If the United States of America wants to stave off the competition from getting ahead in quantum computing then it will have to do its best to avoid doing some things
In this post, we’ll take a look at some of those things
To summarize though, some of the potential pitfalls that the US has to avoid are investing too much money in different areas and making the decision to put the US military totally in charge.
China has finally taken the lead over the US as far as artificial intelligence is concerned
The US has to watch that without having answers to China’s sharp rise in the field of artificial intelligence.
That is the reason why the US has to work even harder to make sure that China does not do the same in the field of quantum technology where the US is still the global number one. .
Currently, there are a total of two different pieces of legislation that the US Congress has to deal with in order to boost federal investment in areas such as quantum research.
One of the documents would allow the government to encourage more private-public partnerships in quantum research.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the major focus of both the legislative proposals is actually on fields such as quantum computing.
Some feel that if quantum computing does deliver on its potential then it could allow countries to produce computer machines which would make even the most intimidating and powerful of supercomputers today look like abacus machines.
Quantum computing is unconventional, to say the least.
Regular computer machines process data.
And they do so in bits.
These bits either represent a 1 or a 0
Quantum computers are different.
They don’t use bits.
They harness, what the community calls, quantum bits.
For short, some call them qubits.
These are different to regular bits in the sense that they have the ability to represent both 0 and 1 values at the same time.
One quantum bit can represent 1 and 0 simultaneously
It is true that if one adds a few additional bits to any given classical computer, one would only see modest improvements in the machines overall capability.
However, adding just a small number of qubits to a quantum machine increase its overall computational potential exponentially.
Needless to say, the technology is very complex.
Moreover, it still has not managed to pass infancy.
Of course, quantum computing is advancing reasonably fast
And in the very near future, we would have some serious quantum machines lying around in various research facilities.
Then the more important question would be how to take full advantage of these machines.
Some also believe that in the future, technologies such as quantum computing could assist scientists to develop various kinds of materials never seen before.
Quantum computing could also help researchers to create new useful molecules which they could use for drugs.
Additionally, quantum computing could enable the community to produce sensors which are super powerful and able to help out companies in activities such as oil exploration.
To put it in simpler terms, quantum computing will have huge implications for any country’s national security..
Quantum computers would have the ability to crack open even the most secure and advanced encryption that security products use today.
Apart from that, quantum computers could enable engineers to create modern and virtually indestructible communication networks.
China Is Coming
Of course, the US is not the only country that has high ambitions when it comes to leveraging quantum computing.
There are many other regions and countries that have already made announcements regarding their own ambitious plans to leverage and fund quantum computing activities and projects.
Recently, with the help of an investment nearing $1.2 billion, the European Union officially launched its own multi-year quantum computing initiative
Similarly, China also launched its own investment plan of $10 billion which would enable the country to form a national laboratory in Hefei for quantum information sciences.
It is still due to open in two years time, in 2020.
What about the US?
Where does it stand when compared to China and the EU in quantum computing investment?
Well, current federal funding in the US for quantum computing research is around $250 million per year.
This is pretty impressive on its own
Thanks to such federal support and, of course, to efforts from large technology companies based in the US such as Google and IBM along with some startup company such as IonQ and Righetti Computing, the US is still the field leader in several areas of quantum research and technology.
One of these fields is the quantum computers themselves
Among these technology companies, Google is perhaps the one that has the best chance of maintaining America’s quantum supremacy
What that would mean for the industry and for the country is an issue that we’ll discuss on another day.
According to information published by Patinformatics, a patent analytics and landscaping advisory firm that tracks, what it calls, patent families (in other words, patents that are part of a group of patents which cover specific inventions), the United States of America currently holds about 800 of patents in the field of quantum computing.
China has about 1/4rth of that number.
With that said, there is no doubt about the fact that China is moving faster than ever before.
Its most notable progress has been in the field of quantum communication.
Chinese labs have already managed to demonstrate a quantum-secured satellite-enabled video call between Vienna and Beijing.
As is obvious, China used a special kind of satellite to achieve this feat.
The country is also making rapid advancement in the field of quantum cryptography.
Information and data put up by Informatics have shown that China took the lead over the United States on this specific type of patent group about four years ago in 2014.
Of course, that in no way is a measure of how good Chinese quantum research is especially when compared to the US.
But it certainly gives an indication that China is evolving its quantum capabilities at a fast rate
The CEO of Rigetti Computing, Chad Rigetti, who is himself a huge supporter of all efforts related to the creation of a comprehensive United States national quantum plan, recently noted that in the field of artificial intelligence, China began to reproduce several of the same findings which United States researchers had achieved before and then utilized that AI experience in order to develop a huge AI workforce that now had the capability of producing tremendous amounts of innovative AI ideas.
Chad also sees China as the one country that would advance very rapidly in the field of quantum computing as well.
He recently said that he had no doubts that China had started to apply the same playbook in quantum computing as well.
Twofers in Quantum Computing
Politicians in the United States have been hard at work to bring new legislation with nothing but China’s resurgence in technology rivaling that of the United States in mind.
They have introduced a draft bill that is being called the Quantum Computing Research Act.
A Democratic senator from the state of California, Kamala Harris, unveiled the draft bill.
The draft bill would basically make a requirement from the heads of research for the United States Army and Navy to set up and develop private-public consortia for researching quantum projects
The research partnerships, under the proposed plan, would run for a total of 6 years till 2024.
During this time, these partnerships would receive government funding for their work
The amount of the government funding has not been specified in the draft bill.
Additionally, the chairman ( a Republican) of the United States House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Lamar Smith, has also crafted a new bill regarding quantum computing.
However, the National Quantum Initiative Act draft has not been published yet.
With that said, Smith has already used a press release to issue the general outlines of the Act.
Among a host of other things, the Act would grant authority to the United States Department of Education to launch several number of quantum research centers.
These research centers would enable software experts, engineers and physicists to come together and work on various different projects.
The Act would also appropriately charge the United States government Office of Science and Technology Policy with the creation of a specific panel.
The panel would make efforts to properly oversee US federal efforts in areas of quantum research and computing.
Needless to say, any initiatives and/or bills will have to become part of a single master plan.
For that to happen, officials in the US government will have to play a crucial part.
And since the role is so crucial, let’s list out a few of the mistakes that United States policymakers have to avoid in order for them to successfully take the United States of America into the age of quantum computing as a leader of the world.
Deciding to put the US military full in charge of things
This is something the US government have to avoid.
Well, let’s talk about that a bit later.
For now, what we need to know is that Kamala Harris proposed bill has a questionable aim of putting the United States Secretary of Defense as the general head of the proposed quantum initiatives.
The proposed bill has also put forward the idea of some sort of coordination between the quantum initiatives and the United States Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Why is this bad?
According to some, if the bill goes through as it is now, it would most likely lead to the United States having too narrow of a focus on research areas such as quantum communication and quantum cryptography.
The United States would not benefit as much from such type of an initiative.
There is little doubt about the fact that both of the above-mentioned areas are supremely important.
However, quantum technology is one type of technology that can offer so much more.
It can have wide benefits in areas that researchers have not even thought of yet.
The best approach to take in such a case is to have a national quantum plan that reflects the fact that quantum technology can assist humans in many different areas and not just security.
With that said, the US intelligence and military communities probably should have the privileges to have a healthy amount of input in any quantum research.
The reason for that is simple as well.
The US intelligence and military have a long experience in areas such as quantum computing.
On the other hand, the US government should not give them so much power so that they are dictating the overall quantum technology strategy.
Don’t Exercise Too Much Prescription When It Comes To Funding Different Projects
Technologies like quantum computing tend to change very rapidly.
They change so fast that it is incumbent on any country’s national initiative to have the necessary amount of flexibility in the way it is ought to work.
Sometimes, the field will evolve so much that there would be no other choice left but to shift resources to completely different projects.
This is where some feel that Smith’s and Harris’ plans will probably leave the necessary amount of wiggle room for such changes.
That is very encouraging at this moment in time.
Workforce development is important. Don’t Underinvest in it.
One of the top priorities of any national quantum initiative must be to boost the country’s quantum workforce.
Because currently there is a massive shortage of talent not just in areas where one has to build quantum machines but quantum computing in general.
According to a professor at the University of Maryland, Christopher Monroe (also one of the founders of IonQ), it was really difficult to actually go out and hire skilled developers who have the ability to compile software that can, in turn, run on new quantum circuits.
A press release from Smith mentioned that his proposed bill would effectively authorize the United States National Science Foundation to move forward by creating research courses and centers to assist develop new quantum talent.
On the other hand, the bill from Kamala Harris makes no mention of any type of quantum education at all.
Don’t Just Overinvest in all quantum research areas
A group of executives and academics including the likes of Monroe and Rigetti recently (earlier this year in fact) published a paper which called for an overall investment budget of around $800 million for a period of five years initially.
That amount, according to the paper, should prove enough to cover all costs related to workforce development and research efforts.
If such a budget did pass, then that would eventually double the current annual quantum research federal investment.
As alluded to before, neither Smith’s press release nor the Kamala Harris bill makes any mention of specific budget amounts.
However, a United States House committee adviser said that the committee’s current thinking included a budget of around $50 million as far as the National Science Foundation was concerned.
Along with that, the Committee also had an idea of around $125 million per year for Department of Education center for a period of five years.
That, coincidentally, would pretty much add up to the required number that business and academic leaders have recommended in their paper.
As far as the Smith plan is concerned, it envisages a further investment of $80 million per year for National Institute of Standards and Technology’s work on issues in addition to quantum standard-setting.
That would bring the total amount of quantum research investment close to $1.3 billion.
Some feel that the National Institute of Standards and Technology work deserves the additional millions.
Others feel that relevant authorities should scrutinize NIST’s work a bit more closely.
Whatever the budget amount that makes it to the finish line, the administrators of the plan would need to make sure that they don’t spread the money too thin.
Moreover, they should also keep tabs on the private sector so that they don’t end up subsidizing the private sector’s work which it would have completed anyway.
Don’t Mistake America First With America Only
The simple fact is that the United States of America no longer has a monopoly when it comes to expertise in areas such as quantum computing.
Hence, it is vitally important that the government does not come up with any plan that discourages international cooperation with all the other quantum computing centers in countries such as Australia, Canada, and regions such as Europe.
One can easily make the case for the United States collaborating with researchers in China as well.
But it would be better if they only collaborate in non-sensitive fields.
One problem with all of this is that the current president of the United States of America may not have an inclination to work with China.
The same can be said about Mr.Trudeau in Canada as well.
However, these problems should not form major reasons for both these countries to nix any sort of collaboration in as vital a field as quantum computing.
In short, The United States needs a practical and broad national plan as far as quantum computing is concerned.
Along with that, the country will also need to adopt a global mindset in order to truly make a quantum computing plan work.