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Baidu accelerates quantum computing development with launch of new institute

An exterior view of the Beijing head office of Baidu Photo: Simon Song

China's technology giant Baidu has recently announced the establishment of its own quantum computing research institute, as it plans to apply quantum computing software and information technology into its various businesses ranging from search engine to artificial intelligence.

Quantum computing is theoretically capable of making calculations faster than today's powerful supercomputers, and is mainly applied to large-scale data processing and quantum-encrypted network safety service. Thanks to the strong ability of tackling complicated computing problems, quantum computing is superior to the binary-based computation method in improving the efficiency of the artificial intelligence technology, which Baidu is betting on.

Headed by Professor Duan Runyao, an expert in quantum computing and quantum information theory, Baidu's quantum computing research institute would join the list of the world's top quantum computing research centers within five years, the company said.

The launch of Baidu's quantum computing research institute marks the complete involvement of Baidu, Alibaba Group and Tencent, the Chinese technology triumvirate collectively known as BAT companies, in the development of quantum computing.

Three years ago, Alibaba partnered with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) to establish a joint quantum computing laboratory. This partnership bore fruit in February this year when Alibaba Cloud, the group's cloud computing unit, and the CAS made available an 11-quibit processor-powered quantum computing cloud platform, through which scientists can test their quantum algorithms. Alibaba plans to start building quantum computers by 2025 through the joint laboratory. Last year, Tencent unveiled its plans to establish a quantum laboratory, which is dedicated to combining quantum computing technology with artificial intelligence.

These quantum computing projects funded by the BAT companies came amid strengthened efforts by the Chinese government in developing quantum computers. Last year, the National Laboratory for Quantum Information Science broke ground on a 37-hectare site adjacent to a small lake in Hefei, eastern China's Anhui province. The $12 billion state-backed laboratory is hailed as the world's biggest quantum computing research facility, which will be used to develop quantum computers and other revolutionary military technologies applied in code-breaking and stealth submarines.

With the goal of becoming an innovative and technological powerhouse of the world, the Chinese government has beefed up its investment in building a "national team" comprising influential private firms in the domestic technology-intensive sector, which is tasked with developing the cutting-edge technologies such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence. And quantum computing is definitely a new field that China is focusing on especially when facing fierce competition with Western technology giants like IBM, Google, Microsoft and Intel, which gain an upper hand in commercialization of the technology. In March, media reports said that scientific researchers from Google were testing a quantum computer powered by a 72-quibit processor, which can lead the company to a major breakthrough known as "quantum supremacy".

In the government work report delivered last week to the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stressed that the country must keep pace and even take the lead in the global competition for scientific and technological innovation.

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