Much of the attention surrounding the recently passed CHIPS and Science Act focused on investments in the semiconductor industry, and rightly so — the bill made a historic down payment on chip manufacturing and innovation that will help strengthen supply chains and national security and restore American competitiveness and economic leadership for the future.
But the CHIPS and Science Act also authorized substantial investments to accelerate other emerging technologies, like quantum computing, which can help solve some of the world’s most complex problems faster and more efficiently than standard computers and is critical to our national security.
As we approach the fourth anniversary of the National Quantum Initiative (NQI), we are witnessing how government-funded programs can significantly accelerate prospects for quantum technology — an “industry of the future.” But there’s more work to be done — we must continue building on the progress we’ve made through NQI, capitalize on the bold, new investments in the CHIPS and Science Act and significantly expand the support and development of quantum technologies.
Passed in 2018 with strong support from both parties, the NQI authorized several major increases in support and goals, including an additional $1.25 billion of federal support for quantum efforts into the Department of Energy (DOE), National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
At DOE, it authorized several new national quantum research centers, critically, with joint participation from private quantum companies. For NSF, it authorized several new university research and teaching programs on quantum technologies. NIST was able to build a broad industry consortium, the Quantum Economic Development Consortium or QED-C, to help drive new commercial prospects for quantum technologies. The NQI also aimed to trigger others in America to invest in quantum technologies, including universities and the private sector. Finally, it set up federal coordination of efforts through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
During the past few years, all three agencies received full appropriations and have executed them as directed. At DOE, over 70 parties are now part of the five national quantum research centers, including labs, universities and many private companies such as IBM (where one of us works as a senior vice president and director of research) Applied Materials and Goldman Sachs. The effort also triggered substantial additional industry and academic investment beyond the federal NQI funding. As a result, industry, national labs and others have achieved significant technological accomplishments, and many universities expanded degree programs for quantum technologies.
Everyone involved with drafting, passing, appropriating and implementing the NQI should feel proud about what it has accomplished.
In the last three months, new federal quantum efforts moved forward. In May, a consortium of federal agencies announced a plan to construct the world’s first metro-area quantum network in Washington, D.C., connecting agency locations including the Naval Research Lab, NIST, NASA and the National Security Agency (NSA) In the future, additional areas of the country could be added to build regional quantum networks, which ultimately could be interconnected.
But we can’t stop there. The recently passed CHIPS and Science Act authorizes new efforts to advance quantum technologies and presents a new opportunity to double down on our advancements.
For DOE, it creates two new efforts: the QUEST program will have DOE procure quantum computing capacity over the cloud for the use of science researchers. This $166 million purchase over five years, amounting to $33.2 million a year, is a good foundation to provide quantum computing capacity to researchers and help nurture the user community for quantum computing applications. The second DOE effort authorizes $500 million over five years to build large-scale quantum network infrastructure around the country. The CHIPS and Science Act also increases support for quantum technologies at NSF. The largest increase will likely come from the new technology and innovation directorate at NSF, where quantum computing is one of the industries of the future that the additional NSF funding would support.
To capitalize on this progress and our renewed economic focus on innovation, Congress must fully appropriate first-year funds in the fiscal year 2023. But to accelerate the development of quantum computing and its uses — including in quantum networking — more is needed.
The time has come to design and build a new type of supercomputer for our nation — quantum-centric supercomputers. These new national assets would tightly integrate classical computing, including traditional high-performance computers and specialized AI chips, with quantum processors in a new type of architecture.
Quantum-centric supercomputers hold the potential to scale and speed up workflows by combining quantum and classical algorithms using parallelization of computations. These are workflows with profound implications for science, business and national security missions. The DOE has a rich history of making this level of investment for the high-performance computing centers of the nation. It is time to evolve that level of initiative to quantum-centric supercomputing centers across the U.S. missions.
Computing and communications networks mutually reinforce each other. This will also be true in the quantum era. The future quantum networks will be built from clusters of quantum processors — and quantum supercomputers and datacenters — at its nodes, with short-range intranet links connecting the processors in a node, and long-range quantum communication links connecting the nodes akin to a quantum internet.
The NQI and investments under the CHIPS and Science Act and the QUEST program give us an important jump start. Growing the quantum industry to full capacity requires continuing to increase the level of focused investment in high-impact initiatives with ambitious national goals as outlined above.
American leadership places us at the forefront of quantum technologies. But that leadership is fragile. New efforts to build quantum supercomputers and a quantum internet will accelerate that leadership and pay dividends for decades to come. We must keep our foot on the gas and continue to make the necessary investments for a vibrant quantum future for all.
Dario Gil, Ph.D., is senior vice president and director of research at IBM, and is a member of the National Science Board. The Honorable Paul Dabbar is a former undersecretary for Science at the U.S. Department of Energy, a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Columbia University, and CEO of Bohr Quantum Technology.