By Rep. Lamar Smith and Sen. John Thune
For the last several decades, America's lead in cutting-edge technology has helped propel our economy and national security. America is now in a race with China and Europe to develop the next technological breakthroughs based on the power of quantum science. It's a race we must win.
We have introduced the National Quantum Initiative Act of 2018 to help align and accelerate public and private research and development of quantum science. Like earlier national endeavors involving space and nuclear energy, the race to quantum computing has immense economic and national security implications for the U.S.
The tiny, tiny universe of quantum physics — atoms, protons, electrons, photons — looms very, very large in our future.
Quantum science explores and exploits subtle aspects of quantum physics, such as the idea that subatomic particles can exist in many possible states at the same time, known as "quantum superposition." This will lead to valuable, real-world applications.
For example, conventional computing uses a series of tiny, electronic on-off switches within a processing chip. Technological advances have made possible supercomputers that can perform a series of on-off operations at astonishing speeds. But classical computing technology is nearing its limits.
Quantum computing, however, is different. Rather than a series of ultra-high speed on-off switches, quantum computers rely on "qbits." These are subatomic particles that are both on and off at the same time.
This property and other quantum phenomena will enable quantum computers to perform complex calculations at speeds that are potentially millions of times faster than today's most advanced supercomputers.
Fully functioning quantum computers may be 10 years or more away. But the new industries and new jobs this technology will create are just over the horizon. Quantum computing promises drastic improvements in the security of data and electronic communications, precise long-range weather forecasts, and the development of new medicines and materials.
Applications of this technology will have a profound impact on communication security, navigation, imaging, and many other technologies that are not otherwise possible with conventional hardware.
Despite these potential benefits, however, falling behind in the race for quantum technology would have sobering national security implications. The nation that harnesses quantum communications technology first may be able to decode — in a matter of seconds — every other nations' most sensitive encrypted national security information as well as proprietary technologies and even the personal information of individuals.
In testimony before Congress, expert witnesses have warned that as other nations around the world rapidly advance their own quantum programs, the U.S. faces a real threat of falling behind.
China and the European Union are investing billions of dollars in new research facilities and equipment for quantum efforts. China, in particular, has stated publicly its national goal of surpassing the U.S. during the next decade.
That is why our nation must devise a national quantum strategy and preserve America's lead in the race to this technology.
The National Quantum Initiative Act meets challenges by creating a 10-year program to advance quantum development and technology applications in the U.S. The bill is designed to put to use the expertise and resources of U.S. industry, academia and government to move quantum information science to the next level of research and development.
The legislation establishes a National Quantum Coordination Office and codifies an interagency Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to oversee interagency coordination, provide strategic planning support, serve as a central point of contact for research, and promote commercialization of federal research by the private sector.
The bill also supports basic research, education and standards development in multiple federal agencies. These activities will address fundamental research gaps, create a stronger workforce, and develop ways to give U.S. companies and workers an enduring competitive advantage.
This bill will ensure that ongoing federal, academic, and private sector research work together to win the scientific race of the 21st century.