General Technology

If the US fears Chinese TikTok, might more investment flow into American Quantum Companies and Research?

August 3, 2020

TikTok has taken the social media world by storm. The network enables people to send short movie clips to each other. The dedicated site service appears to have caught some of the existing players off guard. But more importantly than what it does is where it does it… China. The Chinese owned company has created headlines with President Trump threatening to ban the service in the United States. However what about the competitive threat in the Quantum Computing arena from China?

No doubt the United states fears innovation and ceding control to the Chinese. Simply look at the issues surrounding 5G and Chinese owned companies Huawei which supplies most of the equipment to enable a 5G roll-out. The question we have, is whether these threats will spur further development and funding into the quantum computing area. After all QC is purported to enable specific algorithms to run much faster which could change the competitive landscape. It might also enable encryption protocols to be broken which in turn could change the whole landscape of security and who controls the internet. Clearly there is a lot at stake and the US must be feeling a little raw from the inroads made by foreign companies. In some ways without sounding too paranoid, the security of the United States might be under threat if a foreign power develops Quantum Computing faster than the West (and the US in particular).

The US Quantum Computing Landscape

No doubt that the US is the leading developer of Quantum Technology. Not only from labs, but tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Honeywell and IBM are all involved in developing fundamental research competence in Quantum computing. China is still playing catch-up. IBM was the first to open the doors to its Quantum Cloud service enabling anyone to run quantum circuits on their hardware in their lab. Google announced quantum supremacy beating the the rest of the world to that punch. Imagine if another non-friendly nation had claimed that.

There is a lot of focus on the US and North American market and the Quantum Start-up scene is very very buoyant with the likes of Strangeworks, Xanadu and D-wave proving invaluable in the Quantum effort.

So far very few would say that the West (US and North America) is anything but the leader. However it doesn’t have to stay that way. The US lost it way in telecommunications and became reliant on foreign technology. If the US doesn’t invest in Quantum, we think its likely we’ll see the quantum gap growing between its friendly allies and China. We also see how quickly a new entrant (TikTok) can quickly insert itself into the consumer space.

New funding has been recently announced for the Quantum Internet by the US department of Energy so it is clear the subjects like post quantum cryptography, quantum internet and plain old quantum computing will get a boost. But is it enough?

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) unveiled a report that lays out a blueprint strategy for the development of a national quantum internet, bringing the United States to the forefront of the global quantum race and ushering in a new era of communications

The Chinese Quantum Landscape

Just like the US has companies involved n the development of QC, so too does china. Alibaba (the Amazon of China) has a quantum computing programme as do many others (see the table below).

The boundaries as far as science and research are fairly porous between the two nations. Anyone who has been to a Quantum conference will attest that it is attended by many Chinese who will take any innovation back to their labs and it will be recreated. No problems with that at all, This is simply good science. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the US and Western nations will be weather the information flows so easily the other way around – and this could be for simple reasons of language barriers or from the desire to keep innovation secret.

Back in 2016, President Xi Jinping established a national strategy for China to become technologically self-reliant. China’s main goal is to overtake the United States and to become the global high-tech leader.

President Xi also funded a multi-billion-dollar quantum computing project with promise of achieving significant quantum breakthroughs with a 2030 deadline. Also established was a Chinese National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences which may become one of the largest global centres for Quantum Technologies.

Chinese Technology CompanyInvolved in Quantum ComputingQuantum DevelopmentsFurther Details
AlibabaYesBuilt their own Quantum Computer. Back in 2018 – 11 qubits. Built Aliyun Quantum Computing Cloud PlatformAlibaba
BaiduYesThe mission at Baidu Research is to be a world-class Quantum Artificial IntelligenceBaidu
HuaweiYesHiQ quantum computing simulator cloud serviceHuawei
TencentYesCurrently building a Quantum cloud and building competence in Quantum Chemistry.Tencent
ZTEYesQuantum encryption systemsZTE
China’s top seven technology companies

If the US wants continued relevance it must do even more

The US isn’t sitting idly by, but it simply must do more to support the whole industry. New programmes launched are one thing, but is it enough?

Perhaps we need a consolidate effort to introduce Quantum into everything from schools and universities to companies. Quantum education could help educate and accelerate interest in the field. Quantum simulators are easy and abundant – which means children in single digits years (under 10) could learn the basics of how qubits and quantum circuits work (many kids are experiencing learning about computers via Arduino’s and Raspberry Pi devices).

Learning Quantum from an early age would mean millions of children grow up thinking about how to exploit this nascent technology. After all in my day as a kid I had an electronics set and a chemistry set. Why not a quantum set?

The thing with quantum technologies, as it could be like no other technology. It could change literally so many fields (unlike 5G and TikTok) which have limited impact. Quantum technologies could be as radical as the internet was in changing our world and if the US steps “off the gas” it will be quickly over-taken.

Alibaba's Quantum Lab.
Alibaba’s Quantum Lab. Focused on Quantum Processors and Computing Systems, Quantum Algorithms and Simulations of Quantum Physics