China matches Google’s quantum computing record

With U.S. tech giants Microsoft, Google, IBM and Amazon in a race towards developing quantum computing, China has yet again surprised the tech-world when it announced its own breakthrough in quantum computing—superseding Google’s current quantum computing capabilities exponentially.

According to a report from the state-run Xinhua News Agency, a team lead by Pan Jianwei, a renowned Chinese quantum physicist, has produced a quantum computer prototype that was able to detect an average of 43 photons which can go as high as 76 output photons.

Named “Jiuzhang”, the quantum computer prototype is said to be 10 billion times faster than Google’s 53-qubit “Sycamore” quantum computer. The latter was able to perform a different computation last year. The 53-qubit quantum computer solved, in only 200 seconds, a problem that would take the fastest supercomputer in the world some 10,000 years.

To scale both quantum computers’ capabilities, assuming the premise of Jiuzhang being 10 billion times faster than Google’s 53-qubit is true, the 200-second computation that Google accomplished with its quantum computer last year is cut down to 0.00000002 seconds or 0.00002 milliseconds.

The challenge of the quantum computer was to solve a boson-sampling #P-Hard (complexity class) problem that is exponential in nature and increases as the number of variables also increases. While brute force is an option, it will take an infinitely long amount of time for the calculation to be accomplished.

A quantum computer doesn’t necessarily need to brute-force the calculations for it to arrive at a result. Jiuzhang used photos as its quantum bit (qubit) which allowed the quantum computer to simulate a quantum process directly which in turn allowed bosons to sample the resulting distribution.

Comparatively, China’s most powerful supercomputer “SunWay TaihuLight” also tried to do the same calculation but Chinese researchers estimated that the calculation would have required more than 2 billion years for it to be calculated in comparison to Jiuzhang’s 200 seconds.

While this would seem like a massive difference between the two, both quantum computers are actually quite different as to how they do quantum computing. Jiuzhang utilizes “photon manipulation” which is actually the key as to why Jiuzhang is able to compute an absurd speed while Google’s 53-qubit quantum computer utilizes quantum circuits built with the help of a super cold and superconducting material. This would explain the temperature difference of both quantum computers as Jiuzhang is able to work at room temperature compared to Google’s Sycamore computer that operates at a “temperature a fraction of a degree above zero.”

In his interview with Xinhua, Jian-Wei Pan emphasizes on the use of photons as the key towards quantum supremacy.

“We have shown that we can use photons, the fundamental unit of light, to demonstrate quantum computational power well beyond the classical counterpart,” says Jian-Wei Pan at the University of Science and Technology of China which is located at Hefei inside the Anhui province.

According to Jian-Wei Pan, the calculations completed “have potential practical applications” in other advanced fields in computing which include quantum chemistry, graph theory and machine learning.

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