Why the US Needs to Win the Quantum Computing Race
Google recently announced that they have achieved what they call “Quantum Supremacy”. To many people who are not particularly knowledgeable on matters related to technology, the question immediately became, “what is quantum computing?” Another even more crucial related question that needs to be asked is, “why is it important for a country to be at the forefront of the development of quantum computing?”
Not many people know what quantum computers are, let alone how they work. Traditional computers hold and process information by using binary bits. These binary bits are represented as 1s or 0s. On the other hand, quantum computing uses concepts from quantum physics to create a memory unit known as a quantum bit or qubit for short.
Quantum computing has the potential to completely redefine every industry and our society. The government should take interest in this, as it could be a great advantage if developed, or conversely, a national security issue if neglected.
Unlike the binary bits which can only be a 1 or a 0 at any given time, qubits can be a 1 and 0 at the same time due to a quantum mechanism known as superposition. These qubits are able to hold a lot more information than traditional binary systems. Sounds confusing? Of course it does, we are talking quantum physics after all! The key takeaway here is that these qubits grant quantum computers more processing power than every supercomputer in the world combined.
While powerful, quantum computing is most effective when dealing with specific types of problems. These usually involve problems that require complex calculations and large amounts of data. It won’t serve to revolutionize the way you watch YouTube videos or browse through your Instagram feed, but it can open the door to solving complex problems previously thought impossible. This would advance scientific research and technological development at a level never seen before.
While this new form of computing can benefit society as a whole, just like with every technology, it could also be used to wreak havoc. A particular discipline that can be easily disrupted by quantum computation is Information Security. Quantum computing could render traditional cybersecurity practices useless thanks to its processing and encryption capabilities.
As most modern countries’ infrastructure is becoming more connected to the Internet, the potential for damage done by a cyberattack becomes increasingly devastating. Because of this, wars are increasingly being fought in cyberspace. There hasn’t been a time where cybersecurity has been so important to national security. Cyberattacks are one of the ways quantum computing could be weaponized to a deadly degree.
A major aspect of information security involves cryptography and encryption. This allows for secure communication and data exchange across different nodes in a network. Without the appropriate decryption key, it would take the world’s strongest supercomputer years to crack the encryption. In contrast, a quantum computer would be able to easily crack through traditional encryption.
Quantum computers can be used to create a new breed of malware with greater capabilities than any computer virus in history. This could help bad actors breach systems easier via brute force attacks. Quantum encrypting could be used to create ransomware with stronger encryption.
This is of particular concern to banks and other entities that house financial information. One institution, JP Morgan, has been working with IBM since 2017 to explore quantum computing’s potential in risk analysis and trading strategies. This is notable in light of the threat posed by infections including the infamous Dridex Banking Trojan.
This is why it’s so important to develop our quantum systems sooner than later. The same technology can also be used to create countermeasures to the scenarios previously described and make everything from our critical infrastructure to our computerized military systems safer.
The US is considered a leader in quantum computing, with many advancements in the field being made by American companies. Google even claims that they have achieved quantum supremacy by developing a quantum computer that could solve a problem that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years in 200 seconds.
This information hasn’t been lost on the current administration, which is fully aware of the potential of quantum computing. To keep the US at the top, President Trump signed a bill that would grant $1.2 billion to the National Quantum Initiative Act which provides funding to quantum computing research and development. He also signed an executive order to establish the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee to advise the government in quantum initiatives.
Another country to watch in the quantum computing space is China. China seems intent on not falling behind in the race to quantum supremacy. They too have been promoting programs to help with the development of quantum computing, including the building of a $10 billion National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences in the Hefei, Anhui province. This laboratory is set to open in 2020.
The future seems to be now in regard to quantum computing. It is sure to set forth an exciting path forward to technological advances that previously could only be dreamed of.