Quantum apocalypse? - Super computer arms race will remake the world

Publication Date29 Jan 2021
AuthorYONAH JEREMY BOB
And if you have heard of it, chances are you did not remotely understand how it works or the enormity of its significance.

The revolution is quantum computing.

In layman's terms, computer scientists and other scientists are taking quantum mechanics, which the superhero Avengers famously used in the movie End Game to travel through time, in order to create a super computer that will make today's fastest computers look like a typewriter.

Except that quantum computing is real and just around the corner.

The implications could be no less than to remake who are the world's military, economic and technological powers and redefine industries as diverse as communications, health, finance and energy. And there is a race between the US and China, with others like Russia, the EU, Canada and more recently Israel, all hoping to achieve dominance (or in Israel's case, at least a respectable place at the table) – much like the space race.

So who will win this race and dominate the coming decades? The Magazine has discussed the issue with a wide range of US and Israeli government and business-sector officials.

BOB BLAKLEY is an operating partner at the leading global venture group, Team8. He also recently served as a member of the National Academy of Science's Committee on Quantum Computing. He recounted that when he checked the numbers a year ago, "on government funding for quantum technology, China was still No. 1 – excluding [classified government] black budgets."

"Europe, Australia and the US all have some pretty robust enterprises pursuing quantum sensing, communications and the construction of quantum computers. There is also Google, Microsoft and others," he said.

Incidentally, in October 2019, Google declared that it had achieved "quantum supremacy." But Blakley explained that the quantum computer they achieved was an intermediate stage, still a good deal short of the game-changer stage. Amazon, IBM, Honeywell, IonQ, Cambridge Quantum Computing, Rigetti and others are also major players in the quantum race.

The Magazine also discussed these issues with former IDF Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Ben Israel, who recently co-headed a government commission to devise a long-term country strategy for quantum technology and has headed other key agencies. Ben Israel confirms that China initially invested in the quantum technology race earlier and more seriously than the US. Still, Ben Israel is not overly worried.

"When it comes to China and Russia, could they get to the technology much before the US? From the 21st century, we see authoritarians can focus all of their efforts in one direction," he said.

He remarked that from the 1950s to the 1970s, Russia led the world in space until "the US said, 'This is hurting our image.' They wanted to close the gap. [US president John F.] Kennedy said within 10 years they would catch up to them."

Since then, "almost all of the technology which we cannot live without has been made in the West. This is because that is where people have freedom of thought and creativity.... The culture in the West has a major advantage over the competition," said Ben Israel.

The Magazine also spoke to founder and president of industry analyst firm Inside Quantum Technology Lawrence Gasman, who has written four books and tracked new technologies for 35 years.

Regarding who is winning the race, Gasman said, "I question that 'ahead' is a very meaningful term in this context. Nobody really knows how much money has gone into Chinese quantum computers" or the US effort "since the intelligence community... almost certainly funds activity overtly and covertly.

"That said, we don't think that the Chinese have many quantum computers deployed," and it was unclear if they could perform, he said.

Responding to experts who told the Magazine that the US has regained the lead in quantum computing, but that China remains the leader in quantum communications, Gasman said, "I am far from sure that China is ahead on quantum communications. What you are referring to probably is the long-haul quantum nets [new quantum online networks] that the Chinese have built, but these are...

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