In 2008, the world-renowned quantum scientist Pan Jianwei returned to China and was allocated a lab at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) to kickstart China’s quantum program. Fast forward a decade and China is the leading power in quantum communications and making consistent leaps in other areas of quantum technology.
What is quantum computing?
Quantum computing works on the principle of “qubits”, also known as quantum bits, which can store values between 0 and 1, leading to increased computing power. To make these qubits work, several different technologies have been developed. Each has its own benefits and dependencies on which the government or private sector bases the investment decision.
Due to the use of the superposition principle (multiple states simultaneously), quantum computers are very adept at solving certain optimization and programming problems when dealing with huge data sets, making them invaluable in areas such as cybersecurity, cryptography, and blockchain.
Rapid growth in China
The last decade has seen exciting technological advances in the field of quantum computing, driven by huge investments from both the public and private sectors. A wide range of sectors has benefited from quantum computing to create simulation models (aerospace), large-scale data analysis (space and cosmology programs), forecasting (weather and climate), and the construction of encryption systems (military and defense).
While establishing itself as a leader in quantum communications technology, China soon began devoting its resources to developing alternative quantum computing technologies. Once lagging behind the West in the development of quantum computers, China now houses two of the world’s fastest quantum computers “Jiuzhang” on its soil.
The catalysts for the rise
In China, the state and government have played an important role in promoting scientific and technological advances. The synergy between the state and the national private sector is exemplary in various fields, and quantum technology is no exception. The government has provided funding for academic institutions to set up laboratories for quantum computing research. Financial support for domestic technology companies dedicated to developing real-world applications for quantum computing. In a way, the state acts as a bridge and facilitator, helping to translate academic research in quantum computing to build real quantum computers and develop applications.
But Chinese researchers have eventually developed breakthroughs in an alternative area of quantum computing technology, such as Photonic computing that does not require intensive cooling. The Shanghai-based researchers managed to create a device that can produce the extremely low temperatures at which quantum computers normally operate.
It took China just 15 years to go from an emerging quantum power to one of the world leaders in quantum computing technology.