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China's Baidu enters quantum computing chat with Qian Shi system

A small but functional quantum system accelerating science, not search

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

The system, dubbed Qian Shi, which means "the origin of all things is found in the heavens," is a superconducting quantum computer, which Baidu says is capable of 10 qubits of processing power. The search provider is billing the system a research platform that will allow 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 use quantum computing power without developing their own quantum hardware, control systems, or programming languages,” Runyao Duan, director of the institute for Quantum Computing at Baidu Research, said in a statement.

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

According to Daniel Newman, principal analyst and founder of Futurum, Qian Shi is a significant step for Baidu, which has already shown meaningful progress in other disruptive technologies like AI and autonomous vehicles.

“Is it significant for Baidu, yes. Is it going to be immediately valuable in solving extraordinarily complex problems? The answer is probably not,” he said, explaining that much of the emphasis around quantum computing has been academic or experimental and has only recently moved toward practical applications of the tech.

Baidu appears to be aware of this challenge and has developed a software platform for quantum computers, called Liang Xi, that enables access to quantum services via mobile app, PC, or the cloud. At launch the search provider says the system supports 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 speed the design and development of new materials and study of biological functions that have traditionally relied on high-performance computing. The company cites battery development and protein-folding simulations as opportunities for quantum computing development.

Baidu's idea resembles that of university computer labs from the 1970s, where limited compute resources are shared amongst researchers. It's an approach that several quantum computing and cloud providers have employed in recent years to advance the tech.

Recent examples include D-Wave’s decision to open its next-gen Advantage2 systems to the public by way of a cloud subscription service. The offering provides access to a 500 qubit system, however the full Advantage2 system is expected to deliver closer to 7,000 qubits of performance when it arrives in the next couple of years.

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

Meanwhile, IBM continues to advance its own cloud-based Quantum computing systems and services in recent months with the announcement of a 4,158-qubit system slated to launch in 2025.

While much of the quantum conversation continues to be academic, as quantum computing becomes more accessible and continues to evolve, Newman expects to see more applications of the tech become more tangible. ®

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