University researchers develop innovative quantum device
Quantum computing uses the field of quantum physics in an effort to drastically increase the speed at which computers can process information. The Chinese scientists report their prototype can perform calculations that a regular computer would take billions of years to solve. It comes as the country has been locked in a technological race with the US over who can achieve quantum supremacy.
Findings about the quantum computer were published in the journal Science on Thursday, with scientists from the University of Science and Technology of China in central Hefei behind the machine.
Lu Chaoyang, chief professor behind the experiment, said the team achieved the breakthrough by manipulating light particles.
Xinhua, China’s official news agency, claimed the computer was 10 billion times faster than Google’s Sycamore machine, which was launched last year.
The research also claimed the prototype was 100 trillion times faster than Japan’s Fukagu supercomputer, launched in June and widely held to be the faster computer in the world.
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Mr Lu detailed how his team’s quantum computer differed from Google’s, with the American machine using ultra-cold superconducting chips rather than China’s light particle manipulation.
The scientist added he admired Google’s work, and said to the Financial Times: “Building a quantum computer is a race between humans and nature, not between countries.”
Mr Lu then said the machines are limited in what they can accomplish, added they can only “do a specific job, not all jobs”.
He continued: “It is not fully programmable yet. This is something we are working on.”
Should quantum computers be built at scale, they will be able to create exponential gains in computing power, giving countries that wield it substantial influence.
Mr Lu hailed his team’s developments, and said: “Scientists are close to useful quantum machines that can do something non-trivial.”
Other experts in the field praised the development, with Christine Silberhorn, quantum optics expert at Paderborn University in Germany, describing the Chinese team’s work as a “milestone experiment”.
Richard Murray, chief executive of London-based quantum computing company ORCA, added: “There are still people who question whether quantum computers will be a reality. With two systems having achieved this benchmark, that argument is sounding quite unlikely.”
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In an effort to beat the US to quantum superiority, China had announced it was investing $10 billion (£7.44 billion) into a new National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences earlier this year.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump set aside $1 billion (£744 million) in funding for artificial intelligence and quantum information research this year.
When Google announced their Sycamore machine last year, the President’s daughter Ivanka Trump was quick to credit Mr Trump’s administration.
She said on Twitter: “It’s official! The US has achieved quantum supremacy! (…) We’re proud to have contributed to this major milestone, ushering in the next gen of quantum tech in the USA!”
The US and China have been locked in a race to develop new technologies over fears the other country could use their superiority to advance military efforts.
Earlier this year, Beijing and Moscow announced they would cooperate in space exploration and other related technological advancements, in a snub to the US.
It comes after John Ratcliffe, Mr Trump’s Direct of National Intelligence, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal warning that China has a plan to “dominate” the world “economically, militarily and technologically”.
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley also warned the US needed to ramp up development of robotic weapons to beat China in the technological field.
He said to the US Naval Institute: “They would like to not only match us but exceed us, dominate us, be able to beat us in armed conflict by mid-century”.
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