It appears a quantum computer rivalry is growing between the U.S. and China.
Physicists in China claim they’ve constructed two quantum computers with performance speeds that outrival competitors in the U.S., debuting a superconducting machine, in addition to an even speedier one that uses light photons to obtain unprecedented results, according to a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journals Physical Review Letters and Science Bulletin.
China has exaggerated the capabilities of its technology before, but such soft spins are usually tagged to defense tech, which means this new feat could be the real deal.
China’s quantum computers still make a lot of errors
The supercomputer, called Jiuzhang 2, can calculate in a single millisecond a task that the fastest conventional computer in the world would take a mind-numbing 30 trillion years to do. The breakthrough was revealed during an interview with the research team, which was broadcast on China’s state-owned CCTV on Tuesday, which could make the news suspect. But with two peer-reviewed papers, it’s important to take this seriously. Pan Jianwei, lead researcher of the studies, said that Zuchongzhi 2, which is a 66-qubit programmable superconducting quantum computer is an incredible 10 million times faster than Google’s 55-qubit Sycamore, making China’s new machine the fastest in the world, and the first to beat Google’s in two years.
The Zuchongzhi 2 is an improved version of a previous machine, completed three months ago. The Jiuzhang 2, a different quantum computer that runs on light, has fewer applications but can run at blinding speeds of 100 sextillion times faster than the biggest conventional computers of today. In case you missed it, that’s a one with 23 zeroes behind it. But while the features of these new machines hint at a computing revolution, they won’t hit the marketplace anytime soon. As things stand, the two machines can only operate in pristine environments, and only for hyper-specific tasks. And even with special care, they still make lots of errors. “In the next step we hope to achieve quantum error correction with four to five years of hard work,” said Professor Pan of the University of Science and Technology of China, in Hefei, which is in the southeastern province of Anhui.
China’s quantum computers could power the next-gen advances of the coming decades
“Based on the technology of quantum error correction, we can explore the use of some dedicated quantum computers or quantum simulators to solve some of the most important scientific questions with practical value,” added Pan. The circuits of the Zuchongzhi have to be cooled to very low temperatures to enable optimal performance for a complex task called random walk, which is a model that corresponds to the tactical movements of pieces on a chessboard.
The applications for this task include calculating gene mutations, predicting stock prices, air flows in hypersonic flight, and the formation of novel materials. Considering the rapidly increasing relevance of these processes as the fourth industrial revolution picks up speed, it’s no exaggeration to say that quantum computers will be central in key societal functions, from defense research to scientific advances to the next generation of economics.