Today is World Quantum Day. It’s the brainchild of a network of quantum scientists from more than 65 countries, including the U.S., aiming to promote and raise awareness about quantum technology—not just quantum computing but the whole range of applications and uses from sensing to communications, and hack proof quantum-based cybersecurity, that will shape the future of the 21st century.
The first WQD a year ago passed almost unnoticed. This year there’s been a notable surge in interest, reflecting a sea change in the public perception of quantum as well as among governments, that we all have a stake in where this transformational technology is going—and in who leads us there.
This has been fascinating sea change to watch. It was a little more than four years ago that I launched the Quantum Alliance Initiative at Hudson Institute, to do something similar to World Quantum Day: namely, to create an international network of quantum scientists and labs and companies who would raise awareness of the endless potential of quantum technology, i.e. how using the physics of entanglement (i.e when two or more quantum particles become linked they stay linked no matter how great the distance) and superposition (i.e. that these particles can be two different states simultaneously) will transform not just computers but how we live—even our concepts of national security and personal freedom.
It’s been an eventful journey. The very first international conference I organized in Washington DC in 2017 took place during Cyber Week, where we had to explain even to leading cyber experts just what a quantum computer was (using entangled qubits to process information instead of digital bits) and why quantum computers represented a revolution, i.e. a quantum computer with just 300 entangled qubits can do more calculations simultaneously than there are atoms in the universe.
After that conference things began to gather momentum. QAI was able to help the Quantum Industry Coalition led by Paul Stimers, to shape the language of the National Quantum Initiative signed by President Trump. We were cheerleaders for the formation of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium under the able stewardship of D. Joe Broz (now at IBM) and Celia Merzbacher (I remember having lunch with Joe shortly after his appointment when he told me QED-C’s goal was to reduce the average time for creating a quantum lab from 3-5 years to one).
Then the Department of Energy launched its five National QIS Research Centers operating out of its national labs—seedbeds for increasing research on quantum information science for both the private and public sectors.
QAI also got into the technical side of the equation. In 2018-9 we created an international consortium of companies and labs from nine countries, led by QAI members IDQuantique in Switzerland and South Korea’s SK Telecom, to create the first-ever global standards for two crucial components of quantum communications, quantum key distribution (QKD) and quantum random number generators (QRNG) for approval by the International Telecommunications Union—truly a landmark event not only for QAI but for quantum science.
Another personal landmark that year was being asked to address the Korean National Assembly on their National Quantum Day in 2019, when SK Telecom chairman Park Jung-Ho and I agreed the U.S. and South Korea have a vital stake in jointly promoting quantum information science.
Since then, the number of countries who have jumped into the quantum technology field has been astounding. As of April 2021 more than fifteen countries have national quantum initiatives underway. At QAI we’ve been fortunate to have been working with Japanese quantum scientists and companies since our founding in 2018. After a slow start Israel is emerging as a major player with quantum software companies like Classiq: India is moving up as well. Our first Indian QAI member, QNu labs, joined in 2020.
What was a technology run as a series of lab experiments back in 2017, is now realizing its commercial potential. The U.S. quantum computing market is slated to reach $1.7 billion by 2026, from $427 million last year. The global quantum cryptography, i.e. QKD and QRNG and entanglement-based cryptography, market alone is expected to grow by $243.23 million, especially in Europe—a trend I predicted in a column here last year. Companies like IDQ, Australia’s QLabs, and American-based Quantum Exchange have proved that these tools work, while another American company, Qubitekk, is showing how communication based on photonic qubits can protect industrial systems like the energy grid.
Looking back as well as forward, here’s what we’ve learned about quantum technology since QAI’s founding:
• People keep using the future tense when they talk about the great benefits that quantum computers will bring, from creating new miracle drugs to exploring the deepest secrets of the universe. In fact, quantum computers are changing the world right now. The advent of hybrid systems that integrate quantum technology with digital counterparts, as demonstrated by companies like D-Wave Systems and a relative newcomer, Entanglement, Inc., are already making the promise of quantum computing a reality. The same is true with quantum security, where integrating quantum-proof solutions into existing cyber security architecture is emerging as a way to speed the transition to being protected against Q Day, i.e. when a large-scale quantum computer can decrypt existing public encryption systems.
• It’s not just the big tech players Google and Microsoft and IBM who will dominate the future quantum landscape. We’ve shown that there are many paths to quantum computing led by innovative companies like Rigetti Computing; while ion-trap quantum computer pioneer IonQ (its co-founder Dr. Chris Monroe is on our Advisory Board) and now Honeywell, are pointing to a quantum future that avoids the “noise” or errors of the superconducting quantum systems of the big companies.
As for their commercial potential, I’ve had the personal satisfaction of watching my former research assistant and QAI co-founder join one of the rising stars in the quantum computing firmament, Rigetti Computing, and help to bring the company public on NASDAQ—the second quantum company to go public after QAI alumnus IonQ.
• The quantum threat to public encryption systems is serious, but the tools to prevent it already exist. Our QAI series of studies of the economic impact of future quantum computer attacks are underlining how catastrophic such an attack would be. I met an early QAI member, Canada’s ISARA, for the first time in 2017 as they were trying to raise awareness among banks and financial institutions of the imperative need to adopt quantum-resistant algorithms. Security officers were telling them they would be retiring long before any quantum threat exists, and therefore they were not worried.
That complacency has faded. The National Security Memorandum issued in January which we discussed in an earlier column, proves that the White House at least realizes the threat is real. Whether the threat is ten years away or fifteen, private companies are realizing they can’t afford to delay getting their systems ready, and that they can turn right now to private companies like ISARA, QuSecure, Quantum eMotion, and others, for the quantum-resistant protections they will need.
• Finally, there is much more that our government can do to secure our quantum future. A recent McKinsey report shows that while China is currently investing $15 billion in quantum computing, and Europe over $7 billion, the US is only committing around $2 billion—less than one seventh of what our most dangerous antagonist is spending. Congress has a hugely important role to play in both promoting quantum information science, but also quantum security, with legislation but also funding.
Still, looking back it’s been an amazing journey, from that first quantum conference in 2017 to World Quantum Day. For myself, it’s meant building friendships and learning from the smartest and most motivated people I know. As an historian and policy analyst, it’s been illuminating, not just having a front-row seat but helping to shape the future of a technology that will change everything.
Read in Forbes