early computer systems were originally developed to calculate artillery trajectories, but researchers never anticipated the future applications of their developments. 

“I think that the idea of trying to take academics - who do research in the public interest and is generally long term - and trying to shift them to focus on near term commercial applications that will result in private gain for someone is fundamentally a risk to the innovation ecosystem,” he told SBS Science.

Biercuk believes there are no commercial organisations in Australia which have the scale to invest in technologies that are 30 years away. He thinks there is room for improvements to be made when it comes to commercialisation, but that long-term theoretical research will always be vital for innovation.

For Australia's science community this issue is particularly vital now. Australia’s new Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, backs the government’s approach, and has urged students to be open to opportunities outside academic research.

"It's just not realistic in this country or in any other country for all or even a majority of the PhDs that we train to have academic research careers. The vast majority will end up with non-academic careers – it could be industry research, or government department based research, could be business, finance, or the tourism industry," he told SBS Science upon commencing the Chief Scientist post.

Read these too
Comment: Scientists need to engage more with the public to secure funding
In an atmosphere of declining government funding, scientists can drum up excitement and funding in other ways, write UNSW researchers.
Comment: The voyage of science and innovation
Here's what Dr Alan Finkel, Australia's Chief Scientist, had to say at the National Press Club earlier this week.
10 questions with Australia’s new Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel
After a week in his new role, we sat down with the Chief Scientist to hear his thoughts on renewable energy, academic jobs, discrimination in science, and education.