New Developments in Federal Quantum Computing R&D Policy


Recent developments in the National Quantum Initiative indicate the federal government has stepped up efforts to advance U.S. quantum technology capabilities. On August 30, the White House announced the formation of the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee, a panel of experts to provide strategic direction to federal quantum science research. The Committee, whose members will be chosen by the Secretary of Energy, will include 22 members drawn from industry, academia, federal research institutions, and other federal agencies.  The Committee derives its mandate from the National Quantum Initiative Act, passed in December of last year, which aims to mobilize national resources to enhance long-term U.S. capabilities in quantum computing.

Long seen as a far-out technological fantasy, quantum computing now commands serious industrial attention as an game-changing technology of the present, promising to deliver an economic windfall to the countries best able to commercialize the technology. Quantum computing exploits basic properties of quantum physical parallelism to expand a computer’s ability to process information, radically. Computers possessing processing power millions of times that of today’s computers would have the ability to carry out unprecedented levels of data science, machine learning, and systems modeling exercises. Quantum computing potentially has powerful applications in national defense. Major corporate technology leaders including IBM and Microsoft have made significant investments into developing quantum computing technologies. This week, IBM celebrated its successful development of a “53-qubit” quantum computer, its fourteenth and most powerful quantum computer. Google has invested heavily in an attempt to breakthrough with a quantum processor capable of achieving full computational supremacy over traditional super computers. Despite the achievements of U.S. companies in quantum computing, many experts regard Chinese institutions as leading the global competition for quantum computing dominance. 

The Department of Energy recently announced it would set-aside nearly $80 million to advance quantum computing research and development. DOE allocated funds for research topics including quantum information science, algorithm programming, and the development of wide-area quantum networks. The department intends its investments to “help ensure U.S. leadership”. However, only $15 million will be available in fiscal year 2019, the rest contingent on future appropriations. The funding will support a growing complex of government-backed research into quantum computing spread across 9 national laboratories, 10 universities, and an independent nonprofit.

Although the defense community has struggled to make sense of the applicability of quantum technology, it now receives increasing attention as a strategic innovation priority. Quantum technology threatens the security of DoD’s data and digital network systems, possessing the ability quickly to overwhelm existing encryption tools. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley of the U.S. Army identified quantum computing as a cybersecurity threat that keeps him up at night.  In May 2019, the Defense Information Systems Agency released a Request for Information, seeking ideas for possible quantum-proof encryption solutions.

For more information on the state of quantum computing technology in the defense sector, check out National Defense magazine’s special report on quantum technology.

Topics: Cyber, Electronics, Research and Development

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