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US President Joe Biden looks at the IBM System One quantum computer with New York Governor Kathy Hochul during a tour of an IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, New York, on October 6, 2022. Photo: AP

US weighs more China tech restrictions, targeting quantum computing and artificial intelligence

  • The Biden administration is exploring new export controls that would include investment in nascent quantum computing and artificial intelligence technologies
  • Quantum computing is an experimental field with the potential to upend computer security by circumventing traditional encryption

The Biden administration is exploring the possibility of new export controls that would limit China’s access to some of the most powerful emerging computing technologies, according to people familiar with the situation.

The potential plans, which are in an early stage, are focused on the still-experimental field of quantum computing, as well as artificial intelligence software, according to the people, who asked not to be named discussing private deliberations. Industry experts are weighing in on how to set the parameters of the restrictions on this nascent technology, they said.
The efforts, if implemented, would follow separate restrictions announced earlier this month aimed at stunting Beijing’s ability to deploy cutting-edge semiconductors in weapons and surveillance systems.

Tighter US export controls imperil China’s semiconductor self-sufficiency drive

Technology stocks in China fell on Friday, with equipment-makers Naura Technology Group Co and ACM Research Shanghai Inc tumbling as much as 6.1 per cent and 8.7 per cent respectively. Piotech Inc dropped as much as 13 per cent.

The US has ramped up actions to stifle China’s ability to develop certain technologies that it sees as key in the competition with its top strategic rival. The sweeping regulations released earlier this month also limited how US citizens and residents participate in Chinese tech firms.

The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, which plays a key role in designing and enforcing export controls and announced the semiconductor restrictions on October 7, declined to comment. The White House National Security Council isn’t aware of discussions on such additional controls, according to a spokesperson.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in a speech last month on technology, competitiveness and national security, referred to “computing-related technologies, including microelectronics, quantum information systems and artificial intelligence” as among developments “set to play an outsized importance over the coming decade”. He also noted the importance of export controls to “maintain as large of a lead as possible” over adversaries.

Expanding the wall around advanced technologies risks further antagonising China and forcing other countries to pick sides between the world’s two top economies. The new ideas have been shared with US allies, according to the people.


AI chip maker ordered by US government to halt exports to China

AI chip maker ordered by US government to halt exports to China

Powerful potential

Quantum computing is an experimental field with the potential to dramatically increase the power and speed of computing, enabling machines to solve problems beyond the capacity of the current generation of computers.

It’s expected to someday upend computer-security technology, as quantum machines could be powerful enough to decode passwords and circumvent encryption security features.

Officials are still determining how to frame the controls on quantum computing, which will probably focus on the level of output and the so-called error correction rate, the people said.

Companies including Microsoft Corp, Alphabet Inc’s Google, Intel Corp and International Business Machines Corp are devoting millions of research dollars to various quantum projects.

Americans at Chinese chip tool firm cashed out shares before US sanctions

While conventional computers interpret data in “ones” and “zeros,” a quantum machine can store information in multiple states – as one, zero, both or something in between – a principle known as “superposition”. That allows a quantum system to multitask in ways today’s binary equipment can’t.

A normal computer looking for a name in a phone book catalogued by numbers, for instance, would search one number at a time. A quantum computer could scan all of them simultaneously.

The biggest challenge, however, is that existing quantum systems typically require exotic cooling mechanisms to generate the super-cold temperatures required to manipulate and detect quantum states of subatomic particles.

The Biden administration is also working on an executive order for an outbound investment review mechanism that would scrutinise money heading to certain Chinese technologies, and the quantum computing and artificial intelligence controls could be included, one of the people said. That could incorporate some aspects similar to a measure pushed by senators Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.