Connecting state and local government leaders
States looking to nurture the technology should work with academia, startups and industry to build quantum research clusters and a trained workforce, a recent report said.
State and local leaders can encourage the development of quantum technology by fostering “ecosystems” that bring together academic researchers, businesses, entrepreneurs and the public sector, according to a report released last week.
By supporting multisector clusters to work on quantum, the report from Deloitte said, governments can channel more skilled workers into the local labor force while pushing further research into the technology’s best uses. Locating these groups in the same area can foster greater collaboration, the report said, and the increased coordination gives partners the flexibility to respond to new developments in quantum technology.
Quantum ecosystems are springing up around the country. University of Maryland President Darryll Pines said at the Quantum World Congress last year that he believed the campus and the Mid-Atlantic region is “already the capital of quantum,” having invested $1 billion in research, labs, technology and startups.
Already, there are examples of localities using quantum technology, including at the Port of Los Angeles, which deploys the technology to optimize the scheduling and handling of cargo containers for trucking companies and their customers.
Scott Buchholz, chief technology officer for Deloitte’s Government and Public Service practice, said states can use “economic levers to move things in certain directions,” including by guiding investment in the necessary infrastructure, research and business.
“They don't have to be huge investments,” he said, “because what you're essentially trying to do is encourage the startups.”
The report said governments can also help by investing in “intellectual infrastructure,” meaning encouraging educational institutions at all levels to create the courses, educational content and upskilling programs that can supply local workers to fill the new high-skilled jobs to be created by quantum technologies.
While some may have the impression that quantum computers are “like all the computers we have today, only more so,” Buchholz said that is incorrect. Quantum computers are “fundamentally different” because they are more reliant on physics to solve problems, rather than the math used in traditional computers.
“My best analogy for that is if you blow a soap bubble in the real world, the soap bubble actually becomes a sphere almost instantaneously,” he said. “That's because of physics. If you have to do the math to calculate what the shape of the soap bubble is going to be, it actually turns out to be this really complex set of calculations … that can take months or years on supercomputers.”
Given that, governments will need people skilled in a variety of areas, not just the sciences but also in maintenance, chip fabrication and problem solving in ways that leverage quantum theories. “It's a different type of thinking,” Buchholz said. It's a different approach in some ways.”
The federal government is also paying close attention to the development of quantum technology. The National Cybersecurity Strategy released by the Biden administration this week said the “revolutionary changes in our technology landscape” brought by quantum computing and other emerging technologies means the need to increase research investment has become “more urgent.”
The strategy called for making preparations for “our post-quantum future” where current encryption schemes will likely be cracked by quantum machines.
To respond to the cybersecurity threats posed by quantum computing while promoting national leadership on the technology, the strategy said the federal government “will prioritize the transition of vulnerable public networks” to quantum-resistant cryptography and develop ways to mitigate vulnerabilities “in the face of unknown future risks.”
The strategy also implored the private sector to “follow the government’s model in preparing its own networks and systems for our post-quantum future.” It urged leaders to “prioritize and accelerate investments in widespread replacement of hardware, software, and services that can be easily compromised by quantum computers so that information is protected against future attacks.”
For those in the quantum industry, it means there is a lot to do, according to Kaniah Konkoly-Thege, chief legal officer, senior vice president of government relations and chief compliance officer at software company Quantinuum.
Organizations should “harden their cybersecurity posture” against threats present and future, he said in an email. They should inventory systems that might be vulnerable to quantum attacks, explore the benefits and risks of quantum to their business and continue to review government guidelines.
The federal focus on quantum technology “creates urgency” for contractors and other vendors to be compliant for the future, Konkoly-Thege said.
Buchholz added that while there are various uses for quantum technology at different stages of maturity, it is encouraging to see a “growing awareness that this is something to pay attention to.”