Quantum computing next (very) cold war? US House reps want to blow billions to outrun China

House reps hope to jumpstart qubit race with R&D

The US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is concerned the United States could fall behind Russia and China if something isn't done to accelerate development of quantum computing systems.

As such the leaders of the panel – chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and ranking member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) – have introduced a law bill to spend its way out of the problem.

Various technologists believe quantum computing has the potential to accelerate a variety of complex workloads – ranging from the simulation of chemicals to advanced networking, route optimization, and advanced logistics. Some fear the technology could eventually render modern encryption useless – though the jury is still out on that one. And other folk just think it'll never live up to the hype.

"Quantum technologies are actively changing our landscape, and we must ensure we are at the forefront, breaking down quantum barriers while leading with our democratic values," committee chairman Lucas declared in a statement warning of Chinese and Russian developments in this arena.

As we've previously reported, Russian and Chinese researchers are actively developing quantum computing test beds for research and development. Earlier this year, a Chinese group claimed to have brought a 176 qubit quantum computer online. The Russians' latest system is a fair bit smaller – at 16 qubits – though scientists claim to have used the system to model simple molecules.

According to lawmakers, while the US has maintained its lead in the theoretical physics underpinning quantum systems, rivals like China have managed to take the lead in quantum communications and are closing the gap in other areas. The committee contends that unless steps are taken to fuel US development of quantum systems, the Land of the FreeTM could fall behind.

The proposed House bill – HR6213 [PDF] – reauthorizes the Quantum Initiative Act signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018.

It calls for the US government to take a number of specific steps to accelerate US development in quantum systems. Some are rather straightforward – like working with allies to develop more advanced quantum systems, establishing a pipeline of skilled workers, roping NASA into quantum research efforts, and promoting commercialization of these technologies.

Other initiatives would see the creation of research and development centers under the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the creation of new quantum testbeds, and supply chains under agencies like the Department of Energy (DoE). The latter makes sense as quantum computers are increasingly being paired with conventional supercomputers – of which the DoE operates some of the most powerful in the world.

To promote these initiatives, lawmakers are calling for some serious funding. Adding up the allowances for each of the initiatives [PDF], the bill calls for more than $3 billion between 2024 and 2028. A sizable chunk of that cash would be pulled from the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act signed into law last year.

However, there's no guarantee that the bill will be passed by Congress in its current form.

To be clear, it's not like the US has been standing still on quantum development. Last month the Biden administration unveiled 31 regional tech hubs across the US to advance a variety of technologies and supply chains – including quantum computing.

Back in February, Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) announced the Underexplored Systems for Utility-Scale Quantum Computing (US2QC) program. The initiative, launched in collaboration with Microsoft, Atom, and PsiQuantum, wants to further the development of utility-scale quantum system designs.

Meanwhile, in the private sector we've seen a flurry of interest around quantum computing over the past few months. In May, IBM announced its plans to spend $100 million to build a 100,000 qubit "quantum-centric supercomputer" within a decade.

Last month Atom Computing touted the creation of a 1,180 qubit system. That may sound small compared to Big Blue's ambitions, but – as Gartner analyst Matthew Brisse recently told The Register – not all qubits are created equal. Factors like decoherence and the quality of the qubits themselves are often more significant in determining the power of a quantum system. ®

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