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Govt, business propose quantum leap

By Cheng Yingqi in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2015-07-31 07:45

Alibaba will spend $4.8 million for 5 consecutive years to support creation of superfast computers

The Chinese Academy of Sciences and Alibaba announced the establishment of a joint quantum computing laboratory on Thursday in Shanghai with the goal of developing superfast quantum computers.

Alibaba will invest 30 million yuan ($4.8 million) a year for five years to support the research, and it will recruit top scientists from around the globe to work with scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"The research into quantum computing has been carried out by universities and research institutes for a few decades. With such a basis of fundamental research, it is time to transfer the theory into applied technology," said Pan Jianwei, founder and director of quantum physics and quantum information with the University of Science and Technology of China's Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at Microscale. The university is affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Quantum computing refers to a theoretical new kind of computer that uses technology that would make it capable of calculations at speeds impossible for traditional computers.

Some world-leading companies, including Google and IBM, have been racing to develop such a computer, but commercial-grade quantum computers remain an unfulfilled dream.

"In 2014, IBM announced a plan to invest $3 billion on quantum computers and other related research fields in five years, which is impossible for any public research institution to afford. And it is not possible for us to compete with IBM if we can pay only 10 to 20 percent of the salary IBM pays to a leading expert," Pan said.

"As a result, the development of quantum computers needs support from the private sector. Without that support, we will lag behind developed countries in the race for future computing," he said.

Wang Jian, chief technology officer of Alibaba, said, "If I have to choose one of the most popular frontier technologies, I will pick quantum computing.

"Quantum technology will pose a revolutionary influence to cloud computing and empower mankind with an infinite computing capacity, which will offer a great opportunity to every technology company to transform from follower to leader," he said.

The five-year goal of the new lab is to build a quantum computer that has similar computing power to a regular commercial computer. The two sides then will review the achievement to decide on any further investment.

The 10-year goal is a computer that parallels the computing capacity of China's Tianhe-2 supercomputer, the world's fastest such machine.

Within 15 years, the capacity of the quantum computer is expected to be able to solve many currently inextricable problems.

The University of Science and Technology of China also signed strategic cooperation agreements with the Zhangjiang National Innovation Demonstration Zone in Shanghai on Thursday.

During a visit to Shanghai in May last year, President Xi Jinping called on Shanghai to become a global center for innovation in science and technology.


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