Quantum computing has made it to the United States Congress. If this field of quantum information is the new space race, the US doesn't want to fall behind.
A dilution refrigerator from an IBM quantum computer.Photo: IBM Research (Flickr)
Two new bills, one of which is still a draft, are meant to establish the US as a leader in the field.
"Quantum computing is the next technological frontier that will change the world, and we cannot afford to fall behind," said Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) in a statement passed to Gizmodo. "We must act now to address the challenges we face in the development of this technology — our future depends on it."
The bill introduced by Harris in the Senate focuses on defence, calling for the creation of a consortium of researchers selected by the Chief of Naval Research and the Director of the Army Research Laboratory. The consortium would award grants, assist with research, and facilitate partnerships between the members.
Another, yet-to-be-introduced bill, seen in draft form by Gizmodo, calls for a 10-year National Quantum Initiative Program to set goals and priorities for quantum computing in the US; invest in the technology; and partner with academia and industry.
An office within the Department of Energy would coordinate the program. Another group would include members from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy, the office of the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate research and education activity between agencies.
Furthermore, the draft bill calls for the establishment of up to five Quantum Information Science research centres, as well as two multidisciplinary National Centres for Quantum Research and Education.
My quantum computing spiel is here, but there are a few general things to know about the technology. Regular computers are based on an architecture of zero and one. Quantum computers instead rely on zero and one simultaneously and probabilistically. It's as if you flipped lots of coins at the same time, but some of them are weighted and tied together, so only certain combinations of heads and tails (or zeroes and ones) are allowed.
It's just an entirely different framework that you can use to solve problems. It could be useful for tasks like modelling molecules better than ever before, or solving problems like how to get entire groups of things into their preferred or most likely configuration. In a few decades, quantum computers might be able to run algorithms that crack our best encryption.
The industry is naturally interested in the new bills. Bo Ewald, the president of quantum computing company D-Wave, said in a statement: "A National Quantum Initiative would provide an umbrella for work in many agencies, national laboratories, universities and industrial partners. The Defence Quantum Information Consortium addresses key national security concerns as part of an overarching program."
IBM's CTO for quantum computing, Scott Crowder, told Gizmodo in an email that he supported "bipartisan engagement from members of Congress on how government can help move the technology forward."
One academic we spoke to was excited as well. "Some of us are wondering if there should be some sort of NASA-like organisation to fund quantum research and to anchor large projects, parts of which could then be contracted out to industry and academic partners," Sydney Schreppler, a postdoctoral fellow in physics at UC Berkeley, told Gizmodo.
"I'm particularly eager for academia and industry to find ways to work together on the complementary development of technology and ideas, and this bill seems like an attempt to make that happen."
It's not clear whether this is truly a space race yet, or if it will ever become one. But if it is, the US government won't want to lose out.