China gains the quantum advantage

China gains the quantum advantage

Chinese scientists recently claimed they had gained the global edge in quantum computing over Google with a device that can complete in 70 minutes a task that would take the world's fastest non-quantum supercomputer more than eight years.

Zuchongzhi is a 66-qubit quantum supercomputer designed by a team from the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei. They say Zuchongzhi completed an experiment that was 100 times more challenging than the one that Google's Sycamore 54-qubit processor completed two years ago when it set the benchmark in this next-generation field.

This is a significant milestone, however, and we should expect more jostling for pole position in the technology's development over the years to come. IBM last year announced it would produce a 1,000-qubit quantum computer that's about 20 times more powerful than Zuchongzhi, by the end of 2023.

Not one to be outdone, Google announced last month that it had used a quantum device to create a time crystal that perpetually changes phases of matter without using energy, which makes it useful to scientists wanting to understand repeating patterns and other issues. This was seen as one of the first real-world problems solved by a quantum computer as time crystals had previously only existed theoretically.

Quantum technology is highly complex and fast evolving. And unless you are someone like Tony Stark or Elon Musk with millions of dollars to spare, it will likely be many years before you see a quantum device in your home. That said, when it happens the quantum revolution will have a transformative effect on our lives.

The technology is based on quantum bits or qubits, enabling messages to be embedded in particles of light. Traditional computer bits must have a binary value of either zero or one, while qubits can represent both values simultaneously. This means information can be processed faster and more securely than ever before because more calculations can be processed simultaneously.

Once fully realised, quantum computing will enable us to complete computational tasks literally at light speed and with greater efficiency and security. This will have a profound effect on our ability to complete complex processes and it will enable the development of much more effective cybersecurity and cryptography, which should help keep us safe from those intent on using cybertechnology for more nefarious aims.

In terms of banking, we would expect to see the technology applied in the areas of machine learning and artificial intelligence and anything that requires the use of very large data sets or complex analytical models. This would help banks and fintech companies provide real-time, seamless services in areas where service is currently limited by processing times.

It would also help support more insight-driven services that could be tailored to individual customer needs and expand financial inclusion by drawing on more complex ranges of data to create risk profiles.

Quantum technology could be used to benefit all, but there will be a definite advantage to the country and companies that get there first. Currently, the US and China are at the leading edge of its development, though the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University's Centre for Quantum Technologies is also a credible player.

For now, Zuchongzhi and China are in the lead in the so-called quantum arms race. But as this is much more of a marathon than a sprint, many things can happen before either can clinch the gold medal.

Dr Thaweelap Rittapirom is a director and executive vice-president of Bangkok Bank. For more columns in this series, please visit www.bangkokbank.com

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