Taiwan's New Era of Quantum Technology

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Interview with Luo Meng-Fan, Director General of the Department of Natural Sciences and Sustainable Development, Ministry of Science and Technology and Gwo Shangjr, Director of the Research Center for Applied Sciences, Academia Sinica 

Quantum computers are regarded as "computing tools of the next generation." Combined with quantum computing, their powerful parallel computing capabilities have the potential to shape tomorrow's intelligent societies together with artificial intelligence and big data. 

In Taiwan, advanced semiconductor processing and chip industry chains furnish the ideal conditions to promote quantum component research and develop quantum computer systems. The goal to strengthen quantum technology for the development of software and hardware technology as well as to seize opportunities to develop quantum technology itself has led to the launch of an inter-ministerial project this year by the Taiwanese government. The five-year project includes the formation of Quantum Taiwan, a national team created by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), and Academia Sinica to develop critical technologies in the quantum sector. A total of NT$8 billion will also be invested between 2022 and 2026 to encourage industries, universities, and research communities to conduct quantum technology R&D, establish industry collaboration platforms, and cultivate talent. Among them, MOST is integrating industry-academia-research resources to invest in next-gen research on quantum science, while Academia Sinica is utilizing its vast experience in R&D to advance quantum technology research. The measures are expected to build up Taiwan's firm grasp on key technology for future quantum industrial chains and allow the country to take the lead in the global arena.

Quantum Taiwan’s Strategy to Seize Next-Gen Opportunities

The application of quantum technology will have a revolutionary impact on information security, finance, industries, transportation, and national defense. Quantum computers are also capable of tackling problems with which past supercomputers struggled. This includes issues related to the development of new drugs and materials, chemical research, machine learning, and even supply chain and logistics systems. Companies worldwide, including tech giants Google, IBM, and Microsoft, have heavily invested in the development of quantum technology in order to jump on such advanced computing technology and the massive commercial interests it holds.

Luo Meng-Fan, Director of the Department of Natural Sciences and Sustainable Development, MOST, and Gwo Shangjr, Director of the Research Center for Applied Sciences, Academia Sinica both pointed out that quantum technology and the semiconductor industry are closely intertwined. As the world leader in semiconductor foundries, they believe Taiwan has the upper hand in making the necessary arrangements for the incoming era of quantum technology and industrial transformation. Since the core of a quantum computer lies in its hardware, while the foundation is its qubit chip, the technology needed to create quantum computers is perfectly aligned with the strengths of Taiwan’s technology industries. These include chip manufacturing, peripheral wires, packaging technology, and more. Academia Sinica has also been able to produce technology to control, operate, and read qubit chips. For Luo and Gwo, there is no time like the present for Taiwan to seize this precious opportunity to develop quantum technology.

Luo believes that Taiwan will make breakthroughs in key technologies and build its own quantum computers and quantum communication network systems. Quantum components, quantum computers, quantum algorithms and quantum communications are the main focus of Quantum Taiwan. The team is also developing quantum bit (qubit) chips and core components in quantum communication systems for quantum computers. An R&D platform has been established to construct quantum software, while a platform for facilitating industry exchange and collaboration has been created to cultivate quantum technology R&D talent.  The additional push for quantum science in general education will consolidate the foundation of industries in the quantum sector.

Gwo noted that although quantum technology is innovative, it actually appears in many facets of everyday life. Some examples are neon lights, which are atomic-level quantum light sources, and quantum TVs with saturated colors and wide color gamuts, which use semiconductor particles known as quantum dots. 

Quantum computers can be described as the 2.0 version of quantum technology. Their main features lie in the science and technology that goes into manipulating quantum states. Their most important application is in the development of new quantum information technology such as quantum computing and quantum communications. As such, the progress of quantum technology is expected to greatly affect daily life as well as many industries.

Quantum Taiwan is a mid- to long-term plan to achieve significant goals. Gwo stressed that it is crucial to draft overall technical specifications and development plans for quantum technology from a national perspective. Moving forward, clear plans and targets from the government and consensus among ministries will be essential. In 2021, the Board of Science and Technology of Executive Yuan and MOST co-hosted the "The Establishment of a Quantum System Promotion Group Office Meeting." Experts and scholars from various institutes were invited to discuss the group's organizational structure and its goals. The group will serve as a cross-ministerial platform to efficiently track the R&D progress of various ministry teams as well as to coordinate and integrate technology and resources. This provision will make full use of Taiwan’s strengths and accelerate the development of quantum technology.

Fostering Talent and Industry-Academia Collaboration

Taiwan’s quantum technology research is being initiated by the government. Meanwhile, universities and academic research institutes are investing in joint R&D for quantum software and hardware. Cutting-edge core facilities are also being built to form a national-level quantum research base. This will contribute to recruiting and expanding high caliber research teams as well as resource investments in next-gen quantum science. Industry-academia initiatives are additionally being combined with the strengths of various industries to research and develop crucial quantum components and modules.

To respond to this new era of quantum technology, Luo stated that fostering talent in quantum software and hardware technology R&D is imperative. Taiwan's success in cultivating semiconductor talent, directing research, and providing incentives is expected to be applied to quantum technology as well. Taiwan’s basic research talent pool in the quantum-related fields (physics, materials, electronic resources, electronics, information, and mathematics) is also sufficient. With time, cross-discipline training and mentoring will streamline the transfer of such talent to quantum technology. Luo added that current strategies to expand upon plans to cultivate high-level talent will include the provision of grants and salary subsidies. This can then contribute to training even more domestic R&D talent and attracting more overseas talent.

The quantum science and technology project subsidized by the MOST in its early stages has already yielded preliminary results. To accelerate the crucial research and development of quantum technology, an industry exchange and collaboration platform was established. The platform has been conducive to promoting industry-academia-research dialogue and discussions on the progress of quantum scientific research. It has also facilitated industry-academia-research collaboration on the promotion of quantum chip component design and cryogenic testing. In the future, industry resources can be introduced into these areas to promote Taiwan's quantum technology and its global position alongside other advanced countries.

Gwo believes that the sooner quantum technology knowledge is deployed, the better. New mindsets and perspectives are needed in all areas from textbooks to talent recruitment. The Quantum Promotion Group has assisted universities in the development of general teaching materials on quantum systems (quantum computers, quantum communication systems). Currently, the Center for Quantum Frontier of Research and Technology (QFort) of National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) is serving as a seed school for such teaching materials and will assist the government in establishing and promoting general education in quantum science.

Gwo mentioned that the Taiwanese government and enterprises have been long-time partners. In order to promote close partnerships between universities, research institutes, and enterprises, the government is preparing to construct the Shalun Smart Green Energy Science City. The southern campus of Academia Sinica will be located within the park and will serve as a base for quantum technology R&D. A Quantum Research Laboratory Building will specialize in hardware equipment. The facility will be a high-standard environment for experimental measurements and processing. It will also share core facilities in the science park, such as equipment for material growth, component manufacturing, cryogenic electronics, and optical measurements. This facility will allow academic and industry personnel in quantum-related research to conduct more in-depth research in the future. The establishment of this first-class research facility and research environment will lead to the formation of a cluster of quantum technology talent both domestically and abroad. This cluster will be effective for cultivating high-level quantum technology talent and directing application-oriented research. The facility can also attract major domestic and overseas companies to come and promote joint international initiatives, with the quantum base in the southern campus of Academia Sinica serving as a hub for Taiwan’s quantum technology.

R&D Breakthroughs Advance Quantum Industries

Quantum technology is one of the keys to continuously upgrading domestic technology and industries. It is a field that requires dedicated R&D and robust infrastructure. Luo pointed out that making breakthroughs in quantum software and hardware will play a major role in future quantum technology industry chains. To this end, the MOST drafted the Quantum Technology Project this year and announced calls for domestic research teams to propose innovative solutions to develop quantum computers and quantum communications. Teams can focus on one of three research areas: "General Quantum Computer Hardware Technology," "Optical Quantum Technology," and "Quantum Software Technology." If Taiwan has a strong grasp on critical software and hardware technology in the future, it will attract overseas business and dominate the quantum market. Luo additionally raised the importance of quantum computer cloud service platforms. Since future quantum computers will be remote, the technology required to link quantum hardware technology to cloud computing will become essential.

Gwo stated that in order to create Taiwan's first quantum computer system, quantum computing sub-systems will be developed and integrated to set up quantum computing functions. Academia Sinica’s research in quantum technology focuses on the development of CryoCMOS system chips used in large-scale qubit superconductor quantum computer systems. It is also connected to an integrated platform for key cryogenic technology to operate quantum computers. Meanwhile, the development of chip technology is allowing large-scale computer equipment to be minimized in size and integrated with qubit components. At present, the Research Center for Applied Sciences, Academia Sinica has established the Quantum Optoelectronics Center and the Quantum Computation Center. The centers will combine the institute’s strengths in quantum research to achieve the goal of making fundamental breakthroughs in key quantum components.

Taiwan’s Semiconductor Prowess Pushes Quantum Technology to New Heights

The complete nature of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry network has had a dramatic impact on the national economy. However, the physical shrinking of semiconductor chip manufacturing technology is nearing its physical limits. If the technology remains as is, it will not be able to meet future computing needs, nor can its costs decline. This would have an adverse effect on the economic momentum of the semiconductor industry. Both Luo and Gwo emphasized that quantum technology will promote the long-term development of the semiconductor industry and once again lead the innovation and evolution of semiconductors, components, chips, and systems. This will hone Taiwan’s international competitiveness as well as its own social and economic development.

At present, the world’s major industrial countries and large international companies are actively investing in the research and development of quantum technology. Luo pointed out that although Taiwan had a late start in developing semiconductors, it has managed to become the world leader of the industry. In contrast, Taiwan's quantum technology is growing under much more favorable conditions. Through strategic resource integration and the establishment of Quantum Taiwan, Taiwan has great potential to join the quantum technology industry chain in the future. Gwo believes that Taiwan's quantum technology moment will occur within the next five years. The government has made preparations for this by drawing up a comprehensive quantum technology development blueprint. It has also implemented projects every year in line with its goals in order to lay a sound foundation for quantum technology R&D. Domestic industry-academia-research resources are being integrated to advance quantum computers and quantum communications. This will allow quantum technology to guide Taiwan's future development of social, economic, and technological excellence as it follows in the footsteps of the semiconductor industry. 

A wide variety of developments are taking place in the field of quantum science. Meeting global competition head-on will require fluency in key technologies, a realistic developmental plan, the integration of relevant software and hardware, and the cultivation of quantum sector talent. It is only through these strategies that Taiwan will be able to maintain a key role in core quantum technology and quantum technology applications in the future competitive arena. It will also create the perfect environment for quantum computers to become the next big miracle in Taiwan’s semiconductor world.

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