White House Spotlights Quantum Tech Effort

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The release of a strategic report on priorities for U.S. QIS research was a focus of last week's White House quantum summit.

Late September saw a number of auspicious developments for the nascent U.S. quantum information science (QIS) industry. One highlight was a public-private summit hosted by the White House on 24 September, which included both federal policymakers and representatives of leading companies involved in quantum development. The summit was also the occasion for release of a national-strategy document on QIS, and dovetailed with the announcement of nearly US$240 million in new quantum research funding awards by two U.S. agencies.

Diverse group

The White House gathering—titled “Summit on Advancing American Leadership in Quantum Information Science”—was organized by Jacob Taylor, the assistant director for quantum information science with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The attendee list included some 110 persons roughly evenly divided among federal government, industry and academic figures (OSA Chief Scientist Gregory Quarles was among those in the latter group).

Industry representatives hailed from marquee-level quantum and computing players such as Microsoft, Google, IBM and Intel; defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell; financial-services firms such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase; and a variety of niche/start-up concerns.

During the summit, the U.S. Department of Energy announced 85 new research grants, with funds totaling US$218 million, for QIS projects in areas ranging from quantum materials research to quantum computing hardware and software to potential applications of quantum computing in astrophysics and other areas. At the same time, the U.S. National Science Foundation unveiled US$31 million in new awards “for fundamental quantum research that will enable the United States to lead a new quantum technology revolution.”

Toward a “science-first” approach

The centerpiece of the summit was the release of a new vision document, “National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science,” coauthored by Taylor and other members of the QIS subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). Among the report’s policy recommendations was a call to take a “science-first” approach to quantum by supporting long-term core QIS research, working to build connections within the U.S. quantum research community, partly with the help of an executive-branch coordinating body, and developing a set of “Grand Challenges” to help focus research funding and goals.

The strategic-overview report also highlighted the need to “create a quantum-smart workforce for tomorrow” by promoting quantum science and engineering as its own discipline. And it recommended the creation of a U.S. Quantum Consortium, an explicit public-private partnership vehicle analogous to the Semiconductor Research Corporation founded in 1982 by the Semiconductor Industry Association.

A call for international cooperation

The strategic overview fully acknowledged the national-security dimension of an active quantum research program, and in particular the pressing need to develop “quantum-resistant” cryptography approaches in light of ongoing progress toward quantum computers. Refreshingly, however, the report was light on the rhetoric of a cutthroat “international quantum race” with China, Europe and other overseas research centers that has tended to characterize much of the political discourse surrounding U.S. quantum programs. Instead, the report emphasized the value of building international collaborations on precompetitive research.

Of course, all of these executive-branch activities are occurring in the context of parallel activity on the legislative side. On 13 September, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the US$1.275 billion National Quantum Initiative Act, now under active consideration by the U.S. Senate, which is expected to pass its own version of the measure.e

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