Waiting around for quantum tech to mature could mean organizational change occurs too late.
Quantum technology is increasingly in the news of late. Headlines discuss quantum’s impact on national security encryption, computing, communications and more. It is safe to say quantum will have an impact on national security. But because quantum tech is still nascent it’s less clear when and how this impact will materialize. This lack of clarity can make it difficult for government leaders to prepare their organizations for a quantum future. On the one hand, how do you prepare for the unknowns of a nascent technology? On the other, waiting around for quantum tech to mature could mean organizational change occurs too late.
Even if we aren’t sure of the timeline, quantum technology has advanced to the point that we generally know it will have a significant impact on how information is computed, what types of encryption are useful, and even how we securely communicate. Luckily, there are pragmatic ways to prepare.
Quantum technologies, such as quantum computers, encryption, radars and more, rely on properties of quantum mechanics to process and share information in almost entirely new ways. The novelty of quantum mechanics applied in information technologies will likely revolutionize how we understand and use the information around us—much like personal computers and the internet have.
Perhaps the most well-known form of quantum technology is the quantum computer. Quantum computers offer such a novel way of computing information that they promise to solve complex computational problems exponentially faster than current computers. Problems that would otherwise take traditional computers thousands of years to solve could be solved in a few hours or days by a quantum computer. Such a revolutionary method of computing offers a whole new set of military and scientific possibilities—as well as challenges.
For instance, the ability to compute exponentially more quickly is why quantum technology poses a threat to certain types of encryption. Many forms of cryptography, like the Rivest-Shamir-Adleman algorithm that safeguard much of the internet’s traffic, is essentially just a very complex math problem. One so complex that without decryption keys it would take current computers an impractical amount of time to solve. But quantum computers may be able to solve the math problem in short order, rendering some encryption methods obsolete.
Quantum communication also holds promise and has even been tested in satellite communications. By manipulating particles—often photons—quantum communication promises an even more secure method of sending and receiving information. Because observing a quantum state causes it to collapse, quantum communication can allow the sender and receiver to know if someone is eavesdropping. Such awareness makes signals intelligence gathering more difficult.
Other applications of quantum technology will have similarly large impacts to national security, from quantum radars that may be able to detect stealth aircraft to quantum navigation, an un-jammable alternative to GPS. But while these technologies continue to advance, scientists are also faced with challenges—many which are unique to quantum science—that makes it difficult to predict quantum’s impact in specific terms.
While it is hard to know where to invest resources to prepare an organization for quantum’s impact, government leaders also can’t afford to do nothing. There are real dangers to inaction—such as the potential for adversaries to steal data now and wait to decrypt it once enough quantum computers come online. Luckily for government leaders, strategic advantage from quantum will not come from the technology itself, but from how defense and intelligence experts put that technology to use. And those are areas where leaders can begin doing the hard thinking today—even if the technology itself is not yet read.
Preparing for the coming quantum world isn’t so much about giant quantum leaps in technology procurement or organizational change. Instead, it’s more about doing the basics well, like practicing good cyber hygiene, educating the workforce, and collaborating across government organizations.
Good cyber hygiene. Even with advancements in quantum technology, no one can decrypt data they do not have. Good cyber hygiene practices such as using strong passwords or avoiding phishing schemes can help make sure your sensitive data stays where you want it and away from unscrupulous hands. Ensuring the organization practices good cyber hygiene will always be important, quantum or not.
Integration. As quantum tech develops, organizations will need to think carefully about the new tech’s integration and use. This ultimately means leaders knowing what data they have, how it’s stored and secured, what encryption is used, and what data loads their systems can handle. Making smart changes starts with know your data and systems.
Quantum savvy. Quantum is a complex topic. While government leaders don’t need to pursue a PhD in quantum mechanics, they should have basic knowledge of the technology, its progress, and its expected impact on their organization. Education and research should extend beyond the C-suite level through research and education programs throughout the organization.
R&D profile. If one doesn’t already exist in the organization, leaders should also create an R&D profile to help balance core, adjacent and transformational research bets to ensure the organization is prepared for the most probable future contingencies.
Collaboration. Connect with other government organizations to collaborate and share information. How government agencies and teams are impacted by quantum technology won’t happen in isolation, so preparing shouldn’t happen in isolation either.
Strategic planning. Finally, government leaders should plan. Planning shouldn’t be one-off. It should be integrated into the organization such that it’s continuous. A quantum “team of interest” can help organizations stay current on quantum developments and advocate for changes across the organization.
Taking these simple steps can mean the difference between being quantum ready or not.
Adam Routh and Joe Mariani lead research on defense and security topics with Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights. Akash Keyal is a senior analyst also with the Center for Government Insights. Scott Buchholz is a managing director with Deloitte Consulting LLP and serves as the Government and Public Services chief technology officer and the national Emerging Tech Research director. Follow them @adamjrouth, @joseph_mariani, and @akashkeyal.