Chinese Researchers Create Quantum Computing Benchmark

China’s top quantum research group said its Jiuzhang quantum computer produced results in minutes that would take 2+ billion years by the world’s No. 3 powerful supercomputer. That exceeds Google’s prototype quantum computer which, last year, came up with a result in minutes that it estimated would take a supercomputer 10,000 years. The two quantum computers work differently: China’s University of Science and Technology’s computer manipulates photons, whereas Google’s builds quantum circuits via super-cold superconducting metal.

Wired reports that Google, IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Intel and “several large startups have all spent heavily on developing quantum computing hardware in recent years.” It notes that quantum computing is based on qubits, which can represent ones and zeroes but “also exploit quantum mechanics to attain an unusual state called a superposition that encapsulates the possibilities of both.”

That enables a “computation shortcut … an advantage that grows as more qubits work together.” Quantum computing hasn’t yet taken off because “engineers haven’t been able to get enough qubits working together reliably enough.” Wired notes that, “it’s unclear just how many qubits are needed for a quantum computer to do useful work … [but] expert estimates range from hundreds to millions.”

Google’s superconducting chip Sycamore had 54 qubits, cooled to “fractions of a degree above absolute zero.” The Chinese team, led by Jian-Wei Pan, wrote code “to simulate the work of the quantum system on Sunway TaihuLight,” the world’s No. 3 top supercomputer. Its Jiuzhang computer was measured as having as many as 75 photons but it “averaged a more modest 43.”

With the Chinese government’s goal of becoming “more prominent in quantum technology,” the country has demonstrated “use of quantum encryption over record-breaking distances, including using a satellite specially designed for quantum communications to secure a video call between China and Austria.” Wired explains that, “one difference between Jiuzhang and Google’s Sycamore is that the photonic prototype is not easily reprogrammable to run different calculations … [because] its settings were effectively hard coded into its optical circuits.”

At quantum computing startup Xanadu, chief executive and founder Christian Weedbrook said the results are “notable as a reminder that there are multiple viable paths to making quantum number crunching work. “It’s a milestone in photonic quantum computing, but also good for all of us,” he said.

Bloomberg reports that, in China, “Xi Jinping’s government is building a $10 billion National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences as part of a big push in the field.” In the U.S., the Trump administration “provided $1 billion in funding to research into artificial intelligence and quantum information earlier this year.”