Articles

Why China’s winning the quantum computing race


Quantum computing is likely to be the next giant leap forward in the computing world. It promises to be incredibly powerful for certain applications, far eclipsing the capabilities of current computers. And for once, it’s not Silicon Valley that’s leading this high-tech revolution – it’s China. You probably know that traditional computers store and manipulate data using bits to signify ones or zeroes. Quantum computers use something similar called quantum bits, or qubits. If you think of a bit as a sphere, a traditional bit can only be here (one) or here (zero) A qubit can be in those places, but it can also be other locations on the sphere. This is called superposition, and without getting into complicated physics (that I don’t really understand) here’s what it means: quantum computers have the potential to do a lot more with a lot fewer bits. And that means that especially for some kinds of calculations, they’ll be much, much faster. For now, this is all mostly theoretical. You can’t go out and buy a quantum computer because we’re still trying to figure out how to get qubits to behave the way we want them to. But if anybody’s winning the race to get qubits in line, it’s China. China has already made inroads in quantum communications, using entangled particles to transmit information instantly and completely securely over 1,000 KM between Beijing and Shanghai, and even further via a quantum satellite in space And the government is also pouring money into the quantum computing race. In fact, it’s building a $10 billion research center, slated to open in 2020 to support its efforts But that center’s just the tip of the iceberg. China’s government has proved itself willing to invest tremendous sums in relevant research at a time when governments like the US have been slashing science budgets. And it’s not just the public sector, either. In October, for example, Alibaba announced a new $15 billion fund for R&D into “foundational and disruptive” tech including quantum computing. The stakes of this race are quite high. Pan Jianwei, a high-profile scientist in the field, has said that the first true quantum computer will have a million times more computing power than every computer currently on earth combined. Getting the first quantum computer would give China a massive leg up over every other country in everything from communications tech to scientific research to military advancement. It’s no wonder, then, that many Western governments and scientists have expressed concerns about how quickly China’s moving. But can anybody catch up? Unless the US government has made impressive progress on some classified quantum computing project, it seems unlikely. Many observers agree that based on what’s publicly known, China seems to be in the lead, and there’s no sign that it’s planning to slow down anytime soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *