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Greater government support for quantum computing research will help ensure the U.S. does not fall behind in the revolutionary technology.
Although practical quantum computing is years away, experts say the U.S. risks both digital and national security without greater government support and a coordinated research strategy.
"Global computing leadership is essentially up for grabs again," said Stephen Ezell, vice president of global innovation policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. "It's going to be the societies that marshal the optimal set of resources in terms of funding, talent, university research and commercialization that lead this transition," he said at a Sept. 12 event hosted by the Hudson Institute.
Quantum computing stores data at the atomic level in quantum bits, or qubits, giving it the potential to be millions of times faster than traditional computers. Such extreme processing power could make current cryptography obsolete -- a prospect that has sparked national security concerns.
University of Maryland physics professor Christopher Monroe touted the capabilities of quantum computing — hacking, breaking codes at lightning fast speeds and storing immense amounts of data — but stressed that "this problem is really far away."
As far as government's role in moving forward, Ezell lamented that "to date, [the U.S. has] not had any kind of national coordinated strategy" that other countries, such as China, do have.
Since 2014, China has surged past the United States in the number of patents related to quantum applications, Ezell noted.
While Monroe said he believes the threat of Chinese dominance is "overstated," he cautioned that assessment doesn't mean the U.S. can afford to neglect significant investment in quantum research and technologies.
"It's advanced far enough that we can identify a few fields that really need to develop a workforce," he said. "If nobody's going to pay for it, it's just not going to happen."
Congress is beginning to take an interest in the new technology. The House passed the National Quantum Initiative Act on Sept. 13 to begin to address a national strategy toward quantum.
The bill, sponsored by House Science Committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), directs the White House to implement a 10-year plan to accelerate quantum computing development. The measure would tap the expertise at the Department of Energy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation in a $1.2 billion effort to jumpstart quantum research.
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