White House Quantum Strategy Aims at Solving ‘Grand Challenges’

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A new “strategic overview” document published by the White House’s National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) says the U.S. government’s efforts to advance quantum information science (QIS) will “focus on a science-first approach that aims to identify and solve Grand Challenges: problems whose solutions enable transformative scientific and industrial progress.”

That focus, NSTC said, will feature a ten-year horizon and hoped-for breakthroughs in a range of fields including: computing applications; sensor technologies; positioning, navigation, and timing systems for military and commercial applications; “transformative cyber security systems including quantum-resistant cryptography in response to developments in QIS”; “novel algorithms for machine learning and optimization”; and “new approaches to understanding materials, chemistry, and even gravity through quantum information theory.”

The strategy document released by the White House late Monday says the government’s national effort will also seek to “build a quantum-smart and diverse workforce to meet the needs of a growing field,” encourage industry engagement and public-private partnerships, “provide key infrastructure and support needed to realize scientific and technological opportunities,” drive economic growth, maintain national security, and “continue to develop international collaboration and cooperation.”

To get there, the U.S. will “create a visible, systematic, national approach” to quantum information research and development “organized under a single brand” and coordinated by the NSTC’s Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science, the White House document says.

“These efforts will leverage existing programs and approaches, adapt to the changing and improving scientific and technical knowledge, reflect the best understanding of opportunities and challenges in QIS for the Nation, and take new steps where appropriate,” it says.

The strategy document dubs QIS a “nascent pillar of the American research and development enterprise,” and says the Trump administration “is committed to maintaining and expanding American leadership in QIS to enable future long-term benefits from, and protection of, the science and technology created through this research.”

NSTC said the government’s “key next step” will be for Federal agencies to develop plans to address a range of approaches and policy opportunities that can then be integrated into an “overall strategic plan.”

The document’s list of “key policy opportunities” includes: boosting Federally-funded “core research programs” including using small grants to “centers and consortia where appropriate” to support long-term QIS research; fostering dialogue among quantum-focused researchers across various disciplines; and encouraging academia to establish quantum science and engineering as its own discipline with needs for new faculty and programs “at all levels.”

It also envisions the establishment of a “U.S. Quantum Consortium” with participants from industry, government, and academia to “forecast and establish consensus on needs and roadblocks, coordinate efforts in pre-competitive research, address intellectual property concerns, and streamline technology-transfer mechanisms,” and increasing investments in “joint quantum technology research centers” by partnerships between industry, government, and academia to accelerate “pre-competitive” QIS research and development.

Also among key policy opportunities is maintaining “awareness of how the quantum revolution may effect agency mission spaces and how agencies can nurture the adoption of quantum technologies within the Federal Government by cultivating potential end-user application spaces.”

They also include identifying “critically needed infrastructure” for QIS research and development, leveraging existing infrastructure that can be repurposed to rapidly advance quantum technology development, and establishment of end-user testbed facilities, “thereby allowing Federal agencies and stakeholders to explore applications relevant to their respective missions.”

Federal agencies with a seat on the NSTC’s Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science are being asked to develop written plans by the first quarter of 2019 to address the policy goals laid out in the strategy document.

Those agencies include the Department of Energy, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation, National Security Agency, Office of Management and Budget, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Department of Homeland Security, State Department, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health, Agriculture Department, and Defense Department.

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