Physicists in China have announced that they built the fastest programmable superconducting quantum computing system. Credit: Handout.

It’s no secret that China and US are competing intensely when it comes to being the world’s most prominent economic, technological and military power.

Now, it seems that the Asian nation has leap-frogged its American rival, thanks to the former’s supercomputer breakthrough.

Chinese scientists are claiming to have built the world’s fastest programmable quantum computers, which appear to crack problems that are currently not possible for ”classical” non-quantum computers.

The researchers, led by Pan Jianwei from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), say the Zuchongzhi 2.1, which takes its name from a historical 5th century Chinese mathematician-cum-astronomer and engineer, is a 66-qubit programmable superconducting quantum computer.

It is reportedly 10 million times faster than the world’s current fastest supercomputer.

Moreover, it can even handle calculations that are 100 times more complex than what Google’s Sycamore can handle.

On the other hand, Jiuzhang 2.0 is a photonic quantum computer prototype.

With 113 detected photons, it outperforms the original Jiuzhang supercomputer that had just 76.

This upgrade reportedly helps it perform Gaussian Boson Sampling a septillion times faster than the current fastest supercomputer.

This marks the first time any country has achieved this advantage in two different routes.

Physical implementation of large-scale quantum computers is one of the major challenges for the world’s frontier technologies.

Therefore, the international academic world is taking a three-step strategy for the physical implementation, and the first step is called quantum computational advantage.

The Jiuzhang 2.0 quantum supercomputer. (Photo: University of Science and Technology of China)

“This indicates that our research has entered its second stage to start realizing fault-tolerating quantum computing and near-term applications such as quantum machine learning and quantum chemistry,” said Zhu Xiaobo, a member of the research team. 

In 1981, Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman came up with the idea to invent a new type of computer based on quantum technology.

Quantum computing is considered a key technology for the next generation of information revolution. They go beyond the binary codes of 1s and 0s traditionally stored in conventional computers.

These advanced computers employ the special properties of universe’s smallest particles that may exist in multiple states — either as 1s and 0s akin to traditional computers or in any position between.

Quantum particles, which are known as “qubits” or “quantum bits,” are very flexible and can be performed by supercomputers simultaneously.

The two supercomputers are each as large as a room, said Lu Chaoyang, professor with the USTC, adding that the two differ in medium.

“Superconducting quantum computing relies on superconducting materials, and photonics quantum computing on photons,” he explained.

The successful demonstration of the quantum computational advantage marked the start of the second step of quantum computing studies.

“At present, we’re still at a very initial stage of quantum computing, and it’s too early to predict the prospects of the technology’s future application. But it can at least improve our computing capabilities and helps scientific research in a number of fields, such as drug design, molecular simulation and code breaking,” Lu said. 

Barry Sanders, a researcher who wasn’t involved in the creation of Zuchongzhi 2.1, explains for APS Physics that the two major results shown “push experimental quantum computing to far larger problem sizes, making it much harder to find classical algorithms and classical computers that can keep up.”

There are “meaningful problems” that can benefit greatly from the abilities this technology has to offer, a majority of which are in the quantum chemistry field, he said.

“No convincing experimental demonstration has yet been reported,” Sanders states, but “these experiments further motivate efforts to put quantum sampling to practical use.”

Zu Chongzhi was a Chinese astronomer, mathematician, politician, inventor and writer during the Liu Song and Southern Qi dynasties.

He was most notable for calculating pi (π) as between 3.1415926 and 3.1415927, a record in accuracy which would not be surpassed for 800 years.

An accomplished astronomer who calculated the time values with unprecedented precision, his methods of interpolating and the use of integration were far ahead of his time.

Zu also developed the Daming calendar (大明曆) in 465, and his son completed his work. It became the official calender of Ming Dynasty.

The quantum study was published online in the journal Physical Review Letters and Science Bulletin.

Sources: The Independent,,,, People’s Daily Online, Chinese Academy of Sciences,, APS Physics, Global Times