China building world’s biggest quantum research facility


Centre could boost military’s code-breaking ability and navigation of stealth
submarines China is building the world’s largest quantum research facility to
develop a quantum computer and other “revolutionary” forms of technology that
can be used by the military for code-breaking or on stealth submarines,
according to scientists and authorities involved in the project.

The National Laboratory for Quantum Information Science will be located on a
37-hectare site next to a small lake in Hefei, Anhui province. Some time this
month developers will be invited to bid for a contract to construct the site,
according to an article in Hefei Evening News, a daily newspaper run by the city
government on Thursday.

Pan Jianwei, China’s lead quantum scientist who was playing a key role in the
project, told local officials at a briefing in May that technology developed in
the facility would be of immediate use to the armed forces, according to Anhui
Business Daily newspaper.

Quantum metrology, which measures small variations in physical parameters such
as gravity with unprecedented accuracy, could significantly improve submarines’
stealth operations. A submarine with a quantum navigation system could operate
underwater for more than three months without the need to surface for positioning
satellite signals.

After operating for 100 days underwater the captain would still be able to pinpoint
the vessel’s position in the Pacific Ocean with a margin of error of just a few
hundred metres according to Pan, who could not be immediately reached for comment.

Another key mission of the laboratory is to build the nation’s first quantum computer
that could break an encrypted message in seconds.

“Our plan is that by 2020, or maybe as soon as next year, to achieve ‘quantum
supremacy’ with calculation power one million times to all existing computers around
the world combined,” Pan was quoted as saying by Anhui Business Daily, which is run
by the provincial government.

It was unclear whether the computer could be used for code-breaking. Construction work
is expected to finish in 2 ½ years with a budget of 76 billion yuan (HK$91.6 billion).
Ground-clearing work started with approval from the central government in February,
according to the website of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the owner of the new
facility.Guo Guoping, a quantum information researcher at the Chinese Academy of
Sciences in Hefei, said

a large facility with centralised resources could accelerate this process by pulling
together the talents of scientists from all over the nation with knowledge and
experience of multiple scientific disciplines to overcome a wide range of technical
and engineering hurdles, he said.

Guo stressed that in the national laboratory, researchers’ performance should not be
evaluated by the scientific papers they published but by their contribution to specific
project targets,such as building a general-purpose quantum computer.

“This may sound a bit old-fashioned, even Soviet-style, but it can give China a chance
to win the race,” he added.China moved a step ahead with the launch of a quantum
satellite last year and conducted a series of cutting edge experiments such as quantum
entanglement and teleportation in space. Last month the world’s longest and most
sophisticated quantum key distribution network for ultra-secure communication between
Beijing and Shanghai was successfully tested and deemed ready for official deployment
in the military, government and financial sectors.

Guo said the field had advanced rapidly, but the delivery of a code-breaking machine
by 2020 was “highly unlikely”. Over the next few years, researchers from around the
globe may be able to develop primitive quantum computers to deal with some specific
tasks. They could, for example, simulate the movement of particles at a subatomic
level to solve some physical problems that might help develop new materials or drugs.
But these are not general-purpose computers capable of code-breaking, Guo added.

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