On August 25, Baidu, China’s leading technology company, known for its search engine and AI capabilities, announced the launch of its first superconducting quantum computer and an all-platform quantum hardware-software integration solution that provides access to various quantum chips via mobile app, PC, and cloud. The announcement took place at Baidu’s first quantum developer conference, Quantum Create 2022, and was attended by many industry leaders, government officials and Baidu executives.
Baidu’s newly released quantum computer, named “Qian Shi”(乾始, which roughly translates to “the origin of all things is found in the heavens”), is a 10-Qubit industry-level superconducting quantum computer capable of incorporating its hardware with Baidu’s software stack. Currently, Baidu’s quantum software includes Quanlse - a cloud-based platform for pulse-level control of quantum circuits using open source SDK, Quantum Leaf - a cloud-native quantum computing platform available via PC browsers or mobile app, QNET - a quantum NETwork toolkit, QEP - a Quantum Error Processing toolkit, and Paddle Quantum - a quantum machine learning toolkit based on Baidu’s own PaddlePaddle deep learning platform.
In addition, Baidu has also completed the design of a 36-qubit superconducting quantum chip with couplers, which "demonstrates promising simulation results across key metrics," according to Baidu.
Qian Shi is all the more powerful when coupled with Liang Xi, the “world's first all-platform quantum hardware-software integration solution that offers versatile quantum services through private deployment, cloud services, and hardware access,” according to Baidu. Qian Shi incorporates the aforementioned Baidu quantum software, and is capable of being applied in fields such as artificial intelligence, material simulation, education, computational biology, and financial technology.
Both Qian Shi and Liang Xi are products of Baidu’s QIAN strategy — the breakthrough in fundamental Quantum research, the construction of autonomous and controllable quantum Infrastructure, the acceleration in practical quantum frontier Applications, and the development of industrial quantum Network.
The tech giant established its Institute for Quantum Computing at Baidu Research in March 2018, and aims to integrate quantum technologies into Baidu’s core business, with a focus on the industrialization of cutting-edge technology. Across more than four years of research and development, Baidu has submitted over 210 core technology patent applications in the quantum technology field.
At the conference, Baidu explains its vision, “Everyone Can Quantum,” which means making quantum computing and its applications accessible and reachable for everyone. “With Qian Shi and Liang Xi, users can create quantum algorithms and use quantum computing power without developing their own quantum hardware, control systems, or programming languages,” said Dr. Runyao Duan, Director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at Baidu Research.
What is quantum computing?
In general, the development of quantum computing is still in its early stages. To put it into perspective, the current quantum computers are equivalent to classical computers in the 1950s, which was shortly after ENIAC (the world’s first programmable, electronic, general-purpose digital computer) was completed. Despite the scientific advances in the quantum field are still in their infant stages (relatively speaking), the field has enormous potential.
Many consider that classical computing is reaching its end. As Moore’s Law prognosticates, the doubling in the number of transistors(a chip element) would occur every two years. Each time the transistors scaled, the component density would be increased, and cost would be lowered, with similar boosts in performance and power efficiency.
In order for the prognostication to remain true, engineers need to shrink the size of transistors. To paint a rough picture of the process — Intel’s first chip in 1971 was built with a 10-micron (10,000-nanometer) process, with a transistor density of 188 tr/mm2. In contrast, Apple’s A15 processor, introduced in 2021, has a transistor density of 139,300,000 tr/mm2.
Eventually, there are only so many transistors that can be crammed on a piece of silicon. Engineers have been trying to push the physical limit by introducing new materials such as gallium nitride and graphene, or introducing new methods such as moving out along the third dimension from the previous 2-dimensional chip design.
Yet, there are not only physical limits but also economic constraints - upgrading chips might be “formidably expensive,” and “very few companies have the volume of business to justify incurring this cost,” according to Science Focus, quoting Stephen Furber, a principal designer of the ARM microprocessor.
Unlike classical computing, quantum computing would allow for increases more than doubling. Quantum particles have a special property - entanglement, which would allow for exponential increases in power. “Theoretically, if the exponential acceleration of quantum computing is realized, the computing power of a 100 Qubit fault-tolerant quantum computer could surpass the combined computing power of all computers in the world today,” says Xiang Tao, President of the Beijing Institute of Quantum Information Science, who spoke at Baidu’s Quantum Create 2022 developers’ conference.
Quantum has huge potential in China
The global quantum computing industry could grow from $412 million in 2020 to $8.6 billion in 2027, according to an IDC analysis. In addition, the global quantum-related industry could reach 800 billion yuan by 2031, and nearly 70% of major enterprises in the global have expressed interest in carrying out quantum computing-related layouts, as Baidu shared at the conference.
Almost 70% of major global enterprises have expressed interest in carrying out quantum computing-related layouts, Baidu shared at the conference.
China is a market with huge potential for quantum computing. The market size of China's quantum communication industry will reach 80.5 billion yuan in 2023, Foresight Industry Research Institute predicts. Many Chinese tech companies such as Baidu, Alibaba, Huawei, and Tencent have begun exploring quantum computing in recent years. Globally, the American technology corporation IBM leads the world in the field, according to Fan Heng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Physics. “We in China are lagging behind in the development of quantum computing, and we are now facing a problem where IBM is the rule maker.”
However, Chinese quantum scientists and Baidu researchers are not deterred by the situation. “Quantum computing is like a marathon, and the marathon has barely started yet. So I think China still can seize the opportunity,” says Fan.
Jin Yirong, a researcher at the Beijing Institute of Quantum Information Science, agrees with Fan that quantum computing is a long-term project and calls for companies and individuals to focus on more than just personal interests. “We should show a bigger heart, a more open attitude, and a higher perspective ...... We have to see the interests of China, or even broader, we have to see the interests of mankind. ”
The research on quantum computing aligns with China’s initiative of building itself into a great power in science and technology. According to China’s 14th Five-Year Plan published in March 2021, the development of cutting-edge technology, such as quantum computing and quantum communication, should be accelerated in order to create new advantages in a digital economy.
Cover image courtesy: Baidu. (Taken at Baidu’s Quantum Computing Hardware Lab in Beijing)