In a bid to catch up to other countries in the race for practical quantum technologies, Russia has launched a $790 million effort to build a working quantum computer, Inosmi.ru reported.
The money will be invested over the next 5 years into basic and applied quantum research carried out at leading Russian laboratories, the country’s deputy prime minister, Maxim Akimov, announced last month at a technology forum in Sochi.
The windfall is part of a 258-billion-ruble program for research and development in digital technologies, which the Kremlin has deemed vital for modernizing and diversifying the Russian economy.
“This is a real boost,” says Aleksey Fedorov, a quantum physicist at the Russian Quantum Center (RQC), a private research facility in Skolkovo near Moscow. “If things work out as planned, this initiative will be a major step towards bringing Russian quantum science to a world-class standard.”
Quantum computers use elementary particles, which can exist in multiple quantum states at once, to carry out calculations. Quantum bits, or qubits, can in theory process information exponentially faster than the binary one–zero bits used in classical computing. Powerful quantum computers could predict the outcomes of chemical reactions, search huge databases or factor large numbers, such as those used in encryption.
Quantum technology already receives massive governmental support in a number of countries. The European Union’s $1.1-billion Quantum Flagship program, first announced in 2016, is expected to produce technology-demonstration projects, such as a quantum processor on a silicon chip, within a few years. Germany announced a $715-million national quantum initiative in August 2019. The Chinese and U.S. governments are also spending billions on quantum science and technology programs.
The race is on to create quantum computers that outperform classical machines in specific tasks. Prototypes developed by Google and IBM are approaching the limit of classical computer simulation. In October, scientists at Google announced that a quantum processor working on a specific calculation had achieved such a quantum advantage.
“We’re 5 to 10 years behind,” says Fedorov. “But there’s a lot of potential here, and we follow very closely what’s happening abroad.” Poor funding has excluded Russian quantum scientists from competing with Google, says Ilya Besedin, an engineer at the National University of Science and Technology in Moscow.
Besedin’s group has made a prototype quantum processor based on superconducting materials that operates on two qubits. Google’s quantum computer works on 53 qubits. Russia is lagging behind, but the national quantum initiative might not have come too late, says Besedin.