Quantum technology is no longer just a cool technology in sci-fi movies. It is a new market contested by leading tech countries. Quantum technology is the application of quantum superposition and quantum entanglement through the manipulation of individual atoms, electrons, photons or even atomic nuclei to achieve quantum computing (e.g., quantum computer and quantum algorithms), quantum communication (e.g., quantum transmission and quantum key distribution), quantum control and quantum components (e.g., quantum sensors).
The U.S. proposed the National Quantum Initiative in June 2018 and has budgeted US$1.275 billion for R&D activities over a 10-year period. Canada has committed to invest in quantum science for the next 10 years under its national strategic plan “Quantum Canada”. The European Union has kicked off its flagship project “Quantum Technologies for Fundamental Physics” (QTFP) with 1 billion Euros for the commercialization of quantum technology. China is supporting the development of its quantum industry with structured policies. The national policy “Made in China 2025” intends to invest about US$10 billion on tech industry developments such as quantum technology. The country has set the goal of installing quantum encryption systems in satellite communication equipment by 2030 and applying quantum technology in the military. In Japan, the development focus in quantum technology is on quantum annealing and quantum algorithms. Fujitsu, the largest IT service company in Japan, advocates the development of quasi-quantum annealing and servers, rather than spending big money on quantum computing that is not yet commercialized.
The development of quantum technology has become imperative in the context of the ongoing U.S.-China trade war that began in 2020, and the efforts to revive economies and boost digital transformation in different countries post COVID-19. A total of 16 countries around the world have listed quantum technology, along with satellite communication networks, in their national agendas. The budgets in 2021 alone amount to US$22.5 billion. Taiwan is also in the game, with the formation of the Quantum Taiwan Team in December 2020, comprised of the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Academia Sinica. It is expected to spend NT$8 billion over five years on the gathering of cross-disciplinary talent and the creation of quantum technology roadmaps best suited to Taiwan.
Promising business opportunities in quantum computing are emerging. Taiwan should stay on top of the development direction of quantum technology.
The development of quantum technology is gradually gathering momentum. Tech heavyweights have also invested in R&D. IBM started the development of low-temperature superconducting quantum computers a long while ago and has been accelerating its global presence during recent years. IBM launched its 127-quantum qubit “Eagle” processor at the end of 2021 and plans to unveil a 433 qubit system in 2022. IBM believes that 1000 qubits will be the starting point of quantum computer commercialization and announced its plan to introduce a 1,211 qubit quantum processor in 2023. Leading Tech companies such as Google and Microsoft have also been developing quantum computing cloud services and are slowly applying these services to highly complex computing tests such as artificial intelligence.
The current technical challenge of quantum computers lies in the stabilization of quantum states. As delicate quantum states are vulnerable to interference from vibration, electromagnetic fields and thermal agitation, superconducting quantum qubits and silicon quantum dot computers can only compute accurately under extremely low temperatures. Trapped ion quantum computers need to operate in an extremely high vacuum environment to avoid interference to quantum qubits. All these issues make R&D even more difficult.
To accommodate these characteristics, an ecosystem of quantum computing has emerged. This can be divided into quantum computing software and service providers, quantum computer hardware and circuit system manufacturers, and end-to-end application service providers. The quantum computing market consists of quantum encryption, hardware and software, quantum computing artificial intelligence, photonic quantum computing, cloud quantum computing, quantum computer control circuits and quantum computer system construction, etc. At the end of 2021, there were over 200 quantum computer related start-ups. The scope of future potential use cases and applications is tremendous.
With a comprehensive supply chain in semiconductors, Taiwan can make inroads in areas such as low-temperature components and modules, key components, module development and system integration and validation. It is worth mentioning that a research team led by Delft University of Technology and QuTech designed and tested a 22nm cryogenic control chip. The team members come from the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, Switzerland and China and leading semiconductor companies Intel and ADI. It is suggested that Taiwan prioritizes low-temperature semiconductors as a focus for international cooperation. Meanwhile, Microsoft, the University of Sydney in Australia and Purdue University in the U.S. are developing digital multiplexers to reduce the number of transmission lines in the field programmable gate array (FPGA) layout. This is also an area of opportunities for Taiwan. Google is working with the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) to develop 28nm control chips operating in ultra-low temperatures. This is also a suitable area for Taiwanese industries to explore.
The computing principles of quantum computers are entirely different from those of traditional computers; new hardware, software and circuit system designs are required. As the number of quantum qubits increases, it is imperative to resolve the complexity of the control systems and the excessively large number of signal connectors. Taiwanese industry players are advised to invest in the key enabling technologies such as cryogenic control circuits and modules and quantum computing circuits, and establish the supply chain by working with domestic IC design companies, foundries, system integrators and technology service providers.