China’s fastest quantum computer still lags far behind the United States

China's fastest quantum computer still lags far behind the United States

China’s fastest quantum computer is set to roll out, but the machine will be nowhere near the fastest in the world, underlining China’s quantum lag behind the United States.

Known as Wukong, the Monkey King from Chinese mythology, the locally produced 72-qubit computer is now in its final testing phase and is scheduled to go online next month, said Zhang Hui, general manager of Origin Quantum Computing Technology based in Hefei.

Last November, the American IBM launched the 433-qubit Osprey, the world’s fastest quantum computer to date. Intel unveiled its 49-qubit quantum chip, known as Tangle Lake, in January 2018, while Google debuted its 72-qubit Bristlecone in March of the same year.

Chinese scientists openly acknowledge the quantum gap with the West.

China is indeed in the top echelon of quantum scientific research in the world, Zhang said in a article in December. “In quantum communication, China is among the first in the world for the number of documents and patents.” However, he said, “in quantum computing, we are relatively behind.

Zhang said this is because China’s overall industrial base is less advanced than the West. He noted that the development of quantum computers involves many advanced engineering issues, including the manufacturing of traditional superconductor and semiconductor chips, crucial high-tech realms where China lags behind the United States and the West.

Currently, China still needs foreign equipment such as electron beam lithography to make its superconducting chips. Japan, which is following America’s lead in limiting China’s access to high-end chip manufacturing equipment, is dominant in the e-beam lithography market.

Citing public data, Zhang estimated that China is about three to four years behind leading countries in terms of quantum hardware. He also added that there is a huge gap between China and the United States in industrial applications of quantum computing.

IBM’s Osprey is now the fastest quantum computer in the world. Photo: IBM

Players like IBM and Google started exploring industrial applications as early as the 1990s. But it’s only since the founding of Origin Quantum in 2017 that we’ve started exploring industrial applications,” he said.

He also said that Intel enjoys an edge in quantum chip manufacturing due to its experience and know-how in semiconductor manufacturing.

Banned by the United States from obtaining the most advanced chips and chip-making equipment, China is now investing heavily in quantum, artificial intelligence and aerospace technologies with the hope, as expressed by some Chinese media, of surpassing the West how to overtake others in cornering in car racing.

At this stage, Zhang said, “these strongest teams in the world are really far ahead of us in terms of funds, talent and equipment. I think the goal of overtaking the others in corners is still a long way off for us. What we are trying to do is follow them as closely as possible and make contributions.”

Power up supercomputers

So far, the 66-qubit Zuchongzhi 2, launched by Chinese scientist Pan Jianwei and his team at the Hefei University of Science and Technology in May 2021, is currently the fastest quantum computer in China.

While the Pan team focuses on academic results, Origin Quantum has its sights set on commercialization.

The company launched its 6-qubit superconducting chip, known as KF-C6-130, in 2020 and used it in its self-developed quantum computer called Benyuan Wuyuan. It unveiled Benyuan Wuyuan 2 with a 24-qubit quantum chip, KF-C24-100, in 2021.

In February this year, it shipped a 24-qubit quantum computer for the first time, making China the third country in the world to have built and delivered quantum computers after the United States and Canada.

Origin Quantum and the state-owned Shanghai Supercomputer Center said this month that they will establish an innovation technology center to connect their supercomputers and quantum computers.

“Quantum computers are much faster than traditional computers at solving specific problems, said Li Genguo, director of the Shanghai Supercomputing Center. They can be used as a supercomputer accelerator.

Li said a program will soon be launched to try to optimize the computing power of supercomputers and quantum computers.

Origin Quantum and Nexchip are investing funds in the production of superconducting chips. Photo: WeChat account: hefeigaoxinfabu]

Dou Meng, vice president of Origin Quantum, told the media that he met Li just two weeks ago for the first time, and both sides agreed to seek synergies.

Dou said that Origin Quantum plans to set up its second quantum center in Shanghai as there is huge growth potential in the Yangtze River Delta region, where 70% of China’s quantum experts and half of quantum companies are located.

Nexchip support

In April 2021, Origin Quantum and Nexchip Semiconductor Corp, which raised 9.96 billion yuan ($1.44 billion) in an initial public offering in Shanghai last month, set up a lab to make superconducting chips.

According to the listing prospectus, Nexchip is 52.99 percent owned by the Hefei government and 27.44 percent owned by Powerchip Technology, the parent company of Powerchip Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (PSMC), Taiwan’s third-largest chip foundry. All five of Nexchip’s top executives are from Taiwan.

Nexchip mainly produces automotive chips between 55 and 150 nanometers, low-end products compared to 7nm to 22nm chips used in mobile electronic products. That means the company is unaffected by US sanctions, which target semiconductors smaller than 28n but not yet superconducting chips.

Origin Quantums Zhang said the company outsources chip manufacturing to Nexchip’s lab and follows IBM and Google’s superconductor chip standards and Intel’s semiconductor standards.

He said it’s not a problem to produce several thousand superconducting chips a year, but only those with the highest quality will be shipped to customers. The company said earlier this year that it is using its in-house developed MLLAS-100 laser annealing to improve the quality of its quantum chips.

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Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3

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