Baidu enters the quantum computing chat with the Qian Shi system • The Register

Chinese search giant Baidu unveiled its first hardware and software capabilities for quantum computing at the Quantum Create developer conference in Beijing this week.

The system, dubbed Qian Shi, meaning “the origin of all things is found in heaven,” is a superconducting quantum computer that Baidu says can handle 10 qubits of processing power. The search provider bills the system as a research platform that allows users to explore practical applications for quantum computing without requiring direct access to the physical hardware.

“With Qian Shi and Liang Xi, users can create quantum algorithms and harness quantum computing power without developing their own quantum hardware, control systems or programming languages,” said Runyao Duan, director of the Institute of Quantum Computing at Baidu Research, in a statement.

The development represents the culmination of four years of research and development by Baidu’s Institute for Quantum Computing. The department has already started work on Qian Shi’s successor, which Baidu says will feature a 36-qubit superconducting quantum chip with couplers

According to Daniel Newman, chief analyst and founder of Futurum, Qian Shi is a significant step for Baidu, which has already shown significant advances in other disruptive technologies such as AI and autonomous vehicles.

“Does it matter to Baidu, yes. Will it be immediately valuable for solving extraordinarily complex problems? The answer is probably not,” he said, explaining that much of the emphasis on quantum computing has been academic or experimental, and has only recently shifted to practical applications of the technology.

Baidu seems to be aware of this challenge and has developed a software platform for quantum computing called Liang Xi, which allows access to quantum services via a mobile app, a PC or the cloud. At launch, the search provider says the system will support both its Qian Shi system and the Trapped Ion Quantum Device developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Baidu believes this combination of hardware, software, and accessibility will accelerate the design and development of new materials and the study of biological functions that have traditionally relied on high-performance computing. The company cites battery engineering and protein folding simulations as avenues for developing quantum computers.

Baidu’s idea is similar to that of university computer labs in the 1970s, where limited computing resources are shared among researchers. It’s an approach that several quantum computing and cloud vendors have taken in recent years to push the technology forward.

Recent examples include D-Wave’s decision to make its next-generation Advantage2 systems available to the public via a cloud subscription service. The offering provides access to a 500 qubit system, but the full Advantage2 system is expected to deliver performance approaching 7,000 qubits when it launches in the next few years.

Similarly, Microsoft tapped into Azure IonQ, a relative newcomer to the quantum space, earlier this month to expand its quantum computing capabilities.

Meanwhile, IBM has continued to push its own cloud-based quantum computing systems and services in recent months with the announcement of a 4,158-qubit system due to launch in 2025.

While much of the quantum talk remains academic, Newman expects more applications of the technology to become more tangible as quantum computing becomes more accessible and evolves. ®

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