White House Quantum Office Sees 20-Year Process on Encryption Tech

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The White House’s National Quantum Coordination Office is taking a 20-year view of the ongoing effort by the Federal government to create encryption technologies that will not be defeated by quantum computing technologies once quantum tech goes mainstream.

Jake Taylor, interim director of the White House Quantum Office, explained that timeframe and other quantum computing policy viewpoints in remarks today at an event organized by GovernmentCIO and George Washington University.

Because of the presumed ability of quantum information science (QIS) technologies to easily crack existing encryption algorithms, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been working since at least 2016 to identify quantum-resistant encryption technologies.  The agency said in January that it narrowed down its universe of potential encryption tools down to a bracket of 26 cryptographic algorithms.

In September 2018, NIST signed a cooperative research and development deal with SRI International to lead the Quantum Economic Development Consortium, with an aim to “expand U.S. leadership in global quantum research and development and the emerging quantum industry in computing, communications and sensing.”

In his remarks today, Taylor detailed NIST’s efforts to find quantum-resistant encryption technologies, and said it was a “20-year process,” adding, “so hopefully in that time we will be there.”

But that 20-year window to find encryption technology may not be sized right to meet the expected development and uptake in QIS by industry and government, he indicated.  Taylor estimated that ten years from now companies may be generating “significant revenue in this space.”

He said that the efforts of government and industry to “get literacy” on QIS will help determine whether either is ready to deal with the technology as it matures.

And he said it was time to figure out how to use QIS to solve “really hard problems that you won’t be able to solve through traditional means.”

On a shorter time-scale, Taylor said his office was focusing this year on building out policies and interagency processes on QIS. The policy-making, he said, involves a “balancing act” and a lot of engagement and partnership building with the private sector and academia.

The biggest change in the quantum area in the last five years, he said, is a shift from being a “pure research field” to being a research field that has attracted a lot of engagement and investment from large tech firms and start-ups.  The White House offices engagement with academia in particular is hoped to increase that highly-prized literacy in QIS, he said.