Recent Advancements in Quantum Computing

Published: September 22, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisBig DataDOEInformation Technology

The formation of National Quantum Information Science Centers and the blueprint for a nationwide quantum internet are just some recent advancements taking place in the federal government’s pursuit of quantum information science.

Key Takeaways:

  • In 2018 and 2019, the federal government took significant steps in policy, legislation and investment to accelerate quantum computing R&D and the manufacture of workable systems.
  • The federal government is continuing its advancements in quantum R&D, with the establishment of five Quantum Information Science Centers at Energy laboratories and focus areas in quantum networking, sensing, computing and materials manufacturing.
  • Energy released a blueprint for the first nationwide quantum internet, including the opportunities and challenges faced by such a feat.
  • Agency budgets and investments continue to grow year over year in the federal space, expanding the scope of research in QIS to develop and test new solutions in the emerging technology.
  • Despite the promises of quantum computing in the federal space, the GAO outlines several challenges in reaching quantum’s full potential including institutional boundaries, developing new capabilities and technologies, determining limits, application and algorithm development and transitioning cybersecurity.

In the past three years, the U.S. has taken several actions to help evolve a technology posed to transform data computation. Quantum technologies, which processes information at the scale of small particles called qubits, differs from today’s computing classification of “0 and 1” and can exist at any range, expanding the capability to handle exponentially larger data sets. 

Though maturation of quantum technologies is still several years away, the benefits of quantum promises to give the U.S. a global competitive edge in various critical applications. For example, quantum will enable secure communications, including digital signatures and sharing of classified information, through its precision to target malicious cyber activity with quantum sensors, and inaccessibility to outside computers in a quantum internet setting.

The recent evolution of quantum computing in the federal space occurred with the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which called for DOD to establish a Quantum Information Science (QIS) and technology R&D program. Thereafter, the National Quantum Initiative Act passed in December 2018 to establish a 10-year plan to accelerate the development of QIS with over $1B in quantum research funding. In 2019, the White House established a National Quantum Coordination Office to coordinate cross-agency effort in quantum, and the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee launched to gather input from industry, academia and leaders in federal R&D investment in quantum computing.

This year, many of the policy and investment steps taken in 2018 and 2019 are coming to fruition, with advancements and investments to excel in the quantum frontier.   

Energy’s National QIS Centers

While DOE announced back in May 2019 its intent to establish National QIS Centers at the agency to oversee and prioritize DOE programs in quantum research, the agency formerly established five new centers at its national labs this past summer. The five centers are located across the separate laboratories with purposes ranging from creating quantum standards and building a quantum-smart workforce, to implementing solutions to key roadblocks in quantum technologies such as controllability. To fund the centers, DOE awarded $625M to the host laboratories over the next five years, in addition to over $340M in contributions from the private sector and academia.

Quantum Internet

Keeping busy with the development of quantum computing, the Department of Energy published a blueprint to provide the roadmap in building the first nationwide quantum internet. The plans defines milestones leading to three-node, 80-mile testbed from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, IL, to the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, IL.

Despite the ultimate security the quantum internet will provide, researchers will need to overcome several challenges in quantum communications. Among them, signal decays, new quantum versions of the network stack, integrating multiple quantum network devices, and adapting communication hardware for quantum particles to travel long distances.

Recent and Planned Investments

In addition to this headway in quantum R&D established by the five National QIS Centers and the blueprint for the first nationwide quantum internet, the federal government outlines several upcoming investments in quantum computing for FY 2021.

Within the FY 2021 budget, QIS R&D funding increases over 50% with plans to double investments in FY 2022:  

  • DOE Office of Science - $237M requested for quantum information science
  • NSF - $210M for QIS research, doubling the FY 2020 budget for QIS
  • NIST - $40.3M for a portfolio of foundational quantum research influencing quantum computing, communications and cryptography
  • DOD and Intelligence Community – requests funding for QIS science and technology, new applications and industrial engagement
  • NASA – requests initial funding to explore the potential for a space-based quantum entanglement experiment

Within NITRD’s supplement to the FY 2021 budget, the research group emphasizes continued research to advance QIS in a variety of research areas. These areas include developing measurement science for computing and communication devices based on quantum, rapid prototyping of quantum devices and materials, and research and develop metrics for evaluating quantum device performance.

Challenges of Quantum in the Federal Space

The GAO has also chimed in on the opportunities and challenges facing the future of quantum technologies. The watchdog agency’s assessment identifies five main barriers in information security found with quantum technologies:

  • Institutional Boundaries: development of quantum technologies will depend on the cross collaboration of institutions and skill sets
  • Technology Development: quantum technologies will depend on associated new technologies, such as refrigeration technologies to maintain temperatures for qubits to compute. Moreover, limited infrastructure is currently unavailable to test and evaluate such advanced technologies
  • Determining Limits: new materials must be developed to increase the precision measurement of quantum sensors
  • Application and Algorithm Development: while quantum technologies will speed up applications such as machine learning and chemistry modeling, quantum computers will not speed up the solving of some complex problems with large amounts of data
  • Transitioning Cybersecurity: quantum computers may potentially break standard encryption technologies, presenting major information security risks to existing systems