The competition between the United States and China in the development of quantum technology has ramifications. Both the future of science and the political relations between the two countries could be affected by these events.
When a team of Chinese scientists used entangled photons from the country’s Micius satellite to make the world’s first quantum-secured video conversation in 2017, observers stated that China had surpassed the United States as the leader in quantum communications. According to new studies, the lead has extended to quantum computing as well.
Last month, physicists at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) revealed essential quantum communication and quantum computing improvements in three preprint papers published on arXiv.org. In one of the tests, researchers utilized nanometer-scale semiconductors known as quantum dots to securely transport single photons. This is a crucial resource for any quantum network.
In another, scientists increased the number of detected photons in their photonic quantum computer from 76 to 113. Resulting in a significant increase in its “quantum advantage,” or how much faster it is than classical computers at a specific task. The third publication introduced Zuchongzhi, a quantum computer consisting of 66 superconducting qubits. It solved a problem with 56 of them—a figure comparable to the 53 qubits employed in Google’s quantum computer Sycamore.
Quantum computers and quantum communication
Quantum computers and quantum communication are still in their infancy. However, the geopolitical implications of quantum technology are significant. Full-fledged quantum networks might provide unhackable communication routes. A powerful quantum computer could theoretically break most of the encryption now used to secure e-mail.
Tensions between the United States and China are at an all-time high, with the countries warring over trade, human rights, espionage, COVID, and Taiwan. American lawmakers responded by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in quantum information science through the National Quantum Initiative. This was following China’s debut of the Micius satellite in 2017. It seemed eerily similar to what had already transpired in the past. Around 60 years ago, fearmongering over a small Soviet spacecraft named Sputnik prompted the United States to fund another far-fetched project: space exploration.
Despite the challenges of working with photonic quantum computers, USTC researchers have a solid motivation to master the platform because photons constitute the transport channel for China’s future quantum network.
The link is not a fully realized quantum connection. The reason for this is that photons can only travel so far before succumbing to noise in the fibre. A genuine quantum network could have several applications, the two most important of which are precision synchronization and unhackable communications.
Quantum networks will need entangled single photons for quantum key distribution and other entanglement-required activities, among other things, to deliver on that promise
However, the USTC team was able to enhance transmission distance while also minimizing the noise of a single photon. Complex methods, including maintaining the temperature of the 300-kilometre fibre to within a tenth degree Celsius, contributed to the success. The United States government is currently deciding how to fund the future of quantum information science. They intend to do it through proposed legislation such as the Innovation and Competition Act of 2021. This would allocate $1.5 billion for communications research, including quantum technologies.