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Battle for quantum supremacy intensifies across the globe

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Investment in quantum computing is expected to intensify in 2020, as more countries and leading tech firms hop onto the quantum physics bandwagon.

This is according to a report released bydata and analytics firm GlobalData, which provides a landscape of quantum computing initiatives led by governments and tech giants across the globe.

The research highlights that the quest for quantum computing supremacy is set to gather momentum across the globe in the next few years, as Asia-Pacific (APAC) countries ramp up efforts and investments in this revolutionary new computing technology, with SA being the prima facie leader of Africa’s quantum computing development.

While investments in quantum computing so far have been primarily led by the US and a few other European countries such as the UK, the Netherlands and France, several APAC countries have become the latest to show keen interest, pledging significant investments in quantum computing, notes GlobalData.

In February 2020, India allocated $1.12 billion in its union budget 2020-2021 for quantum computing research over the next five years, under the National Mission of Quantum Technology and Application project. Meanwhile, Japan and Korea have pledged $276 million and $39.8 million, respectively, for quantum research and related technologies.

“While these three countries have now begun committing resources and funds to quantum computing, China has been leading quantum computing investments and efforts in the APAC region for quite some time now,” comments Sunil Kumar Verma, lead ICT analyst at GlobalData,

“China established a national strategy in 2016, aimed at making the country more self-reliant in the quantum computing space. The government invested $10 billion towards building a quantum research facility in Hefei (expected to open in 2020), to further establish its technology supremacy in global quantum computing and sensing.”

This battle is also extending to technology vendors across the globe. Given the rich dividends quantum computing promises to provide, with global tech vendors such as Google (54-qubit Sycamore processor), Microsoft (Azure Quantum), Intel (Horse Ridge) and IBM (Raleigh, 28-qubit quantum computer) committing significant resources to build capabilities in this space.

On the other hand, technology vendors in the APAC region are also racing towards making their presence felt in this area, primarily led by vendors from China, such as Alibaba, Huawei and Baidu, which have been among the early movers in this space, having begun undertaking these efforts a couple of years ago.

Infinite opportunities for Africa

In Africa, quantum computing promises to open new avenues of research in a wide range of areas, including health, finance, science, cyber security, advanced manufacturing and business, according to the World Economic Forum.

Verma points out that, while SA has been the prima facie leader of quantum computing developments, with several initiatives taking place from 2016, the continent lingers behind the forerunners.

“Investments and adoption of quantum computing is primarily led by developed countries, and Africa’s uptake is relatively low as compared to the developed countries, where new technology adoption and migration to the higher technology version is relatively higher. However, this further provides new territories for IT companies to expand their technical presence,” he adds.

The Centre for Quantum Technology, a research group at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban, received funding from the Innovation Fund, aimed at setting up a centre for quantum technologies and developing a quantum key distribution system.

Last month, First National Bank collaborated with the UKZN School of Chemistry and Physics, to conduct research with the aim to leverage and apply the principles of quantum theory in its products and services.

In 2019, IBM collaborated with the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to bring its quantum computing programme, Q Network, to SA.

“Africa’s future uptake of quantum computing would depend on the IT spending appetite of the enterprises located in the region, which would in turn be governed by the return on investment and revenue-profitability of these companies,” explainsVerma.

“Banks and other financial institutions would be more inclined towards quantum computing, owing to the benefits which it provides, like risk minimisation and maximising the gain from dynamic portfolios of instruments.”

According to IBM, SA’s Square Kilometre Array can be one use case where quantum computing can be deployed. The radio telescope project, proposed to be built in SA and Australia, would have a total collecting area of approximately one square kilometre.

“Despite all the breakthroughs, all the leading tech companies and countries are at an elementary stage of understanding and building quantum computers,” asserts Verma.

“In parallel, the competition for quantum advantage is all set to be a key differentiating factor, as leading vendors continue to announce breakthroughs for various applications. For quantum computing to be successful, research, along with apt funding, will be essential to achieve a breakthrough in the coming years. However, significant breakthroughs for various applications in the real-world scenario are probably still a few years away.”

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