A top Energy Department (DoE) official said this week that while DoE doesn’t have a full quantum computer built yet, the work is ‘already underway’ for the department to start putting the pieces together today.

“We are starting with some basic quantum technologies, and we are going to continue to build until we get the most advanced in place – and the most advanced is that full tolerant quantum computer,” Rima Oueid, senior commercialization executive at DoE’s Office of Technology Transitions, said. “But the basic tools we have available today, so we can start deploying them.”

“We don’t have the full suite of solutions available today, but we have pieces of it, and we can start acquiring those pieces and putting them together today,” Oueid said during a March 20 CSIS webinar.

She continued, adding, “Given that the DoE and its sister agencies have been asked to prepare against a quantum computer now, we’ve started that process.”

There has been a myriad of guiding documents that have recently come from both the legislative and executive branches of government on quantum information science (QIS).

Most recently, President Biden signed the Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act which sets the Federal government on the path to defending against quantum computing-enabled data breaches that will become more of a threat as quantum tech advances.

In May of last year, Biden also issued an executive order that elevates the importance of QIS by reconstituting a previously created Federal QIS advisory committee and putting it more closely under the White House’s wing, while at the same time issuing a National Security Memorandum that lays out plans to address cybersecurity risks posed by quantum computers.

Oueid explained during the CSIS webinar that Federal regulation on quantum computing is a “double-edged sword.”

“On one hand, regulation can be helpful because there are market failures,” she said.  “Regulation helps create some boundaries to help up figure out what attributes we want to value.”

On the other hand, she noted, regulation “prioritizes security” which can “then stifle innovation.”

“It’s something we’re still grappling with,” Oueid said. “I don’t know if we have a good answer yet. I think we’re going to have to figure out along the way, but it’s a process we’re currently involved in.”

The quantum expert shared some lessons learned from other emerging technologies – like artificial intelligence – that DoE plans to do differently when it comes to QIS.

“One of the things we learned from the AI world is that we need to ensure that we don’t suffer a quantum winter,” Oueid said. “What that means is that we need to demonstrate that we are showing progress.”

“We need to get that information out and make sure that people are aware of that and share those nuggets of success,” she continued, adding, “and show that even though we don’t have a full tolerant quantum computer today, that we’re learning so much along the way and producing quantum technologies.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.