China is a close second
By Rohit Srivastava
The fast-emerging world of quantum technologies is witnessing cut-throat competition between the United States and China. Among the two competing nations, the USA still holds the lead position whereas China is catching up fast through aggressive funding, said a recently published think tank report.
“The United States’ overall scientific research output in quantum information science is broad, stable, and at or near the global forefront in every application domain. The United States has a very broad base of academic research, with over 1,500 research institutions producing more than 10,000 papers over the past decade (focusing on quantum computing most, then communications, then sensing),” said the RAND Corporation study.
“Publishing in all three domains has seen a steady growth of around 12 per cent per year,” added.
The study ‘An Assessment of the U.S. and Chinese Industrial Bases in Quantum Technology’, published earlier this month, measures the two nation’s “industrial base in quantum technology—specifically, the nation’s scientific research, government support, private industry activity, and technical achievement.”
The report studies quantum technology in three broad domains – computing, sensing and communication. The United States leads in quantum computing and sensing whereas China leads in quantum communication.
Although, the US is an overall leader in this arena with massive private sector participation whereas Chinese efforts are almost completely government efforts. “Until recently, the United States was the clear technical leader in every scientific approach to quantum computing,” the report said.
According to RAND, after the 2018 National Quantum Initiative, US investment in the sector has seen over 20 per cent annual increases in investment. The US government is still the primary funder and “spend $710 million on quantum information systems (QIS) R&D in fiscal year (FY) 2021 across multiple agencies.”
The US technology deployment is primarily “driven by the private sector” wherein around 182 firms, including large corporate (Google, Honeywell, IBM) and start-ups (ColdQuanta, IonQ, Psi-Quantum, Rigetti), are involved in the sector with no firm as the clear technical leader. Over $1.28 billion venture capital investment was announced (majority to three firms only) and almost all have gone in the quantum computing domain. Nearly half of the companies are working in this domain only.
Even though China is a close second, it is catching up fast. In the last ten years, China had over 14,000 publications from over 2,000 research institutions. The Chinese research output is growing at about 16 per cent per year. This is “somewhat faster than the United States,” the report said.
“China has produced a higher number of highly cited publications in quantum communications than any other nation and is second (behind the United States) in quantum computing and sensing,” it added.
The report states that it was not able to estimate the exact Chinese funding to the sector, “with publicly reported estimates ranging from $84 million per year to almost $3 billion per year.”
The report identifies one Chinese government laboratory at Heifie (receiving massive funding) and 13 Chinese private companies attempting to deploy quantum technology. “Almost all of its most impressive recent technical demonstrations have come from the Hefei national laboratory, reiterating the central role that this laboratory plays.”
“They have reported a total of only $44 million in capital funding—only 3 per cent of the US private quantum-industry total,” the report informs.
Having successfully launched the only quantum communication satellite China is ahead of the US in technology deployment in the communication domain. China is the “only nation to demonstrate certain key enabling steps toward the long-distance networking of quantum systems.” This is some serious capability.
According to the report, “Several independent lines of evidence indicate that Chinese R&D is focused much more on quantum communications than the US.”
The Higher proportion of Chinese output is focused on Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) which is not a priority area for the US Department of Defence. QKD is a secure communication method where random secret keys are generated and known only to parties to encrypt and decrypt messages.
The Report, assess that China and US are at parity in quantum computing, based on superconducting qubits – use of superconducting electronics circuits in quantum computing.
In the final assessment, “China remains behind the United States in most other approaches to quantum computing but is still ahead of the rest of the world. It lags both the United States and Europe in the useful deployment of quantum sensing.”
Earlier Publication on Quantum Tech