Why are Washington lawmakers suddenly so interested in quantum tech?

By Paul Lucier, VP of Sales and Business Development, ISARA Corporation 

Published on June 28th, 2018

Blockchain. Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. These have all become buzzwords in Washington as lawmakers hear about how these promising technologies are expected to benefit the American public and private sectors alike. The United States’ Congress has sought to understand how these emerging technologies will ensure that the U.S leads the way in industry advancements and breakthroughs. There’s now a new buzzword on Capitol Hill: Quantum. The quantum computing industry, led by major players such as Google, Microsoft, Intel, and IBM, continues to announce significant breakthroughs. Fortunately, politicians in Washington are taking notice.

Why are politicians taking notice now?

The heat is on for the United States to take action as more and more stories come out detailing the progress being made by nations states like Russia and China. It has been reported that China has invested over 30 times more than America in quantum technology. Winning the quantum race is seen as a matter of critical importance for the United States. Future innovation and national security are at stake.

Government Action

Congress has recently responded to this challenge. The following quantum-related bills and amendments are all indications that decision-makers in Washington recognize that the time to act is now:

  • The Quantum Computing Research Act, introduced on June 7th by Senator Kamala D. Harris seeks to support the development of quantum information science (QIS).
  • The National Quantum Initiative Act of 2018 was put forward by Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. This Act has been introduced with the goal of accelerating quantum research and to ensure the economic and national security of the United States.
  • Amendment #381 to the National Defense Authorization Act, introduced by Representative Jackson Lee (which has been approved) highlights the same urgency regarding security threats that large-scale quantum-computing may bring.

The Dark Side of Quantum: A National Security Threat

Many people are unaware of technological advancements in quantum-computing, the many positive disruptions that it will bring, and the threat that it poses to today’s classical encryption. This threat will be a serious national security issue. Current forms of encryption, such as RSA and ECC, are essentially impenetrable by a classical computer because of the difficulty of the math problems that make them secure. Large-scale quantum computers will be able to break this form of encryption, known as public-key cryptography. This exposure will leave massive amounts of sensitive data insecure and vulnerable to attack. It provides adversarial nation-state actors with the tools to effectively impersonate anyone.

Mitigating the Threat

Given what’s at stake, it is essential for governments to have a detailed strategic plan in place to prepare and protect cyberspace against the quantum threat. This will involve a ’quantum-safe’ migration of public key infrastructure, which is a lengthy and complex process. At ISARA, as the leader in quantum-safe cryptography, we are thrilled to see the United States creating a national quantum strategy. On behalf of ISARA, Scott Totzke, CEO & Co-founder, has offered our full support of the US National Quantum Initiative Act - you can read his letter of support here.

Opportunity for Collaboration

The emergence of quantum-computing technology provides a unique opportunity for governments and industry leaders to collaborate on many important issues. The United States and its allies, such as Canada, have a special role to play in winning the race to quantum dominance. Great accomplishments have always required multiple actors to work together towards a common goal; the International Space Station (ISS), for instance, would not have been possible without the expertise, resource and funding from a diverse group of nation-states working with academia and industry partners. This level of cooperation gives us the best possible chance to win the quantum race and ensure the continuation of strengthened security. To date, there are groups championing a collaborative approach such as the Hudson Institute's Quantum Alliance Initiative.

By tapping into knowledge found globally and identifying key partnership opportunities, the door will be opened to create new and improved security systems, allowing those who are leveraging quantum technology to fully benefit without compromising security. Moving forward collaboratively with quantum technology and quantum-safe security will ultimately be in the best interest of all parties involved. The proposed Bills in U.S. Congress are a good start – there is still, however, much work to be done in order to secure our place as quantum leaders.