How Japan wants to help shape the era of quantum computers

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When it comes to quantum computers, Japan sees Germany as a rival that is worth fighting back against. The Japanese were somewhat contrite to note that the US pioneer IBM first exported its quantum computer to Germany in June. After all, IBM’s second export went into service in Japan in July.

The IBM Quantum System One is now in the Business Incubation Center of the city of Kawasaki. It is an important step in the new computing technology that can accomplish certain complex arithmetic operations in a fraction of the time that conventional high-performance computers require. And so it should become the catalyst of the new computer technology for the entire Japan AG in order to be able to keep up in the race for the development and application of the new computing hope with China, the USA and Germany.

Japan is building on a strong alliance with the USA. During the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to the US President Joe Biden, the two 70s talked about the new technology. Japan’s technology minister Hagiuda later classified this as follows: “It is important that we expand international cooperation with the US as the fulcrum.”

How ambitious Japan’s plans are, shows the composition of the consortium that is taking care of IBM’s debut. In Germany, ten companies joined forces in June to form the Quantum Technology and Application Consortium, or QUTAC for short. The Japanese equivalent QII (Quantum Innovation Initiative) includes not only industrial groups such as Toyota, but also the major global banks MUFG and Mizuho – and as a leader of course Tokyo University, which has been in the field for years cooperates closely with IBM.

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In June the Americans opened the Japanese elite university, the first test center for hardware components outside the USA. There is a third project at the university: the partners work with the QII members to develop software, algorithms and applications necessary to accelerate the performance of System One. QII expect more than 50 new members.

More from MIT Technology Review

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More from MIT Technology Review

But Japan’s industrial-historical legacy in particular strengthens Japan’s competitive advantage over Germany: There are not only interested industrial companies and a generous government promoting the use of quantum technology, but also Japan’s traditional computing companies that are themselves active in technology.

Japan has always tried everything possible with electronics – and often the impossible. Every Thursday our author Martin Kölling reports here on the latest trends from Tokyo.

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Hitachi, NEC, Fujitsu and Toshiba once dominated the central computer business and are still among the best in the world. The latest example is Fugaku, currently the fastest supercomputer in the world. But the companies also play a role in the quantum field.

Fujitsu, for example, presented its “digital annealer” years ago, which, inspired by quantum technology, can carry out certain operations as quickly as a quantum computer without actually being one.

A more recent application led Fujitsu into space, more or less as a garbage disposal. In a project with the British space agency, the Japanese service calculated the optimal trajectory of a spaceship for collecting space debris. Other Japanese companies have similar products.

In addition, as measured by patents, Japanese corporations are among the technology leaders in applications such as quantum communication and encryption. According to data analyst Valuenex Japan, Toshiba leads the ranking just ahead of Huawei. NEC follows in third place, and the telecommunications and data group NTT in fifth.

The government is helping in its own way with its National Innovation Strategy for Quantum Technology. It finances one in this context Range of projects for the development of quantum technology, system architecture, circuits and materials science.

It becomes obvious that Japan continues to dream of a leading role as a manufacturer of quantum computers. There is an official one “Moonshot-Programm”whose ambitious goal is modest: “Realization of a fault-tolerant universal quantum computer that will revolutionize economy, industry and security by 2050.”


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