A report highlights the risks and benefits of federal investment in quantum computing and other technologies, but stresses collaboration and steady funding.
Quantum technology could support innovation in a myriad of industries but will require significant investment across several economic sectors, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.
The report examines where more funding is required to catalyze the implementation and development of quantum technology, specifically quantum computing, as well as the opportunities and drawbacks that come with increased investment.
“The report finds that future quantum computers could outperform regular computers in some tasks, such as simulating chemical interactions for drug development and other purposes,” said Karen Howard, the GAO’s Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team director. “However, getting there likely requires navigating a complex supply chain, developing the workforce, and investing billions of additional dollars.”
Quantum technologies are a group of systems that operate on the principles of quantum physics, which enables offshoots like quantum computers to compute information at faster rates than typical computers. Just some of the industries that stand to benefit from scalable quantum technology include machine learning, cryptography, chemistry and drug development, and communications processes.
Quantum computing demands different hardware and software than its mainstream counterparts—and that requires significant investments. Per one estimate cited in the report, adequate government investment in quantum technology deployment could cost up to $10 billion.
The four key factors that will likely determine the development of quantum technology are the strength of the workforce and supply chain, the volume of funding, and collaboration across both different industries and countries.
Collaborative efforts between academic, industry and government institutions are critical to developing breakthroughs with quantum computing, the report says, which should be spearheaded by a highly developed labor force trained to work in the quantum field.
“The United States needs to develop a strong quantum workforce in order to maintain its leadership position in quantum technology hardware and software development,” the report writes.
Funding is key to both collaboration and talent development, which can address gaps in the U.S. education system to include a quantum technology curriculum, and keep uncertain and long-term development timeframes operational. Energy Department laboratory officials told the GAO that funding is particularly important for initial research and development to gauge project durations. Without a timeline in place to better understand the long-term technological processes, funding could wane, one stakeholder said in the report.
Quantum research also requires a resilient electronics supply chain. The report warns that outstanding risks and gaps in a global supply chain that provide the necessary materials for quantum technology can delay development.
“Development and deployment of quantum technologies will be contingent on the ability to reliably produce novel quantum materials,” the report authors write, noting mining critical minerals for specific hardware applications could “pose risks” to developing basic quantum foundries. One solution the report offers is to fund facilities dedicated to supplying quantum input materials to keep the supply chain flowing.
Experts also suggest that private industry involvement and funding is a factor that differentiates the U.S. from other countries that are investing in quantum.
“The private sector is rarely investing in long term infrastructure,” Sridhar Tayur, the Ford Distinguished Research Chair of Operations Management at Carnegie Mellon University, told Nextgov. “I think that is where the government can help.” He specified that having policymakers establish a robust infrastructure, ranging from an updated satellite network to new laboratories for the quantum industry to grow, is crucial to a sustainable industry.
“I think collaboration between the private sectors that can build the technology––assuming that there is infrastructure to work with … I think can be very helpful,” he said.