After Alibaba, Baidu leaps into quantum computing

Baidu announced today that it will launch its own institute for quantum computing dedicated to the application of quantum computing software and information technology. The Baidu Quantum Computing Institute will be headed by Professor Duan Runyao, director of the Centre for Quantum Software and Information at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

Professor Duan said that his plan is to make Baidu’s Quantum Computing Institute into a world-class institution within five years, according to local media. During the next five years, it will gradually integrate quantum computing into Baidu’s business. Duan will report directly to Baidu president Zhang Yaqin.

Professor Runyao Duan (left) with his quantum computing colleague from the University of Technology Sydney Professor Yuan Feng (Screenshot from Youtube)

Quantum computing is an emerging field based on quantum mechanics. It promises to enhance large-scale data processing and complicated computing problems, as well as upgrade network security services based on quantum cryptography.

Baidu will face steep competition to conquer quantum computing not only from international players but on home turf. In February, Alibaba teamed up with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to launch a quantum computing service on the cloud offering 10 qubits. In October 2017, the company announced investing US$15 billion into next-generation technology such as AI and quantum computing.

Quantum computing has not yet reached a level where it can be used for real-world applications. However, both Alibaba and Baidu seem eager to compete with IBM, Google, Microsoft, and Intel in commercializing the technology. IBM is currently the leader: it is offering companies access to a 20-qubit quantum computer through the cloud called Q Network. IBM has also recently tested a prototype of a 50-qubit quantum computer bringing it a step closer to “quantum supremacy,” a threshold when quantum computers will outperform classical supercomputers.

Professor Duan is another high profile scientist returning home after a successful career abroad. He received his PhD from the Department of Computer Science and Technology at Tsinghua University in Beijing.