Washington’s new crush on quantum computing
(Politico) Konstantin Kakaes is deputy technology and cybersecurity editor for POLITICO and Brendan Bordelon, a reporter at POLITICO discuss why Washington cares about quantum computing and what Washington plans to fund. IQT-News summarizes below.
Quantum computing is considered a huge national security risk, or opportunity, depending who gets there first. In theory, a future quantum computer could decipher codes that are used to encrypt a lot of modern communications, like those that enable secure web browsing. Quantum computers also could potentially simulate the behavior of molecules to design everything from more effective drugs to more efficient solar cells.
Policymakers have seized on “quantum” as a buzzword. The Senate version of a large pending competitiveness bill includes the Quantum Network Infrastructure and Workforce Development Act , which would create a K-12 education pilot program to give students the skills they’ll need for a future quantum workforce.
The House competitiveness bill tacks on even more provisions related to quantum research, some with much bigger price tags. It includes the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act, which would set aside $500 million over five years for research into distributed quantum computing systems, quantum communication technologies and new quantum-enabled sensing and measurement tools. It would also direct DOE to develop a Quantum User Expansion for Science and Technology (QUEST) program, granting the department $340 million over five years to give U.S.-based researchers access to advanced quantum computing tools.
Despite ongoing delays and expectations of a difficult conference, a competitiveness bill is expected to pass this year. And barring any surprises, it’s likely most (if not all) of the quantum provisions present in both bills will be included in the final package.
Quantum computing is a fascinating and important area of basic research — not only does it have potentially important applications, but it also can give important insight into the nature of reality, by letting scientists develop a better understanding of the boundary between the counterintuitive world of quantum mechanics and our everyday experience.
As they decide where to put public money, though, policymakers need to be cautious: No honest expert thinks those transformations are coming in the immediate future.
Sandra K. Helsel, Ph.D. has been researching and reporting on frontier technologies since 1990. She has her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.