The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a new strategy for speeding the development of quantum information science this week, an increasingly critical area of global research and investment. Scientists theorize that advancing QIS could lead to game-busters in conventional computing, cybersecurity, cryptography, artificial intelligence, astrophysics, chemistry, data analytics and a host of as yet unknown research areas.
According to the National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science, “Quantum information science (QIS) applies the best understanding of the sub-atomic world — quantum theory — to generate new knowledge and technologies. Through developments in QIS, the United States can improve its industrial base, create jobs, and provide economic and national security benefits.”
The strategy named earlier examples of QIS-related technologies to include semiconductor microelectronics, photonics, the global positioning system (GPS) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). “These technologies are foundational to national economic and defense infrastructure. Future scientific and technological discoveries from QIS may be even more impactful,” the plan stated.
Although the origins of QIS can be traced back to the 1960s, the development of an actual quantum computer is not imminent. QIS remains a rapidly evolving scientific and engineering discipline with practical use still to be discovered. “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 strategy noted.
However, a 20-year investment by U.S. government agencies, and more recent industry involvement, have evolved this scientific field into a promising endeavor of the American research and development enterprise.
Investment and Accelerated Development
”Constructed on the collective input of all government agencies invested or interested in QIS, the strategy presents a nationwide approach to achieving this goal. Specifically, the United States will create a visible, systematic, national approach to quantum information research and development, organized under a single brand and coordinated by the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science (SCQIS).
"These efforts will leverage existing programs and approaches, adapt to the changing and improving scientific and technical knowledge, reflect the best understanding of opportunities and challenges in QIS for the nation, and take new steps where appropriate,” according to the strategy.
The national effort will:
- Focus on a science-first approach that aims to identify and solve Grand Challenges: problems whose solutions enable transformative scientific and industrial progress;
- Build a quantum-smart and diverse workforce to meet the needs of a growing field;
- Encourage industry engagement, providing appropriate mechanisms for public-private
- Provide the key infrastructure and support needed to realize the scientific and technological
- Drive economic growth;
- Maintain national security; and
- Continue to develop international collaboration and cooperation.
The strategy encourages early educational efforts K-12 through STEM events and student participation, and government, industry and academic sponsorship at the graduate-level to form a quantum-smart workforce to fill the high tech jobs of the future ushered in by artificial intelligence, human-machine teaming and quantum physics.
Military and Defense Use
QIS technologies being developed for military and defense applications can also accelerate
advancements in the field, leading to substantial economic growth potential through the creation of new industries and dual-use products and their transition to consumer markets, according to the strategy. The defense and intelligence communities have been robust investors in QIS research and development, and continue to work across the basic science and applied technology areas to improve the understanding of what some call the art-of-the-possible.
The Defense Department has specific needs for diverse workforce development. The strategy called for pathways to be added that build a quantum-smart workforce into defense-related research and development.
The new strategy was delivered at the White House Summit on Advancing American Leadership in Quantum Information Science. The document is a product of the Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science under the Committee on Science of the National Science & Technology Council.
As next steps, all agencies involved in the QIS subcommittee — which includes the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior and State, National Institute of Standards and Technology the intelligence community, NASA, Office of Management and Budget and a number of other agencies — are directed to release plans for meeting those policy recommendations in early 2019.
The United States sustains a world-renowned R&D community in QIS. World-leaders in research across the nation’s universities, companies, and national labs have driven progress in many of the critical areas of quantum computing and quantum systems for time-keeping, sensing, networking, and other applications. It is imperative that ongoing R&D builds on the necessary hard work in physics, materials science, and associated areas necessary to make progress in the development of viable quantum systems, the strategy stated.
Progress over the last five years in large IT companies and the venture capital and start-up community have pushed forward with QIS opportunities and formed groups and companies to pursue commercialization, the strategy noted. The national strategic approach should continue to use the strengths of both the U.S. government funding system and America’s pioneering innovation community.
Finally, the strategy calls for U.S. global leadership in quantum science. The field has advanced in the United States partly by recruiting, collaborating, and competing with scientific research around the world. While the first two-qubit gate proposal came from researchers in Europe, the technology was demonstrated in the Nobel-prize winning group of David Wineland at NIST.
“In a field where scientists are still very much fighting nature itself to make progress, humanity’s combined effort may be necessary to tackle the challenge. U.S. leadership at this juncture will provide the key ingredients for this success,” the strategy stated.