The United States and Europe are not alone in their quest for quantum supremacy. China has joined the race and is investing heavily in both patents and research.
The rivalry between two economic powerhouses – the US and China – has played a significant part in shaping the global economy over the past 10 years. While competition has traditionally been based around the manufacturing of goods and the protectionism that goes with this, over recent years it has expanded to the research and development of technology. Today, both Chinese technology companies and the state itself are starting to take on Washington and their Silicon Valley rivals.
A report by Bloomberg highlights one area of innovation that China is particularly focused on: The development of quantum computers. While China’s overall spend on quantum computing is unknown, the government is investing $10 billion in building the world’s largest quantum research facility in Hefei. Alongside this, the number of Chinese patents and applications filed in relation to quantum computers has rapidly increased since 2014.
The US itself is dedicating significant resources to the field, funding quantum research to the tune of $200 million per year and noticeably increasing its own patent and application portfolio over the past four years. While some critics argue that these levels of investment aren’t enough, the National Science and Technology Council confirmed the US’ commitment in this area, stating in 2016 that quantum computing is “considered a priority for federal coordination and investment”.
Is it really ‘an arms race’?
Bloomberg’s article highlights many of the concerns that come with quantum computing in terms of cyber security and cyber warfare. While there is no doubt that quantum computing poses a security risk in the wrong hands – especially if organisations and governments fail to adapt their defences using technologies such as quantum-safe encryption – it is only part of the story.
Quantum computers have the capability to revolutionise the use of ‘Big Data’ thanks to their ability to perform complex mathematical equations and process substantial amounts of data in a fraction of the time conventional or even super computers do today. This ability will provide significant benefits to industries including finance and healthcare, where accurate and complex modelling is imperative.
Will there be a winner?
While China is making a concerted effort to catch-up with the US, it is unlikely that there will ever be an outright ‘winner’ in the quantum computing race. Much like any technological movements there will be early innovators as well as those who are ‘late to the party’ and there is plenty of opportunity for other nations to join the quantum race.
Business will also play a large role in developing and commercialising quantum technologies. This year alone we have seen Google announce that it was working on a 72-qubit chip, quantum computing feature on IBM’s “5 in 5” list and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella advocate for the technology at this year’s World Economic Forum.
What we can be certain of is that, with increasing investment by both states and businesses, mainstream quantum computing is moving closer to becoming a reality. US & Chinese investments will account for a great deal of this, but they are by no means alone in their efforts.
Find out more about quantum-safe security.