China Claims Its Photonic Quantum Computer Far Surpasses Google’s

According to an article in Science Magazine on Dec. 3, a research paper from Chinese scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei claimed to have computed results that would take 2 billion years for the third most powerful supercomputer to produce. If the results from the photonic quantum prototype computer are real, then it is 10 billion times faster than Google’s, according to an article by AI columnist and expert Michael Spencer, Editor-in-Chief for The Last Futurist.

Close-up of part of the photonic quantum computer prototype used by Chinese researchers. (Source: Hansen Zhong, University of Science and Technology of China)

Writing in his Artificial Intelligence Report, published on LinkedIn, Spencer pointed out that verifying the results through an objective third party would be the only way to confirm whether the computer, named “Jiuzhang” after an ancient Chinese mathematical text, produced legitimate results.

“Since China is not a data transparent state, all the headlines began with “China Claims,” Spencer wrote. “In era when Chinese stocks in the U.S. are not audited by U.S. auditors, it’s literally hard to tell what is real and what is not when it comes to China’s businesses and accomplishments. Artificial intelligence and quantum computing are no exception.”

If the results are correct, they were found by using a process called “Gaussian boson sampling.” Jiuzhang crunched numbers in an incredibly complex environment that used an array of optical devices to move photons around. Those devices include light sources, hundreds of beam splitters, dozens of mirrors and 100 photon detectors. The result was findings that would take the world’s fastest conventional machine more than 600 million years to complete.

An article on quoted several scientists lauding the significance of the breakthrough.

“This is the first time that quantum advantage has been demonstrated using light or photonics,” says Christian Weedbrook, chief executive of quantum-computing startup Xanadu in Toronto, Canada, which is seeking to build practical quantum computers based on photonics. …However, Weedbrook points out that as yet, and in contrast to Google’s Sycamore, the Chinese team’s photonic circuit is not programmable, so at this point “it cannot be used for solving practical problems.”

Weedbrook, however, said it may be possible for the Chinese researchers to find a way to potentially “leapfrog” all of the other computers.

Last year Google gained international attention when its prototype quantum computer ran a calculation in minutes that its researchers estimated would have taken a supercomputer 10,000 years to do. That met the definition for quantum supremacy—the moment a quantum machine does something impractical for a conventional computer.

According to a story, researchers using photonic quantum computing and ion traps say their technologies should be easier to scale than the superconducting chips used by IBM and Google because they don’t have to house them in freezing cold refrigerated containers.