The U.S. government is making major investments in quantum technology with the Biden administration supporting legislation that would spend over $100 billion to advance emerging technologies, including quantum computing.
Quantum development and commercialization is already underway, and increasing investments and intensive collaboration among government, private enterprise and academic institutions are already showing significant results. Government and industry recognize that quantum computing is no longer a theoretical, lab-based technology, but one which provides useful business value.
Quantum computers solve problems differently than classical computers. They leverage the properties of quantum states such as superposition (the placement of one thing above or on top of another), entanglement (when two particles remain connected even when separated), and interference (a non-coherent phase difference) to simulate real-world scenarios. They also perform computations with greater data capacity, increased accuracy of results, and the promise of faster processing speeds.
Where classical computing provides only one “best” answer, quantum computers yield multiple diverse results. For governments, this means the ability to tackle their most complex problems by defining the impact among different scenarios and choosing the solution best optimized for each situation. Being able to solve complex problems with better results in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the resources provides immense opportunities.
However, quantum computing will not eliminate the need for classical computing. In fact, the hybrid model of solving problems with both quantum and classical approaches will yield better answers in certain use cases than either one computing technology could do on its own.
Quantum computing is a completely different paradigm for both hardware and software. Developing quantum programs using current Software Development Kits (SDKs) requires significant quantum expertise and lengthy timeframes to create the program, algorithms, and low-level coding necessary to have the software work with a single hardware platform.
To overcome workforce limitations and democratize access to these powerful systems, software companies are now developing ready-to-run quantum software that subject matter experts with no quantum experience can use right now.
Cybersecurity: The quantum space race
The U.S. and other governments currently rely on mathematically-based two-key asymmetric encryption techniques. These codes are almost impossible to break with classical computers, but quantum computers will be able to break them quickly and easily. This puts the nation’s most critical secrets and all digital infrastructures at risk. The only way to get ahead of the problem is by leveraging the same powerful quantum technology to develop new cybersecurity solutions.
Quantum computing is ideally suited for government-related complex optimization problems. These include creating optimized routes and schedules for snowplows, garbage pickup, emergency response, and public transportation.
Quantum computing can also enable major operations, such as helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency to efficiently allocate emergency resources to affected communities in the wake of a natural disaster or even predict with greater certainty where a disaster will occur to prevent its effects versus reactively responding to them.
The U.S. cannot afford to fall behind its partners and adversaries in the exploration of new technologies that have widespread implications for government operations. But technology development alone will not be sufficient to take advantage of new capabilities nor overcome its threat. The nation must ensure that it develops a workforce capable of meeting these new challenges. Additionally, these new technologies must be adopted and integrated into government operations much more quickly. The commercial sector isn’t waiting for quantum computing to reach advantage, but the government still treats it as more of a curious research endeavor than a technology that should begin shifting to implementation.
Artificial intelligence has been around for decades, but only saw government implementation within the past 10 years due to the explosion of data and advanced computing capabilities. Recent government investment in quantum technologies is a great start, but we need to encourage the executive agencies to start on their path to quantum today.