U.S. Struggles to Stay Ahead of Other Countries on Quantum Computing

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The Federal government has continued investments into research of quantum computing in order to stay ahead of the progress made by other countries.

Quantum computing codes information in quantum bits (qubits) instead of binary code like classical computers, which makes this new technology potentially millions of times more powerful than today’s supercomputers.

The main players in quantum computing research are the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the United States, according to Ned Allen, chief scientist and corporate senior fellow at Lockheed Martin. The United Kingdom funds quantum computing research and Australia offers tax incentives for companies that investigate quantum capabilities.

“There are significant investments being made in Russia and practically every other developed country,” said Tim Polk, assistant director of cybersecurity at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The Quantum Information Science Group coordinates the funding that quantum research receives across agencies. Polk said that the other countries that invest don’t have the depth that the United States does, because the U.S. has invested in quantum computing since 1994, but those countries still pose a challenge. Quantum computing has national security implications because of its ability to provide many solutions to real-world problems quickly and optimize systems.

“It gives many finite solutions in a finite amount of time versus giving one solution in an unknown amount of time with a classical system,” said John Kelly, director of analytics at QxBranch.

Once a quantum computer churns out several solutions to a problem, users can then decide which solution is best for them, such as which one is the most cost effective. This process can drive national security decisions.

“Rather than estimating, it’s able to provide an exact solution,” said Kelly.

Polk said that the government should invest in quantum computing infrastructure and smaller quantum devices like clocks, sensors, and navigators before it puts all of its resources into quantum computing.

“We need to be able to walk before we can run,” Polk said. “Government investment is only the foundation. We’re trying to move the ball forward enough so industry can take it and run.”

Polk said that this method of investment will allow engineers to master quantum computing and build the workforce needed for quantum devices.

Allen agreed that quantum computers will never function independently, but will combine with solutions from classical computers and input from humans. Lockheed Martin uses supercomputers to conduct flight simulations so that scientists can conduct test flights of its products throughout the life of the new system.

Allen said that Lockheed Martin wants to prevent situations where pilots see a blue error screen in the middle of a flight and are instructed to reboot the system with the possibility of losing data. Quantum computers could help Lockheed Martin optimize these systems so that an error is less likely to happen.

“Half of the cost of developing a new cyber system is the software,” Allen said. “You can’t get rid of all the errors.”

Lockheed Martin spends $50 million each day on running tests to prevent errors and optimize its software. Nine years ago, Lockheed Martin bought a quantum computer to “mess with” in order to see if it could help them get rid of more errors in its systems.

The goal is to build quantum computers with over 50 qubits because that is the point where researchers are unable to predict what the computers will do from then on, according to Robert Wisnieff, distinguished research staff member at IBM TJ Watson Research Center. Once the computers reach that level of sophistication, they will be able to make improvements to machine learning, big data analytics, and designing better medications. It will take 20 to 30 years to get solutions to those problems through quantum computing, according to Wisnieff.

“These computers will give us solutions to classical problems that classical systems really struggle with,” said Landon Downs, president and co-founder of 1QBit.

Morgan Lynch
About Morgan Lynch

Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.

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