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Technology

US and Japan counter China with powerful IBM quantum computer

Race accelerates toward practical applications for the groundbreaking technology

The IBM Quantum System One is Japan's first commercial quantum computer. (Photo by Hiroshi Endo)

TOKYO -- IBM has unveiled Japan's first quantum computer for commercial applications, its Japanese arm said Tuesday, as Washington and Tokyo join hands to push the field toward practical use with an eye on recent strides by China.

The IBM Quantum System One is up and running at the Kawasaki Business Incubation Center near Tokyo. The University of Tokyo will administer access to the machine, which will be used by the Quantum Innovation Initiative Consortium, whose members include Keio University and Toyota Motor.

The project marks a step forward for Japan-U.S. cooperation in a fiercely competitive field that has become embroiled in the battle with China for technological superiority. Quantum computing was among the areas of cooperation discussed by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden at their April summit.

"Countries have made huge investments and embarked on large-scale research and development, and competition for future dominance among nations and companies has intensified rapidly," said Koichi Hagiuda, Japan's science and technology minister, in an online briefing.

"It's important to expand international cooperation and collaboration with Japan and the U.S. as the linchpin," he said.

The system is the second of its kind that IBM has built outside the U.S., after one unveiled in Germany last month.

Chinese institutions including the University of Science and Technology of China have risen to the leading edge of the field, threatening the upper hand held by such American tech titans as IBM and Google. Japan and the U.S. aim to use IBM's systems to gain an edge on the practical side.

With quantum computing expected to be available for some commercial applications in as little as three to five years, companies are vying to take advantage of the technology in their own fields.

Mitsubishi Chemical looks to use it in developing light-emitting diodes and solar cells, and JSR for photoresists -- light-sensitive materials used to form circuits on semiconductors -- as well as liquid crystal display materials.

Outside Japan, 10 German companies, including Volkswagen, Bosch and Siemens, have formed a consortium to help make practical use of quantum tech. Goldman Sachs is among the American institutions looking to put it to work in finance soon.

"For the Japanese economy to maintain an appropriate position in the world and achieve sustainable growth and development, we cannot allow ourselves to fall behind in technological development," Mizuho Financial Group Chairman Yasuhiro Sato, who chairs the Japanese quantum consortium, said Tuesday.

Quantum computing could generate up to $850 billion in annual value by 2040, Boston Consulting Group estimates, and the battle to leverage the massive future market has already begun.

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