China’s scientific breakthroughs are for the benefit of all
The launch of the quantum satellite has implications not just for the nation but humankind
China well knows that science and technology hold the key to addressing the world’s challenges. No other government is as dedicated to the fields, making breakthroughs like last week’s launch of a quantum satellite possible. The experiments on board are aimed at creating the fastest and most secure networks for sharing information, but are also part of a push for improved communications and computing that have revolutionary implications. They are for the good not just of the nation, but humankind.
The US$100 million project named after the ancient philosopher and scientist Micius signals a potentially game-changing communications technology. It is all about sending messages through conventional means without them being wire-tapped or cracked. By exploiting the quirky properties of sub-atomic particles, digital information can be encoded so that it can be viewed only by the sender and receiver and unauthorised access is prevented by the transmission self-destructing or changing if tampered with. This has been possible for short distances on land and such a system is being built between Beijing and Shanghai for government agencies and banks, but if the satellite experiment succeeds, secure communications will have been proven possible over thousands of kilometres.
Success would be a major boost for quantum science. The implications for finance, online shopping, governments and the military are enormous. But as the physicist in charge of the project, Pan Jianwei, pointed out, it also means China can now be considered a leader in information technology development.
Other nations are involved in quantum communications research, the US and Singapore among them. But China has dedicated far more funding, the result of President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) focus on science and technology as a driver of development. The state put US$101 billion towards the sector last year, leading to numerous landmark space-related missions. A dark-matter probe was put into orbit in December, the Shijian 10 recoverable capsule was launched in April with 19 experiments, one that has shown mammal embryos can develop in space, and a telescope will be sent skywards later this year to study X-ray light, black holes and neutron stars.
China will benefit from the research, but its intentions are also made clear by naming the satellite after Micius. He studied light and flight, but he is also well-known for advocating non-violence. Chinese science will help all people in the world.