When Google's 53-qubit Sycamore processor completed a task that would take a traditional supercomputer more than 2.5 days in just 3.3 minutes, it showed just how much modern computers can do. However, now China’s 66-qubit quantum processor known as Zuchongzhi 2 has completed the same task a million times faster.
The record-shattering processor was developed by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Center for Excellence In Quantum Information and Quantum Physics in partnership with the Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology and the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics.
Their work involves superconducting quantum computers. The traditional supercomputers that are used by the military to conduct complex simulations for designing equipment, analyzing huge volumes of data to understand connections, and processing images and signals to identify points of interest and targets have some limitations. Certain tasks remain very time- and resource-intensive on these computers.
Superconducting quantum computers are able to bypass physical limits by using a superposition of the 0 and 1 values used in computing bits. Standard computing bits are always either 0 or 1. However, under extremely low temperatures, changes in the physical properties of matter allow for the creation of quantum bits, or qubits, that can be both 0 and 1 simultaneously. This speeds up computing considerably and opens the door to all kinds of previously unattainable goals, such as decrypting codes that are currently considered unbreakable and bringing machine learning and artificial intelligence to new heights. It can also allow for new chemicals, materials and medicines to be designed.
With so much potential, it should come as no surprise that military and scientific powers around the world are investing billions in this technology. China has been at the forefront of this race. Last year, they reported that their light-based Jiuzhang 2 processor was capable of completing a task in just one millisecond that a conventional computer would need 30 trillion years to finish.
According to Nextgov, China has already invested $10 billion in this field and upped their national research and development spending by 7 percent last year. Compare this to the U.S.'s $1.2 billion devoted to quantum computing research. As a result, Chinese agencies and researchers now have more quantum tech patents than Americans.
Not surprisingly, there are some concerns that Chinese advancements have benefited from stolen American work. Seven supercomputing entities were recently blacklisted by the Commerce Department for links to the People’s Liberation Army, and there is also evidence showing the Chinese government stole encrypted data from the U.S. so they can use it when quantum computers manage to break modern encryption.
Experts believe it could still be several years before quantum computing comes into its own. To unleash its full potential in codebreaking, it would need thousands of qubits; today’s quantum computers can only manage around 50 qubits. Companies like IBM have been making great strides and are hoping to produce a processor with 1,000 qubits some time next year. However, only time will tell if the U.S. will be able to keep up with China’s advancements, which is a scary prospect considering all the potential ways China could use this technology.
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