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Software will become the final key to unlocking quantum computing power

Is China pulling away from other nations in the quantum computing race? What criteria really matter?

A programmable photonic circuit has been developed that can execute various quantum algorithms and is potentially highly scalable. This device could pave the way for large-scale quantum computers based on photonic hardware. Image by 彭家杰. CC BY 2.5
A programmable photonic circuit has been developed that can execute various quantum algorithms and is potentially highly scalable. This device could pave the way for large-scale quantum computers based on photonic hardware. Image by 彭家杰. CC BY 2.5

A new report suggests China might be winning the race to build the most powerful quantum computers, based on the development of a 66-qubit programmable superconducting quantum computing system. This feat was performed at Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale of the University of Science and Technology of China.

Whether the accelerating pace is truly in the hands of China is fact or hyperbole, this is something that will be borne out through future tests. Certainly interest in investing in quantum computing is at a high.

For instance, in a recent study from Classiq, it was found that 38 percent of respondents said that competitive advantage is the most beneficial outcome that would be realised from an effective quantum computing strategy. In addition, 82 percent of people said that they see quantum computing as a business necessity (as based on a survey of more than 500 U.S. professionals).

For business with an eye for the future, the same survey finds that this interest in quantum computing stands second only to an interest with virtual and augmented reality.

There remains, however, a key piece of the quantum ‘arms race’ that is yet to be won, and few technologists have made advances towards it. This centres on software, according to Nir Minerbi, who is CEO at the company Classiq.

Minerbi tells Digital Journal that even China’s latest quantum computer will be less remarkable without viable quantum software.

According to Minerbi, investing in quantum software is the next step in creating lasting competitive advantage in this ‘arms race’.

The technology leader explains: “Whether because of the cybersecurity implications or just to get dramatically better at drug discovery, logistics or financial services, many countries understand the strategic advantage of having advanced quantum technology.”

This is something that is subject to large amounts of investment globally, and Minerbi points out that “China is certainly not an exception, as evidenced by billions of dollars in investment.”

As to what such future-state technology might be used for, Minerbi  speculates: “If China’s computer is as powerful as they say, it can be used for both good and bad purposes. It can be used to develop vaccines in record time, but such technology can eventually crack the encryption of the world’s financial transactions.”

Either way, Minerbi notes: “This next-generation hardware is useless without the ability to write sophisticated software to it. Software investments are another dimension in which certain countries can create lasting competitive advantage in this ‘arms race.’”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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