Japan's first domestic quantum computer targets 10m users by 2030

Japan’s first domestic quantum computer targets 10m users by 2030. Source: KYODO

Japan’s first domestic quantum computer targets 10m users by 2030

  • Japan’s first homegrown quantum computer should be ready for use by the end of March next year.
  • The government aims for 10 million users by 2030.
  • Japan revamped its national quantum technology strategy to catch up with the US and China in the global quantum computing race.
  • Japan also envisions support for quantum technology startups through a state-owned fund.

In January this year, the Japanese government decided that it is about time to revamp its national quantum technology strategy as the US and China have been making progress on mastering the critical technology. The country even more than doubled its quantum-related investment for its fiscal 2022 budget to 80 billion yen.

As the first step in Japan’s ambitious plan, the country, according to the Cabinet Office, plans to bring into service its first homegrown quantum computer as early as March 2023. But that’s just not it–the government expects 10 million users by the end of this decade too. “The number, based on how the internet became mainstream, is considered the threshold before the amount of users begins to explode,” a report by Nikkei indicated.

For context, the US and China currently hold a clear lead. In fact, in report from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in December stated, “In quantum computing, quantum communication, and quantum sensing — three consequential subfields within quantum information science (QIS) traditionally led by American researchers — China is catching up and, in some cases, has already overtaken America.”

Quantum computing has been in headlines over the last few years especially for its potential to transform certain industries. According to an article by Medium, “quantum computers could spur the development of breakthroughs in science, medications to save lives, machine learning methods to diagnose illnesses sooner, materials to make more efficient devices and structures, financial strategies to live well in retirement, and algorithms to quickly direct resources such as ambulances.”

The paper also cites China’s fast-growing number of patent filings in the field, which totaled 1,157 in 2018, compared with 363 in the US. and just 53 in Japan. For the US too, strengths lie in innovation driven by the private sector. To recall, Google in 2019 said it had achieved “quantum supremacy,” completing a task in about three minutes that it claimed would have taken the best classical supercomputers 10,000 years. 

It is also pouring billions of dollars into quantum technology, a level of spending that would not be easy for Japanese companies to match. Overall, Washington, under its national quantum technology strategy in 2018, passed a legislation to invest up to US$1.3 billion in the five years through fiscal 2023. 

As for China, in its 13th five-year plan released 2016, the Chinese government named quantum communication and computing among the priority areas for the government innovation strategy. The following year, it announced a US$10 billion investment in a National Laboratory For Quantum Information Sciences. 

That said, although the US lags behind China in terms of total government spending on quantum computing research, it holds the advantage of counting a number of quantum-forward nations among its allies.

Japan’s upcoming quantum computer

Currently in Japan, a government-backed Riken institute is leading development efforts. The government will also add two new research sites to explore industrial applications, bringing the total locations to 10. 

“One of the two will be housed at Tohoku University in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, on the northeastern coast of Japan. It will train personnel and support research and development. The other new site, at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, will serve as a hub for advancing joint research by global scientists,” Nikkei added.

Japan, based on the draft strategy, foresees support for quantum technology startups through a state-owned fund. But even to Japan, private sector efforts and active investment will catalyze the spread of this new technology, more than government-led efforts to an extent. Hence, the formation of the Quantum Strategic Industry Alliance for Revolution (Q-STAR) by 24 companies including some household names such as Toyota Motor, Hitachi and NTT.

“Q-STAR will invite the participation of diverse industries that support its objectives and initiatives, and will collaborate with industry, academia, and government in promoting initiatives that apply new technologies, and establishing related technology platforms,” according to a release by NTT in 2021. The alliance also aims to establish a globally-recognized platform that will promote collaboration with other organizations around the world working in quantum technology.