Cybersecurity remains front and center of every organization’s mind as the threat from cybercriminals persists; the stakes will only get higher as we rely more and more on technology that is vulnerable to cyber attacks – while the criminals get more and more creative.
When it comes to quantum technology and cybersecurity, the forecast continues to predict that quantum computing will have a profound impact on security. In preparation for that time, U.S. government and industry need to dramatically increase its investment in R&D dollars and program development to beat the Chinese (and arguably everyone else) in this quantum game, to develop quantum-resistant encryption methods, and to develop our own quantum communication methods.
When will quantum computing become a mainstream reality? It’s difficult to say with any level of certainty, although the timeframe (measured in years) keeps shrinking as increasing levels of investment and research go into this emerging technology, speeding up progress toward the goal.
What we can predict, however, are the following trends we see in 2019:
1. Significant increase in investment dollars for quantum research and development.
Industry is already invested in the process, with Google and IBM leading the way for industry in developing quantum computers and technology, and this investment is expected to grow. Gartner predicts that by 2023, 20% of organizations will be budgeting for quantum computing technology compared to less than 1% today. This is good news, but in the face of notable Chinese investment in quantum computing, our own government needs to follow suit.
As CEO and President of Quantum Xchange John Prisco rightly points out, while the private sector works hard to close the gap, the government’s inaction creates a barrier to advancements that may let other countries take the lead in quantum advancements. We can’t afford to let that happen because a Chinese (or any other country’s) victory in this “race” will pose a significant national security risk. As groups like the Quantum Industry Coalition, a newly formed lobbying group comprised of companies engaged in quantum technology development, arrive on the scene too, we anticipate more pressure on the government to improve quantum-related funding.
2. Expansion of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) Network (Phio) Across U.S.
This past year, 2018, was a big year for Quantum Xchange as we launched the first commercial QKD network – the first truly unbreakable key exchange for quantum encryption available to organizations in the United States. Although the network has launched its service in the New York metropolitan area and New Jersey, the intent is to expand it to the entire U.S. as soon as possible.
3. Improved legislation to support research and education efforts.
Lawmakers are increasingly aware of the stakes in this quantum race, and this realization is driving experts and Congress to support quantum computing. Many of them recognize that developing a coordinated national strategy to fund quantum-related research and education efforts is critical. This means taking concerted action to invest in quantum computing and implement legislation to support those efforts.
On December 21, 2018, the National Quantum Initiative Act was passed into law. This Act allocates $1.2 billion to a National Quantum Initiative Program to ”establish the goals and priorities for a 10-year plan to accelerate the development of quantum information science and technology applications.” Read more about the Quantum Alliance Initiative >
4. Established standards for quantum technology.
TechCrunch points out that “Technical standards ultimately speed the development of a technology, introduce economies of scale and grow markets.” Toward that end, they highlight the two standards that the IEEE Standards Association Quantum Computing Working Group is developing: 1) for quantum computing definitions and nomenclature to bring commonality to the language used for the technology and 2) for performance metrics and benchmarks to enable the performance of quantum computers to be measured against classical computers. We anticipate continued progress towards making these standards a reality.
5. Increased effort to “grow” more quantum experts.
Tied to the efforts of improved legislation and funding, is the awareness that we need to expand our pool of expertise in this area. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Chicago and Illinois’s two national laboratories, Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have partnered on a quantum collaboration which includes research as well as testing one of the world’s largest quantum communication networks. Other universities in the U.S., like the University of California, Santa Barbara, University of Maryland, Columbia, and Stevens are developing strong quantum programs. Abroad, Cambridge and Waterloo both have strong centers for quantum research and teaching.
As more energy and effort goes into developing quantum capabilities, the advances in technology will drive the timeline to the left, which means commercially available quantum computers will arrive sooner rather than later. The trends we’ve noted here will lead to progress in developing quantum-resistant cryptography methods and quantum encryption methods. The expansion of Phio across the U.S. is groundbreaking. The actions that are finally being taken in the U.S. – by Congress, industry, and academia – are significant and will help us improve funding, education and research.
But some experts question whether it is enough to out-pace the Chinese. They point out that China is still out-investing us in this field by 30 to 1. It’s too early to predict who will ultimately win the quantum race, and it won’t be determined in 2019; but at a minimum, we should make some significant strides this year. Certainly, the imperative to keep the pressure on has never been greater.