ALGORITHMIC WARFARE INFOTECH
Spending on Quantum Tech on the Upswing
Investments in quantum technology — which use the manipulation of neutrons, photons, electrons and protons to perform tasks — are increasing worldwide and will reach $10 billion by 2024, according to an expert.
“The security implications of quantum technologies, as well as the expected advantage in computing and sensing have caught the interest of the world’s governments,” said Gabe Lenetsky, business development engineer at Keysight Technologies.
China has poured billions of dollars into its quantum programs, he said during a January webinar hosted by BrightTALK. Other countries accelerating their investments include Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, and several Asia-Pacific nations including Japan.
Just last year, India began a $1 billion investment into quantum technologies, he added.
Meanwhile, the United States previously lagged in spending until 2018 when Congress passed the National Quantum Initiative Act “to garner leadership in the areas of quantum technologies and computing,” Lenetsky said.
There are three main areas of quantum research including computing, sensing and communications, he noted.
Quantum computers — which utilize basic units known as qubits rather than 1s and 0s like traditional computers — will play an important role in data encryption including the optimization of computational algorithms for modeling systems, big data and artificial intelligence, he said.
Quantum sensors offer extreme sensitivity for applications of precision timing and navigation through methods like electromagnetic sensing, he said.
Quantum communications will enable secure data pipelines, he noted.
These technologies will have a big impact on the aerospace and defense sectors, Lenetsky predicted. For example, a sensing application called quantum illumination can play a large role in the development of new radar systems “to get to higher range and sensitivity of stealth objects,” he said.
Quantum technology could also enable a secure communication system known as “quantum key distribution,” or QKD.
“QKD is promising for satellite applications or satellite-to-ground communications,” he said. However, distance is the No. 1 challenge for space applications, he noted.
“The main reason is that the longer the distance, the more chance the qubits will be absorbed or scattered,” Lenetsky explained. “This has implications on whether the repeaters and nodes along the way are trusted or untrusted. As such, we typically see the need to have a repeater every 100 kilometers or so to maintain reasonable bit rates. This may be over optical fibers or over satellite mediums.”
Quantum key distribution could enable a quantum internet, Lenetsky noted. This would be a “virtually unhackable” system that would make it substantially harder for a person to eavesdrop on the transmission of encrypted data, he said.
The U.S. government is making investments in a quantum internet. Last year the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago announced they had completed successful tests on what they called a “quantum loop,” which could serve as a precursor for a future national quantum internet.
Quantum will also help drive the development of AI platforms, experts say.
In a draft final report, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence — which was tasked by Congress to research ways to advance the development of AI for national security and defense purposes — said quantum technology is poised to enable new growth in artificial intelligence.
“As semiconductor manufacturers reach the physical limits of microchip design, leadership in the next-generation computing hardware will be essential to leadership in AI,” said Commissioner Gilman Louie during a public meeting of the group in January. The government should “prioritize quantum computing use cases to create a market for such services and to incentivize the domestic fabrication of quantum computing components.”
While traditional computers will likely remain the most economical way of performing computational tasks, quantum computers “have the potential to outperform their classical counterparts on certain classes of problems related to machine learning and optimization, the simulation of physical systems, and the collection and transfer of sensitive information,” commissioners said in the draft report. A final report was slated to be released in March.
Quantum computers could more efficiently optimize military logistics operations or help discover new materials for weapon platforms, the study noted.
Commissioners recommended the government transition quantum computing basic research to national security applications as well as incentivize domestic quantum fabrication.
“The United States is a global leader in research of quantum computers, but it risks losing its edge in real-world applications,” the report said. “It must continue investing in development of national security use cases, recognizing that advances in quantum may drive future advances in AI.”
Additionally, commissioners recommended the government offer access to quantum computers through the National AI Research Resource.
“Publicly announcing specific government use cases of quantum computers will signal that a market exists for national security applications and encourage further investment by the private sector,” the group members said. “Incentivizing the domestic design and manufacturing of quantum computers via tax credits for relevant expenditures, loan guarantees and equity financing would help to avoid the situation in which the U.S. government currently finds itself regarding access to trusted and secure microelectronics.”
Microelectronics are a foundational element of key technologies such as AI, but the United States is reliant on foreign sources of production which leaves its supply chain vulnerable to disruption, the report noted.