US consults on quantum computing strategy

By on 13/06/2019
Delicate power: Quantum computers currently require complex cooling systems – such as this IBM cryostat – but the technology is expected to go mainstream soon (Image courtesy: IBM Research/flickr).

The White House has launched a public consultation on its national quantum computing policy, which sets out an expectation that government agencies should create “detailed execution plans” to realise the potential of the emerging technology.

The ‘National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science’ (QIS) was first published by the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science (SCQIS) in September 2018. A few months later the National Quantum Initiative Act became law, committing US$1.2bn to QIS research.

The Trump administration sees huge potential in the technology, and wants government agencies to formulate plans to support QIS development. The strategic overview states that the White House “is committed to maintaining and expanding American leadership in QIS to enable future long-term benefits from, and protection of, the science and technology created through this research.”

It adds that “through developments in QIS, the United States can improve its industrial base, create jobs, and provide economic and national security benefits.”

Quantum leap

The consultation seeks “public input to inform the Subcommittee as the Government develops the means to address the specific policy recommendations included in the ‘Strategic Overview’ and the overall goals of the National Quantum Initiative Act”.

Quantum computers are a kind of supercomputer capable of storing vast amounts of data, and working much quicker than conventional IT equipment. “QIS applies the best understanding of the sub-atomic world – quantum theory – to generate new knowledge and technologies,” the document says, listing examples of current QIS-related technologies including semiconductor microelectronics, photonics, the global positioning system (GPS), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 

According to the policy, these QIS technologies “underpin significant parts of the national economic and defence infrastructure,” and “future scientific and technological discoveries from QIS may be even more impactful.”

High potential, both ways

But the sheer power of quantum computers also poses a security threat to governments, as quantum applications are expected to be able to hack current public encryption systems within a decade. Development of government QIS technology could provide the solution, however, creating new secure IT systems.

The strategic overview spells out seven goals that make up the government’s QIS strategy: choosing a science-first approach to QIS; creating a quantum-smart workforce for tomorrow; deepening engagement with the quantum industry; providing critical infrastructure; maintaining national security; supporting economic growth; and advancing international cooperation.

The draft document calls on government agencies to “create detailed execution plans in support of these policy goals and informed by these policy options.”

UK interest

The consultation asks interested parties to comment on eight questions to inform the strategy going forward, and is open until the end of July. These questions include asking how the US can continue to attract and retain the best domestic and international talent and expertise in QIS, and how it can ensure that US researchers have access to cutting-edge international technologies, research facilities, and knowledge.

Meanwhile, the UK government has pledged £153m (US$195m) towards quantum computing, the New Statesman reported. Theresa May announced the new funding at the launch of London Tech Week on Monday.

Earlier this year, in response to a Science and Technology Committee report on QIS, the UK government agreed that departments have “a role to play in supporting the development of quantum technologies through the early adoption of technologies that could have positive impacts on public service delivery.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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