The United States government is making significant investments in quantum technology. In 2020, the Department of Energy invested $625 million in multidisciplinary Quantum Information Science Research Centers in support of the National Quantum Initiative. The Biden administration is supporting legislation that would spend more than $100 billion to advance Emerging technologiesincluding quantum computing.
There is a good reason for these investments. The National Counterintelligence and Security Center has identified quantum computing as one of the strategic technology sectors where the US faces increasing challenges from a growing list of countries. Everyone is in a race for leadership because of the military and economic benefits these technologies promise, as well as the cybersecurity risks they pose.
Quantum development and commercialization are already underway, and increased investments and intensive collaboration between government, private enterprise, and academic institutions are already showing significant results. The implications of this new technology are profound for all government and public sectors. Government and industry recognize that quantum computing is no longer a theoretical lab-based technology, but rather provides useful commercial value todayeven before the “quantum advantage”.
Quantum computers solve problems differently than classical computers. They take advantage of properties of quantum states such as superposition, entanglement, and interference to simulate real-world scenarios in n-dimensional space. They also perform calculations with higher data capacity, higher accuracy of results, and the promise of faster processing speeds.
Where classical computing provides only one “best” answer, quantum computers produce multiple diverse results. For governments, this means the ability to address their most complex problems by defining the impact between different scenarios and choosing the best optimized solution for each situation. Being able to solve complex problems with better results in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the resources provides immense opportunities for countries that can harness the power of quantum computing. Make no mistake though, quantum computing will not eliminate the need for classical computing. In fact, the hybrid model of problem solving with quantum and classical approaches will produce better answers in certain use cases than either computing technology alone could.
Quantum computing is a completely different paradigm for both hardware and software. Developing quantum programs using current SDKs requires extensive quantum expertise and long periods of time to create the program, algorithms, and low-level coding required to make the software work with a single hardware platform. This means that only a small elite workforce has the skills to harness quantum computers, so the government with the most highly developed workforce and most end-user-oriented technologies will ultimately dominate the field of quantum computing. To overcome workforce limitations and democratize access to these powerful systems, software companies are now developing ready-to-run quantum software that subject matter experts with no quantum experience can use right now.
Cyber security: The quantum space race
The US and other governments currently rely on mathematically based two-key asymmetric encryption techniques. These codes are almost impossible to crack with classical computers, but quantum computers will be able to crack them quickly and easily, due to their speed of factorization and their ability to quickly search through unclassified data. This puts the nation’s most critical secrets, and indeed all digital infrastructure, at risk. The only way to get ahead of the problem is to harness the same powerful quantum technology to develop new cybersecurity solutions.
Most countries are already working to create quantum decryption capabilities that will uncover the most sensitive data of their adversaries. The US government classifies any national security information that threatens the nation or its allies for 25 years or more. If quantum decryption helps our adversaries access our most sensitive information, it could have a devastating impact on national security.
US defense and intelligence agencies are eagerly investing in quantum technologies as they seek to make the US government more secure and better protected against operational and security threats. For example, quantum technology will enable optimized troop movement for scheduled and on-demand global needs, as well as quantum radar that is undetectable and unexposed to attack.
Quantum computing is ideal for complex optimization problems related to governance. These include creating optimized routes and schedules for snow removal, garbage collection, emergency response, and public transportation. Quantum computing can also enable important operations, such as helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency efficiently allocate emergency resources to affected communities in the wake of a natural disaster, or even predict with greater certainty where a disaster will strike to prevent its effects rather than respond reactively. them.
Quantum computing is expected to have a major impact on many scientific disciplines, including:
- R&D of drugs and clinical trials. New drug development is already underway using artificial intelligence and computer simulations that can accurately visualize and predict effects on patients. When combined with quantum computing, development and clinical trials can be faster and cheaper without the need for human volunteer trials.
- Environmental research and COtwo c The ability of quantum computing to simulate chemical reactions is expected to surpass that of supercomputers. This will advance research in both carbon sequestration (removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) and direct air capture (capturing carbon dioxide from the air to remove it or produce carbon-neutral fuel).
The United States cannot afford to fall behind its partners and adversaries in exploring new technologies that have widespread implications for government operations. But technological development alone will not be enough to take advantage of new capabilities or overcome their threat. The nation must ensure that it develops a workforce capable of meeting these new challenges. Furthermore, these new technologies need to be adopted and integrated into government operations much more quickly. The business sector isn’t expecting quantum computing to gain an advantage, but the government still treats it more like a curious research effort than a technology that should start to change for implementation.
Artificial intelligence has been around for decades, but has only seen government implementation in the last 10 years due to the explosion of data and advanced computing capabilities. If we adopt this same “wait and see” attitude with quantum computing, I’m afraid we won’t know we’ve lost the quantum race until it’s too late. Recent government investment in quantum technologies is a great start, but we must encourage executive agencies to start their quantum journey today. This is not a time when we can adopt a “be first to be second” attitude. We must be the first and stay in that position.