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Quantum computing research
IBM Research scientist Jerry Chow conducts a quantum computing experiment at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. (Feature Photo Service for IBM / Jon Simon)

President Donald Trump on Friday signed legislation ramping up quantum computing research and development.

The National Quantum Initiative Act (H.R. 6227) authorizes $1.2 billion over five years for federal activities aimed at boosting investment in quantum information science, or QIS, and supporting a quantum-smart workforce.

The law also establishes a National Quantum Coordination Office, calls for the development of a five-year strategic plan and establishes an advisory committee to advise the White House on issues relating to quantum computing.

“This next great technological revolution has far-reaching implications for job creation, economic growth and national security,” Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, said in a White House statement. “We look forward to building upon efforts to support the quantum-smart workforce of the future and engage with government, academic and private-sector leaders to advance QIS.”

Today’s White House signing came after the bill was approved by unanimous consent in the Senate and by a vote of 348-11 vote in the House.

Quantum computing make use of weird subatomic phenomena to provide capabilities that are beyond the scope of classical computers. Classical computing technologies make use of electronic bits that represent either “on” or “off,” one or zero. In contrast, quantum computers manipulate “qubits” that can represent ones and zeroes simultaneously.

The quantum approach is particularly well-suited to certain types of tasks, including the prime factorization of large numbers. That’s important, because modern-day encryption techniques are based on prime factorization. A sufficiently powerful quantum computer could conceivably crack the code that currently protects secure communications and financial transactions.

Earlier this month, a report from the National Academies of Science said there is an urgent need to develop “post-quantum” encryption protocols in order to protect commerce and national security.

QIS research could also produce new types of quantum processors, sensors, navigation tools and security systems. The challenges could bring about “new approaches to understanding materials, chemistry and even gravity through quantum information theory,” according to a White House strategy paper issued in September.

Researchers in the U.S. and allied countries have made lots of headway in quantum computing over the past couple of decades. For example, Canada’s D-Wave Systems recently reported that its 2,048-qubit quantum computer could be used to simulate exotic phenomena associated with superconductivity. D-Wave, which counts Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos among its investors, has been working for years with Google, NASA, Lockheed Martin and other customers on the frontiers of quantum computing.

Microsoft has its own initiative in the field: At last year’s GeekWire Summit, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella listed quantum computing, along with artificial intelligence and mixed reality, as a core technology that will shape his company’s future.

China and the European Union are investing billions of dollars in quantum computing, and the newly approved National Quantum Initiative is meant to keep America in the forefront of the technological race.

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