China has achieved a major breakthrough in quantum computing, performing a calculation that would take a modern-day supercomputer billions of years to complete.
The milestone, known as quantum supremacy, comes just over a year after Google became the first in the world to achieve the same feat.
The team from the University of Science and Technology of China built a quantum computer capable of performing computations nearly 100 trillion times faster than the world’s most powerful supercomputer, according to a research paper published in the journal Science.
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China’s leading quantum computing researchers revealed that their next-generation machine used a completely different set up compared to Google, proving that there are multiple approaches to this nascent technology.
The researchers claimed their prototype was 10 billion times faster than Google’s machine, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Quantum computers were first theorised nearly 40 years ago by the physicist Richard Feynman, but practical machines are only now beginning to be realised.
They work by replacing traditional bits – the ‘1’s’ and ‘0’s’ used to encode digital information – with quantum bits, or qubits. These are able to function as both a ‘1’ and a ‘0’ at the same time by existing in a state of superposition, meaning each new qubit added to the computer increases is power exponentially rather than linearly.
The emergence of quantum computers holds the promise of making information processing exponentially more powerful in order to transform everything from disease treatment, to eliminating traffic.
However security experts have also warned that the unfathomably fast computers pose a major threat to modern forms of encryption that systems of finance, communication and government currently rely upon.
This could ultimately pose a threat to national security, with the United States already warning that advances in China could see the US fall behind in the technological arms race.
A 2019 report by the Center for a New American Security stated: “The United States must be prepared for a future in which its traditional technological predominance faces new, perhaps unprecedented challenges.”
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