China’s Arms Race in Computing

While most people think of arms races in terms of traditional weapons, in today’s information age, the new arms race is in the game-changing technology of the future – and right now China is gaining while the U.S. struggles to maintain its competitive advantage.

Artificial intelligence and robotics are certainly a priority, but the biggest game-changing technology on the horizon is quantum computing. The Quantum Computing Market & Technologies – 2018-2024 Report published in February 2018 characterizes what this means for the future: “The quantum computing technologies have the potential to change long-held dynamics in commerce, intelligence, military affairs and strategic balance of power.”

China has made it very clear that they aim to become the world’s technological leader, particularly when it comes to quantum computing. In fact, it’s part of their overall national strategy, as laid out in their “Five Year Plan”.  A Bloomberg report describes how China has been “aggressive in pushing home-grown innovation as it supports companies in obtaining patents and trademarks around the world, and has increased its research funding.”  The Chinese are heavily investing in their companies, universities and researches in the area of quantum technology.

Although the U.S. doesn’t know the full extent of China’s concerted push to achieve global technological supremacy, what we do know is enough to confirm China’s intentions to win this race, and we can’t afford to let that happen.

Here is a snapshot of China’s investment in quantum computing, what they have accomplished, and where they are heading:

  • The Chinese government is building a $10 billion National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences in Hefei, Anhui Province, which is slated to open in 2020.
  • In 2017, Chinese computer scientists announced that they had developed a prototype of a groundbreaking new quantum computer, apparently over 24,000 times faster than its foreign counterparts. They expect to build a quantum computer as powerful as a common laptop by the end of 2018 and one as powerful as the world’s most powerful supercomputer by 2020.
  • China is leading the race in patents and applications on quantum computers. According to a study by patent research firm Patinformatics,“filings for inventions in the area of quantum information technology (QIT) has skyrocketed in recent years, driven mainly by China.” In fact, as Patinformatics points out, China is outpacing its closest competitor (the U.S.) by an enormous margin: “Approximately 72% of the academic patent families published in QIT since 2012 have been from Chinese universities. US universities are a distant second with 12%.” China has nearly twice the number of patents for QIT applications for 2017. The China Academy of Sciences and Peking University are among the Chinese research firms seeking more QIT patents.
  • Chinese universities and researchers are making significant strides towards achieving encryption with quantum technology. One of the things quantum computers will be able to do is encrypt data in a way that is unhackable. Additionally, quantum computers will be able to break the encryption on classical computers. In August 2016, China launched the world’s first quantum communications satellite, Micius. A year later, in 2017, China reportedly carried out the first quantum ‘entanglement’ from space between two scientific facilities 1,200km apart. This was significant because it represented a major step towards realizing unbreakable encrypted communication
  • Based on Micius’ success, China’s National Space Science Center plans to launch additional, more capable satellites in the next five years, ultimately to create a networked quantum satellite constellation. Other key goals include demonstrating intercontinental key distribution between different stations and teleporting a quantum state from a location in China to the satellite.

Considering the level of Chinese investment in quantum technology, China is on a trajectory to take the lead in this critical domain; and the U.S. will have to increase its own investment if we want to maintain our technological edge over China and win this new arms race.

The consequences of losing will be devastating. As the National Review stated in 2017, “The country that develops [the first quantum computer] will have the ability to cripple militaries and topple the global economy…To deter such activity, and to ensure our security, the United States must win this new race to the quantum-computer revolution.”

John Prisco, CEO of Quantum Xchange recently authored an opinion piece for The Next Web titled, The Quantum Computing Race the U.S. Can’t Afford to Lose, arguing that for the United States to remain at the cutting edge, it will need to create its own quantum network to allow for unbreakable lines of secure communication, like what is happening in China.  Luckily, the U.S. is just about to meet this objective as Quantum Xchange prepares to lite-up the first dark fiber network running from Wall Street to New Jersey before expanding throughout the northeast corridor and eventually nationwide.



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