By Brian Siegelwax
China is said to spend as much money on quantum-related research as most of the rest of the world combined. Consequently, among other things, we should expect them to be closer to practical quantum computing than anyone else. Fortunately, several China-based quantum computing clouds are available to the public, so we can try to survey where they actually are. Since China is largely developing superconducting quantum computers, based on what is publicly available, we will compare it with the western world leader in superconducting qubit count and coherence time: IBM Quantum.
On behalf of China, we will look at three publicly available superconducting quantum computing clouds. We’ll also take a look at recent papers showing just how far ahead China is behind closed doors. We will then see how IBM Quantum compares.
Origin Quantum provisioning 6-qubit devices through the OriginQ Cloud with an average relaxation time of at least 10 μs. This means that all computations must be completed in approximately 10 million seconds. No western company claims a relaxation time below 20 µs, which means you have at least twice as much time to do your computations with a western superconducting quantum computer. IBM Quantum’s worst performing device outlasted all of its western competitors, all of which outlasted Origin Quantum’s “Kuafu”. The smallest devices usually have 5 qubits, so Kuafu is larger than some of its western counterparts.
Baidu provides 8-qubit devices with an average relaxation time of 31 μs. Although both numbers do, in fact, beat many western counterparts, OCC has an 8-qubit device with an average relaxation time of 50 μs. And, again, the worst IBM Quantum device outlived the two.
SpinQ claims to have 20-qubit devices with relaxation times ranging from 10-100 µs, but only makes publicly available 8-qubit devices with the same relaxation time range. At any given time, some qubits on a chip may have relaxation times comparable to the worst qubits of IBM Quantum, while other qubits on the same chip may have relaxation times as bad as Origin Quantum. 8-qubit devices are also constrained by a linear topology, meaning that all qubits are only connected to, at most, two other qubits; the qubits at either end are each only connected to one other qubit. As a result, most algorithms running on these 8-qubit devices will require additional operations to move the quantum state, operations that greatly increase the error rate during computation.
Several Chinese universities collaborated on the paper, which claims a superconducting quantum computer with 68 qubits and an average relaxation time of 109.8 μs. Both of these numbers are way above the previously mentioned companies, so let’s keep these numbers in mind while we take a look at what IBM Quantum has to offer.
Even though the 433-qubit Osprey chip just became available in Exploration state, IBM Quantum still has a few 127-qubit devices available that we can compare to the 68 we just looked at. In addition to having larger devices, nearly twice the size, IBM Quantum currently has a total of 22 publicly available superconducting quantum computers, 9 of which are freely available. Two of the 127-qubit devices, ibm_sherbrooke and ibm_kyiv, boast relaxation times of around 300 μs, nearly three times the 109.8 μs claimed in the paper above.
One of the IBM Quantum devices, ibmq_manila, has only 5 qubits, but has an average relaxation time, at the time of this screenshot, of 198.17 µs. The world has unlimited free access to IBM Quantum devices with an average relaxation time that is nearly double the 109.8 µs claimed in the paper.
At the time this screenshot was taken, the 27-qubit ibm_peekskill boasted the highest average relaxation time of 320.75 µs, again roughly three times the 109.8 µs claimed in the paper.
The 127-qubit ibm_sherbrooke, at the time of this screenshot, has an average relaxation time of 293.68 μs. This means that IBM Quantum alone has a higher quality qubit available in a single superconducting quantum computer than any China-based company or institution claims to have. While China should be spending almost as much on quantum-related research as the rest of the world combined, there is no evidence of leadership when it comes to quantum computing hardware. Informally, I asked a representative from one of the three China-based companies what was the most advanced there, and nothing came of it.
The three China-based companies mentioned earlier all have something in common: they all have portals featuring drag-and-drop circuit builders. Next, let’s take a superficial look at these portals.
The drag-and-drop circuit builder dominates the screen, as one would expect. There’s site navigation on the left and visualizations around it.
Baidu also has a drag and drop circuit builder as the main attraction, with navigation on the left, visualizations below, and a QASM editor as a bonus.
SpinQ moves the QASM editor to the right side of the screen, otherwise the high-level description of this screen will duplicate Baidu.
And, it’s genuine. IBM Quantum has the first publicly available quantum computing cloud, and it hasn’t changed much since its inception. The drag and drop circuit builder is still the center of attention, navigation is still on the left, visualizations are still below, and there’s still a QASM editor on the side. It is impossible to evaluate the previous three portals without noticing the uncanny resemblance to the originals.
IBM Quantum isn’t the only quantum computing portal outside of China, but other portals are trying to be different. The three portals based in China, beyond the screenshots above, are all clearly modeled on IBM Quantum.
SOFWARE DEVELOPMENT KIT
IBM Quantum is perhaps best known for its Qiskit library, the world’s most popular quantum computing library. But, again, with China purportedly spending so much, let’s see what they have to offer.
OriginQ Cloud includes a lab with 12 Jupyter notebooks, but there’s no folder that could potentially hide additional Jupyter notebooks. We didn’t see any textbook algorithms or sample apps, only tutorials on how to use QPanda.
Baidu has Jupyter notebooks on Github, but it’s easier to see what’s available on GitHub via the Tutorials page via their website. We can see that there is a wide variety of applications, but no introductory tutorials or textbook algorithms.
SpinQit consists of 14 tutorials on GitHub, with a mix of algorithms and applications. Given the company’s focus on the education sector, it is surprising that there are no introductory tutorials here.
The popular Qiskit contains it all: introductory tutorials, textbook algorithms, and sample applications. Plus, it’s not limited to IBM hardware; since it is open source, it has integration with competitor hardware. A peek at GitHub reveals how many contributors Qiskit has, which makes it the largest publicly available quantum computing library. If you find something you like in another library, chances are Qiskit has that too.
Qiskit is an open source library with the largest user base in the quantum community. This user base, with access to code, makes Qiskit larger than the corporate libraries that pay staff to develop their SDKs. Therefore, it is not surprising that even if China spends a lot of money, Qiskit will maintain its leadership in this field.
Countless sources claim that China spends most of the world on quantum-related research. This is a great motivation for every other country to move on and not risk being left behind. But, we can take a peek at some of the things that happened there. Maybe they’re spending money in other areas and quantum computing isn’t a priority. Maybe they hid their best stuff. But in terms of what we can actually verify, China doesn’t even beat IBM.
May 9, 2023