A close-up of Google's Sycamore processor for quantum computing. Photo: Handout

Google’s groundbreaking accomplishment of quantum supremacy earlier this month with its boundary-pushing, 54-qubit Sycamore processor has been touted as the latest feat by Corporate America in the fiery tech rivalry between the US and China.

The tech giant claimed that its Sycamore had cracked an extremely complicated computational task in 200 seconds – a little over three minutes – that would have taken a state-of-the-art supercomputer in use in a few countries – like IBM’s Summit, now the world’s most powerful classical computer – “a hundred centuries to finish.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai with one of the tech giant’s quantum computers. Photo: AFP/Ho/Google

“Quantum supremacy” refers to the sheer superiority of quantum computers to solve problems way faster than their classical counterparts, with a superpolynomial speedup outstripping the speed and capability of the best known or possible classical algorithm run on classical devices.

Google noted in a statement that with this breakthrough the world would be one step closer to applying quantum computing to designing more efficient batteries, creating fertilizer using less energy and figuring out what molecules might make more effective medicines.

International academia celebrated Google’s precedent-setting work, despite IBM and Intel’s rebuttal that the same task would only take two and a half days for Summit to finish. The fact is that the yawning gap between speeds of three minutes versus 2.5 days is there for everyone to see.

The news about Google’s Sycamore processor and quantum supremacy stoked a frenzy of excitement in China, with researchers in the country hailing the breakthrough while admitting that they have their work cut out if they want to pull off Beijing’s imperative to plug the gap and catch up with the US on this particular front.

While reporting Google’s experiments, party mouthpiece the People’s Daily also admitted that more generous funding from the government is the key and the paper also cast doubt on the ongoing race among cities and research institutes to shell out money to build supercomputers while the quantum technology promises to make these classical devices look “anachronistic.”

Compared with the 54-qubit Sycamore processor, researchers with the Chinese Academy of Sciences are reportedly wracking their brains to achieve similar quantum supremacy on the 50-qubit technology.

Xinhua and the South China Morning Post quoted scientists with the CAS and the Hefei-based University of Science and Technology of China as saying that they expect to realize quantum supremacy by 2021.

The academy and the university are revving up the construction of a National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences in Hefei, a US$10 billion project slated to be operational next year to help realize that lofty goal.

A qubit, or quantum bit, is the basic unit of quantum information, similar to the binary bits of 0 and 1 in conventional computing.

China has entrenched its lead in quantum communications and cryptology with numerous patents filed and workable prototypes in trial use, yet it trails the US in quantum computing, where the research and development endeavor is spearheaded by giants like Google and Microsoft, even though the technology is still in its infancy.

Source: Patinformatics LLC
Researchers with the University of Science and Technology of China inspect a quantum computer prototype at a lab in Shanghai. Photo: Xinhua

That said, China has made some progress over the years.

In December last year, China unveiled its first indigenous quantum computer control system in Hefei, which was developed by a local tech start-up with the goal to ultimately monetize quantum computers, according to Xinhua.

The indispensable role of the control system is to provide the precise signal needed for the operation of quantum chips and also process feedback information and compile algorithms.

Also, Xinhua reported in March 2018 that Chinese and Japanese researchers identified a new category of topological superconductor that could be a founding component of future quantum computers for mass production and use, where the integrity of the quantum state could be protected by the topological properties of the superconductor.

Most quantum computers now in development are susceptible to decoherence, where the quantum state that encodes information degrades, causing intolerable computing errors.

Read more: Quantum computing a step closer to reality

Quantum leap in the dark science of cryptography

Quantum camera will peep into black holes

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