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China develops first prototype quantum computing machine

Scientists in China have developed the world’s first quantum computer faster than conventional supercomputer technologies. They say the device is capable of performing tasks 24,000 times faster than its international rivals.

Quantum computing makes use of the way particles interact at a subatomic level to carry out calculations hundreds of times faster than conventional computers, which use electronic gates and switches.

Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that the machine’s development shows that quantum research has moved from an “observation era” into a “control era”. Beyond observing and understanding the ways particles interact on quantum scales, the development of a working quantum computer would mean the human-driven manipulation of these interactions.

Though in its early stages, the machine – nicknamed the Hefei machine after the location of its development – is already ten times faster at given calculations than ENIAC, the world’s first electronic digital computer developed in the 1940s, would have been.

A major step forward

The Hefei machine is able to predict the behavior of photons – the particles that make up light – which is traditionally difficult to predict. Hefei can currently compute for 5 photons, but researchers are confident that the technology could be scaled up to far outperform other existing quantum machines.

The device has been developed as a proof of concept, rather than a fully functional tool, but it demonstrates the future potential of quantum computing as a method for calculation at speeds far beyond the capability of conventional circuitry.

The practical implications of quantum technology have been debated for years, but advancements such as Hefei could pave the way towards industrial change.

“Eventually, expect 100,000-qubit systems, which will disrupt the materials, chemistry, and drug industries by making accurate molecular-scale models possible for the discovery of new materials and drugs.”

Russ Juskalian, MIT Technology Review

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