Quantum Technologies Update: U.S. vs China now and in the future

The quantum computing market could be worth up to $5 billion by 2025, driven by competition between the US and China, according to London-based data analytics fir GlobalData whose  Patent Analytics Database reveals that the U.S. is the global leader in quantum computing.  The analytics company notes that China is currently about five years behind the U.S., and the recently passed U.S. CHIPS and Science Act will enhance U.S. quantum capabilities while hindering China.

Sidebar; What is a Quantum Computer:

Unlike a classical computer, which performs calculations one bit or word at a time, a quantum computer can perform many calculations concurrently.  Quantum computers use a  basic memory unit called a qubit, which has the flexibility to represent either zero, one or both at the same time. This ability of an object to exist in more than one form at the same time is known as superposition.  The concept of entanglement is when multiple particles in a quantum system are connected and affect each other.  If two particles become entangled, they can theoretically transmit and receive information over very long distances.  However, the transmission error rates have yet to be determined.

Because quantum computers’ basic information units can represent all possibilities at the same time, they are theoretically much faster and more powerful than the regular computers we are used to.

Physicists in China recently launched a quantum computer they said took 1 millisecond to perform a task that would take a conventional computer 30 trillion years.

The aforementioned U.S. CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law in August 2022, represents an escalation in the growing tech war between the U.S. and China. The act includes measures designed to cut off China’s access to US-made technology. In addition, new export restrictions were announced on October 10, some of which took immediate effect. These restrictions prevent the export of semiconductors manufactured using US equipment to China. Currently, the U.S. is negotiating with allied nations to implement similar restrictions. Included in the CHIPS Act is a detailed package of domestic funding to support US quantum computing initiatives, including discovery, infrastructure, and workforce.

Among the many commercial companies researching the technology, IBM, Alphabet (parent company of Google), and Northrop Grumman have filed the most patents, with a respective 1,885, 1,000, and 623 total publications.

Earlier this week, IBM unveiled the largest quantum bit count (433 qubits) of its quantum computers to date, named Osprey, at this week’s IBM Quantum Summit. The company also introduced its latest modular quantum computing system.

“The new 433 qubit ‘Osprey’ processor brings us a step closer to the point where quantum computers will be used to tackle previously unsolvable problems,” IBM SVP Darío Gil said in a statement.

The IBM Osprey more than tripled the qubit count of its predecessor — the 127-qubit Eagle processor, launched in 2021. “Like Eagle, Osprey includes multi-level wiring to provide flexibility for signal routing and device layout, while also adding in integrated filtering to reduce noise and improve stability,” Jay Gambetta, VP of IBM Quantum wrote in a blog post.

The company claims Osprey is more powerful to run complex computations and the number of classical bits needed to represent a state on this latest processor far exceeds the total number of atoms in the known universe.

Gambetta noted IBM has been following along its quantum technology development roadmap. The company put its first quantum computer on the cloud in 2016 and aims to launch its first 1000-plus qubit quantum processor (Condor) next year and a 4000-plus qubit processor around 2025.

The US government has committed $3 billion in funding for federal quantum projects, which are either being planned or already underway, including the $1.2 billion National Quantum Computing initiative. In addition, the U.S. government almost certainly conducts quantum projects in secret through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).

The U.S. government has committed $3bn in funding to federal quantum projects that are either already in train or being planned. The biggest project is the $1.2bn U.S. National Quantum Computing Initiative. Of course, the military and security services will be assiduously tending their own quantum gardens.

As expected, considerably less is known about China’s advancements and investments in quantum technology. The country proclaims itself to be the world-leader in secure quantum satcoms.  The CCP (which runs the People’s Republic of China or PRC) can devote huge resources to any technology perceived to give the PRC a strategic geo-political advantage – such as global quantum supremacy.

“Quantum computing has become the latest battleground between the U.S. and China,” GlobalData associate analyst Benjamin Chin said in a statement. “Both countries want to claim quantum supremacy, not only as a matter of national pride but also because of the financial, industrial, scientific, and military advantages quantum computing can offer.  “China has already established itself as a world leader in secure quantum satellite communications. Moreover, thanks to its autocratic economic model, it can pool resources from institutions, corporations, and the government. This gives China a distinct advantage as it can work collectively to achieve a single aim – quantum supremacy.”

China has already developed quantum equipment with potential military applications:

  • This year, scientists from Tsinghua University developed a quantum radar that could detect stealth aircraft by generating a small electromagnetic storm.
  • In 2017, the Chinese Academy of Sciences also developed a quantum submarine detector that could spot submarines from far away.
  • In December 2021, China created a quantum communication network in space to protect its electric power grid against attacks, according to scientists involved in the project. Part of the network links the power grid of Fujian, the southeastern province closest to Taiwan, to a national emergency command centre in Beijing.

Consider Alibaba’s innocuously named DAMO Academy (Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook), which has already invested $15bn in quantum technology and will continue to plough more and more money into the venture. The Chinese government has also invested at least $10bn in the National Laboratory for Quantum Information Science, whose sole purpose is to conduct R&D only into quantum technologies with “direct military applications.”

Photo: Shutterstock Images

Swiss company ID Quantique, a spin-off from the Group of Applied Physics at the University of Geneva, is launching technology to make satellite security quantum proof. The company was founded in 2011 and has more than a decade of experience in quantum key distribution systems, quantum safe network encryption, single photon counters and hardware random number generators. The latest additions to its portfolio are two extremely robust, ruggedized and radiation-hardened QRNG (Quantum Random Number Generator) chips designed and fabricated especially for space applications.

The generation of genuine randomness is a vital component of cybersecurity: Systems that rely on deterministic processes, such as Pseudo Random Number Generators (PRNGs), to generate randomness are insecure because they rely on deterministic algorithms and these are, by their nature, predictable and therefore crackable. The most reliable way to generate random numbers is based on quantum physics, which is fundamentally random. Indeed, the intrinsic randomness of the behaviour of subatomic particles at the quantum level is one of the very few absolutely random processes known to exist. Thus, by linking the outputs of a random number generator to the utterly random behaviour of a quantum particle, a truly unbiased and unpredictable system is guaranteed and can be assured via live verification of the numbers and monitoring of the hardware to ensure it is operating properly.

The two new space-hardened microprocessors, the snappily named IDQ20MC1-S1 and IDQ20MC1-S3, are certified to the equally instantly memorable ECSS-Q-ST-60-13, the standard that defines the requirements for selection, control, procurement and usage of electrical, electronic and electro-mechanical (EEE) commercial components for space projects. The IDQ20MC1-S3 is a Class 3 device, predominantly for use in low-earth orbit (LEO) missions. The IDQ20MC1-S1 is a Class 1 device, for use in MEO and GEO mission systems. IDQ is the first to enable satellite security designers to upgrade their encryption keys to quantum enhanced keys.