White House Unveils Plan to Dominate Quantum Technology

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Agency leaders also announced hundreds of millions of dollars in research investments.

The White House on Monday rolled out a broad strategy for strengthening U.S. leadership in quantum information science, the field of research that will support the next generation of supercomputing technology.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy introduced the plan at the White House Summit on Advancing American Leadership in Quantum Information Science. Agency leaders attending the summit also announced plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in quantum basic research.

“Through developments in QIS, the United States can improve its industrial base, create jobs, and provide economic and national security benefits,” the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on QIS said in the strategic plan. “Prior examples of QIS-related technologies … underpin significant parts of the national economic and defense infrastructure. Future scientific and technological discoveries from QIS may be even more impactful.”

At the summit, the Energy Department announced it would pour some $218 million into 85 quantum-focused research projects at multiple universities and national laboratories. Through a series of two- to five-year awards, the agency aims to develop new quantum computing hardware and software, create materials with quantum properties and explore ways QIS can improve humanity’s understanding of the universe.

The National Science Foundation said it would devote $31 million to funding 33 research projects pushing the boundaries of quantum technology. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which participated in the White House summit, is also soliciting proposals for high-risk, high-reward initiatives in the quantum space.

QIS research broadly focuses on exploiting materials’ quantum properties to enable new mechanisms for analyzing, storing and sharing information. Experts believe advancing QIS could enable breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, astrophysics, chemistry, data analytics and a number of other research topics.

In the strategic plan, the White House stressed the importance of taking a “science-first” approach when it comes to quantum research, concentrating the government’s efforts more heavily in basic research than immediate applications.

“QIS remains a rapidly evolving scientific and engineering discipline with substantial further discovery opportunities awaiting,” the subcommittee wrote. “Even now, while prototype QIS applications, platforms and devices are becoming commercially available, new applications and platforms will likely come from protocols and approaches that are not yet invented.”

The White House urged agencies to invest in a diverse portfolio of quantum initiatives and only commit significant resources once a project proves its worth. By spreading its figurative eggs across many baskets, the government is more likely to promote scientific breakthroughs. Agencies have taken a similar approach with artificial intelligence research.

The report also pressed the federal research community to stand up infrastructure to support QIS in the public and private sectors, and work more closely with industry leaders and “like-minded” governments to advance the technology. The committee also encouraged agencies to continue looking into the national security ramifications of QIS.

The world may see be years from its first general-purpose quantum computer, but federal tech leaders are already discussing ways the technology could impact data privacy and other tech areas, and beginning to worry the U.S. is losing its edge in the quantum research space.

China, for instance, is slated to open a $10 billion research center for quantum applications by 2020. By comparison, the U.S. has historically spent roughly $250 million per year on quantum research.

The White House requested all agencies involved in the QIS subcommittee—which includes the Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior and State departments, the intelligence community, NASA and a number of other agencies—to release plans for meeting those policy recommendations in the early months of 2019.