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China launches first quantum computer operating system to challenge US in technological ‘arms race’

Origin Quantum hopes to challenge Google and IBM in building ultra-powerful computers

Anthony Cuthbertson
Tuesday 09 February 2021 12:36 GMT
Chinese startup Origin Quantum said its operating system could improve the efficiency of quantum computers
Chinese startup Origin Quantum said its operating system could improve the efficiency of quantum computers (University of Science and Technology of China)

A Chinese startup has launched the country's first homegrown operating system for a quantum computer, challenging the dominance of the United States in the development of the next-generation machines.

Origin Quantum, based in the eastern province of Anhui, unveiled its Origin Pilot OS on Monday, according to local media, in what is the latest in a series of quantum computing breakthroughs coming out of China.

Quantum computers hold the potential to radically transform everything from space exploration to the curing and treatment of disease thanks to their vast power compared to current computing systems. Military uses for stealth aircraft and communications has led to warnings that quantum innovations could transform warfare, with leading computing commentator Martin Giles describing competition between the US and China as a "quantum arms race".

Major advances in recent years have begun to see the first practical uses of the technology since it was first theorised by the physicist Richard Feynman in 1982.

Research teams in both China and the US have achieved a milestone referred to as quantum supremacy, whereby a quantum computer performed a calculation that would have taken the world's most powerful supercomputer thousands of years to complete.

Quantum computers achieve their immense power by replacing traditional bits – the '1's' and '0's' used to store and transfer data – with qubits, which can function as both a '1' and a '0' at the same time by acting in a state of superposition.

This capability means that a quantum computer's processing power increases exponentially with each new qubit added, rather than linearly.

In order to harness this immense power, a functional operating system is required to act as a software interface for users to build practical applications.

"If the quantum chip is compared to the heart of a human, the quantum computer operating system is equivalent to the brain and the quantum application software is the flesh and blood," said Guo Guangcan from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Quantum computers have the potential to revolutionise everything from medical discoveries to space exploration (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The first operating system for a quantum computer was first developed by researchers in Cambridge in 2015, who claimed that its development was necessary to realise the "profound and far-reaching effects on a vast number of aspects of our daily lives."

Other systems have since been developed by researchers at Stanford University, paving the way for teams in the US to build next-generation applications for quantum computers.

The latest breakthrough in China comes as Origin Quantum secured additional funds in Series A funding from state-affiliated fund China Internet Investment Fund in its bid to close the gap to leading US players like Google and IBM.

The operating system will be used on a cloud platform to offer quantum computing capabilities to more than 100 companies that have already signed up.

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