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CHIPS Act targets emerging technologies including quantum, AI

While semiconductors have grabbed most of the attention with the CHIPS and Science Act, emerging tech such as quantum and AI figures to grab a generous share of the $280 billion.

Much of the focus on the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 has centered around strengthening the semiconductor industry, but the lion's share of the funds being allotted in the $280 billion bill targets industry and academic institutions conducting research and development on emerging technologies.

The federal government will dole out around $50 billion over the next five years, mainly to chip manufacturers that will come out of the newly established CHIPS for America Fund. That leaves nearly $230 billion for vendors, researchers and developing technologies, and to create programs to educate students and train employees on technologies destined to become mainstream in the years ahead.

Two such technologies prominently mentioned are quantum computing and AI.

For instance, the National Science Foundation (NSF), one of the federal agencies responsible for allocating the funds, will establish a quantum education pilot program to promote a quantum information science workforce across the U.S. The agency also must produce a study on the educational challenges in creating a diverse and sustainable workforce in the quantum industry.

NSF will also expand the existing Quantum User Expansion for Science and Technology program, making it easier for researchers to access government quantum computing hardware and clouds. NSF will be granted $30,000,000 in fiscal year 2023, escalating in each of the following four years and peaking at $36,465,188 in 2027.

"The best thing the government can do for the quantum industry is to become a customer," said Tony Uttley, president and COO of Quantinuum.

NSF will work with a select group of industry partners that will advise the agency on what quantum vendors and universities are best positioned to maximize the government's investment. That process has not started yet.

The NSF has had a hand in funding a variety of quantum computing initiatives over the past few years, including the $1.2 billion National Quantum Initiative Act of 2018 and establishment of the Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes in 2020. In September 2021, NSF launched two additional institutes to advance quantum biological sensing and quantum simulation. The agency planned to provide each institute with $25 million over several years.

"Quantum computing is an interesting case for us," said Margaret Martonosi, assistant director for the NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate. "Interesting because it has been out there and is real, and because it will involve interagency coordination and interagency alignment. It's a wonderful one to learn from."

If these are funds giving people access to emerging quantum and AI technologies for scientific research, then there is real value in that. In my experience, this will probably be a two-year process because they have to sort out what they have to work with, evaluate all the competing interests and develop the programs.
Chester KennedyPresident, ColdQuanta

Despite NSF's prior experience in funding quantum initiatives in the private sector, some executives in the quantum industry with experience in dealing with such initiatives are concerned about how long it will take for the funds to be signed off on and delivered.

"If these are funds giving people access to emerging quantum and AI technologies for scientific research, then there is real value in that," said Chester Kennedy, president of ColdQuanta, who also oversees research and security offerings for the company. "In my experience, this will probably be a two-year process because they have to sort out what they have to work with, evaluate all the competing interests and develop the programs."

Martonosi is more optimistic about NSF's time frame for delivery of funds. She believes that as the largest federal nondefense funder of technology in the country, funding some $700 million a year for AI research, NSF can deliver the funds much faster.

"The typical time for Americans processing through the NSF is around six months," Martonosi said. "When we hear about companies worried about it taking a year to two years, that largely depends on when you define the starting line. We are getting money out the door every year in topic areas like quantum and AI."

Uttley and Kennedy agree that as important as the funds are for accelerating the development of quantum technology, so are the funds for educating university students about the technology and supporting training programs for IT personnel and developers. But Kennedy would like to see the government go further to draw talented university students into the quantum industry.

"I would like to see a program that forgives student debt for those studying quantum technologies," Kennedy said. "As part of that, students would then have to commit to working five years in the [quantum] industry. This incentive means more than just creating infrastructure. It would fill classrooms with American students ready to step into a job in the real world."

The CHIPS and Science Act will direct funds to support NIST's role to develop "trustworthy artificial intelligence and data science," along with test beds. NIST will also be responsible for generating a report on the need for a program to recruit the next generation of AI experts, formulating guidance on the security for open source software repositories and establishing a program for AI-enabled defense research.

Lastly, NSF will be responsible for creating a federal AI Scholarship for Service program, which will complement the existing CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program.

As Editor at Large with TechTarget's News Group, Ed Scannell is responsible for writing and reporting breaking news, news analysis and features focused on technology issues and trends affecting corporate IT professionals.

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