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U.S. weighs National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act

Policymakers are considering the bipartisan National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act, which would continue quantum computing R&D as well as move toward commercialization.

While artificial intelligence and semiconductors capture global attention, some U.S. policymakers want to ensure Congress doesn't fail to invest and stay competitive in other emerging technologies, including quantum computing.

Quantum computing regularly lands on the U.S. critical and emerging technologies list, which pinpoints technologies that could affect U.S. national security. Quantum computing -- an area of computer science that uses quantum physics to solve problems too complex for traditional computers -- not only affects U.S. national security, but intersects with other prominent technologies and industries, including AI, healthcare and communications.

The U.S. first funded quantum computing research and development in 2018 through the $1.2 billion National Quantum Initiative Act. It's something policymakers now want to continue through the National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act. Reps. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced the legislation in November 2023, and it has yet to pass the House despite having bipartisan support.

Continuing to invest in quantum computing R&D means staying competitive with other countries making similar investments to not only stay ahead of the latest advancements, but protect national security, said Isabel Al-Dhahir, principal analyst at GlobalData.

"Quantum computing's geopolitical weight and the risk a powerful quantum computer poses to current cybersecurity measures mean that not only the U.S., but also China, the EU, the U.K., India, Canada, Japan and Australia are investing heavily in the technology and are focused on building strong internal quantum ecosystems in the name of national security," she said.

Federal funding essential for quantum computing R&D

Global competition in quantum computing will increase as the technology moves from theoretical to practical applications, Al-Dhahir said. Quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize areas such as drug development and cryptography.

Al-Dhahir said while China is investing $15 billion over the next five years in its quantum computing capabilities, the EU's Quantum Technologies Flagship program will provide $1.2 billion in funding over the next 10 years. To stay competitive, the U.S. needs to continue funding quantum computing R&D and studying practical applications for the technology.

"If reauthorization fails, it will damage the U.S.'s position in the global quantum race," she said.

Lofgren, who spoke during The Intersect: A Tech and Policy Summit earlier this month, said it's important to pass the National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act to "maintain our competitive edge." The legislation aims to move beyond scientific research and into practical applications of quantum computing, along with ensuring scientists have the necessary resources to accomplish those goals, she said.

I don't think you see any progress forward without the passage of that legislation.
Joseph KellerVisting fellow, Brookings Institution

Indeed, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said during the summit that the National Quantum Initiative Act needs to be reauthorized for the U.S. to move forward. Blackburn, along with Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), has also introduced the Quantum Sandbox for Near-Term Applications Act to advance commercialization of quantum computing.

The 2018 National Quantum Initiative Act served a "monumental" purpose in mandating agencies such as the National Science Foundation, NIST and the Department of Energy to study quantum computing and create a national strategy, said Joseph Keller, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Though the private sector has made significant investments in quantum computing, Keller said the U.S. would not be a leader in quantum computing research without federal support, especially with goals to eventually commercialize the technology at scale. He said that's why it's pivotal for the U.S. to pass the National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act, even amid other congressional priorities such as AI.

"I don't think you see any progress forward without the passage of that legislation," Keller said.

Commercializing quantum computing remains a technical challenge

Despite investment from numerous big tech companies, including Microsoft, Intel, IBM and Google, significant technical hurdles remain for the broad commercialization of quantum computing, Al-Dhahir said.

She said the quantum computing market faces issues such as overcoming high error rates -- for example, suppressing error rates requires "substantially higher" qubit counts than what is being achieved today. A qubit, short for quantum bit, is considered a basic unit of information in quantum computing.

IBM released the first quantum computer with more than 1,000 qubits in 2023. However, Al-Dhahir said more is needed to avoid high error rates in quantum computing.

"The consensus is that hundreds of thousands to millions of qubits are required for practical large-scale quantum computers," she said.

Indeed, industry is still trying to identify the economic proposition of quantum computing, and the government has a role to play in that, Brookings' Keller said.

"It doesn't really have these real-world applications, things you can hold and touch," he said. "But there are breakthroughs happening in science and industry."

Lofgren said she recognizes that quantum computing has yet to reach the stage of practical, commercial applications, but she hopes that legislation such as the National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act will help the U.S. advance quantum computing to that stage.

"Quantum computing is not quite there yet, although we are making tremendous strides," she said.

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget Editorial, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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