(Telegraph) The potential prize of the quantum crusade is confirmed superpower status – for a generation or more. Consequently, it is top of the priority list for the world’s two greatest powers: the US and China.
Quantum technology was made a cornerstone of China’s current Five Year Plan (2016-2020), with a $10bn national laboratory announced in 2017. That dwarfs the $1.2bn signed into law two years ago in America’s National Quantum Initiative Act.
The US government has its Silicon Valley titans Google, IBM and Microsoft with their own quantum projects who are also partnering with world-leading universities to drive inconceivable breakthroughs. And last year, it looked as though Google had won the race, or at least the first leg of it.
A new development in China this month has leapfrogged the other contenders. China’s quantum breakthrough at the start of December as a game-changer. Researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei claimed to have developed a photon-based quantum computer that could do in a few minutes a calculation that would take a classical computer 10 billion years. The Telegraph writes, “Its achievement far outweighs that of Google last year, whose announcement of quantum advantage was contested by claims that a classical computer could theoretically have matched it. It is also the first time that quantum advantage has been achieved using light beams”.
The potential is there for Beijing to develop a seismic advantage over its rivals, cementing its superpower status.
However, in any kind of war, allies matter as much as resources.
And while no other nation matches the Chinese and American efforts towards quantum advantage, great strides are being made elsewhere too. while no other nation matches the Chinese and American efforts towards quantum advantage, great strides are being made elsewhere too. Quantum is high on the technological priority list for France and Germany, which have been driving ahead this year even in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. France unveiled its “national strategy for quantum technologies” in May, which called for €1.5bn of investment, while in June Angela Merkel pledged €2bn towards a German quantum innovation project. Both are vying to be global quantum leaders.
But they have additional European competition – from Britain, and not just thanks to the £1bn investment threshold passed last year. In September 2020, global quantum company Rigetti Computing was leading a consortium to build the UK’s first “commercially available quantum computer”, hosted in Abingdon, Oxford. Science minister Amanda Solloway spoke of the ambition for the UK to become the “world’s first quantum-ready economy”.
Keep an eye on the race for quantum advantage in 2021. Who wins could determine the leaders of the AI revolution, a new class of encryption, and preparedness for the next pandemic – and with that, the dynamics of geopolitical supremacy for generations to come.