China Speeding Along In Quantum Computing Race

(MENAFN- Asia Times)

China is now the third country worldwide to have built and delivered quantum computers after Canada and the United States first shipped theirs in 2011 and 2019, respectively.

Origin Quantum Computing Technology Co, established in Hefei in 2017, says it has delivered a 24-qubit quantum computer – known as Benyuan Wuyuan – that reportedly uses self-developed superconducting chip technology.

The company says it will launch a faster quantum computer called Wukong, the name of the Monkey King in Chinese mythology, later this year.

The announcement has prompted IT columnists and observers to speculate on China's chances of catching up with the US in the race to lead the quantum computing revolution.

The consensus seems to be that China is four to five years behind the US in the quantum computer industry – but could in the decades ahead take the lead as the high-tech competition evolves.

For the origin of Origin, flash back to September 2017, when Guo Guoping, deputy director of the Key Laboratory of Quantum Information, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), led a team of scientists in establishing Origin Quantum in Hefei. In Mandarin Chinese, Benyuan means Origin.

In its series A round of fundraising in January 2021, the company received over 100 million yuan (US$15.5 million) from a group of investors led by the China Internet Investment Fund. In the series B round last July, it raised 1 billion yuan from new investors led by Shenzhen Capital Group's Hotland Investment Asset Management.

In 2011, Canadian firm D-Wave Systems released the world's first commercial quantum computer – called d-wave one . Equipped with a 128-qubit chipset, the computer was priced at US$10 million. In 2019, IBM unveiled its Q System One, a 20-qubit machine.

Second in the race was IBM's Q System One. Photo: IBM

In its Wuyuan series, Origin Quantum launched its 6-qubit quantum chip, namely KF-C6-130, in 2020 and a 24-qubit quantum chip, KF-C24-100, in 2021. Last year, it released its first collaborative computing system solution of a quantum computer, using its own operating system called Benyuan Sinan, or Origin Pilot.

The company said this week that it delivered a 24-qubit quantum computer but it did not disclose more details about its parts and technologies. It also did not identify the customer or reveal the selling price of this machine.

In connection with the announcement, Guo Guoping looked into the future and predicted that within the next three to five years quantum computing will be put to practical use in people's lives and production.

He said a complicated calculation that would take a month for 10 supercomputers to complete could be done in three to seven days with assistance from a quantum computer.

Guo originally studied foreign languages at the Hefei-based University of Science and Technology of China but then later changed his major to physics. He was mentored by CAS academician Guo Guangcan and received his PhD at the same university.

Speaking of acceleration, he spoke of witnessing rapid progress in the field. He recalled that when he was conducting experiments in a laboratory 20 years ago the lab was ill-equipped to the point of lacking even proper chairs and desks. With the investment funds now available to the quantum computing sector there's no such problem today, he said.

In 2010, Guo started contributing to the National Basic Research Program, or the so-called 973 Program.

Guo said his original career plan didn't foresee setting up Origin Quantum or even trying to make money. But once he started the company it became a passion for him: He once sold his own house to ensure the company survived, he said.

Quantum computing whiz Guo Guoping. Photo: China Speech Valley and Quantum Center, Hefei

Zhang Hui, general manager of Origin Quantum, said that although the company has delivered a quantum computer for the first time, it will have to achieve many more technological breakthroughs to increase its computing speed.

Zhang said a quantum computer will have commercial value only if its speed reaches 50 to 100 qubit. Since last year, he said, the company has started to explore the applications of quantum computing in the finance, biomedical and artificial intelligence sectors.

Some scientists have pointed out that a 30-qubit quantum computer has computing power equivalent to that of a supercomputer with a speed of 1 teraflop (a trillion floating point operations per second) while a 50-qubit quantum computer is faster than a supercomputer when doing certain tasks.

One well-read Chinese IT writer has laid out a three-stage process to commercialize quantum computers.

The first stage, he says, is to build prototypes of quantum computers. The second stage, which he predicts will happen in the next decade, will be to make specialized chips for different uses. He says more applications will be launched in the last stage, which will last for several more decades.

The writer says it is true that China's development in quantum computing lags behind that of the US but he asserts that the US cannot stop China from developing.

In recent years, Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and Huawei have been investing in quantum computing while major US players in the sector include Google, Microsoft and Intel.

In May 2021, a University of Science and Technology of China research team led by scientist Pan Jianwei launched Zuchongzhi 2, a superconducting quantum computer that needs to work at a temperature close to absolute zero.

But then IBM's Eagle surpassed Zuchongzhi 2 to become the world's fastest superconducting quantum machine.

read: us mulling bans to stunt china's quantum computing

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3


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