President Joe Biden today issued an Executive Order and a National Security Memorandum boosting the national focus on quantum information sciences (QIS), including quantum computing and cybersecurity concerns. There is currently a global race heating up to leverage QIS for economic and security purposes. The U.S., China, Europe, Japan, the U.K., and many others have mounted well-funded, expanding efforts to achieve practical quantum computing and other QIS applications.
The stakes are thought to be high, with quantum computers being able to tackle many science challenges that are currently intractable on traditional computers. Applications in materials science, logistics, banking, and healthcare, to name just a few, are expected. While the arrival of so-called fault tolerant quantum computers remains years away (how many years is hotly debated), there are nascent applications rapidly emerging for so-called noisy intermediate scale quantum (NISQ) computers.
Today’s executive order, besides emphasizing many activities already spelled out in the National Quantum Initiative (2018), calls for establishment of a National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee, consisting of “the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (Director) or the Director’s designee and not more than 26 members, appointed by the President, who are United States citizens representative of industry, universities, and Federal laboratories, and who are qualified to provide advice and information on QIS and technology research, development, demonstrations, standards, education, technology transfer, commercial application, or national security and economic concerns.”
The accompanying memorandum – National Security Memorandum on Promoting United States Leadership in Quantum Computing While Mitigating Risks to Vulnerable Cryptographic Systems – focuses on both quantum computing and security. Here’s brief excerpt:
“This memorandum outlines my Administration’s policies and initiatives related to quantum computing. It identifies key steps needed to maintain the Nation’s competitive advantage in quantum information science (QIS), while mitigating the risks of quantum computers to the Nation’s cyber, economic, and national security. It directs specific actions for agencies to take as the United States begins the multi-year process of migrating vulnerable computer systems to quantum-resistant cryptography (bold emphasis added). A classified annex to this memorandum addresses sensitive national security issues.”
The mention of a classified portion of the memorandum highlights growing fears around the predicted capability of quantum computers to be able to decrypt virtually any code. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been running a Post Quantum Cryptography program for a few years working to “solicit, evaluate, and standardize one or more quantum-resistant public-key cryptographic algorithms.” (Full details can be found in the Post-Quantum Cryptography Standardization page.)
This latest executive order comes at a time of worry and uncertainty globally. War in the Ukraine, post-pandemic economic slowdown and lingering supply chain tightness, plus ongoing political tension with China have all heightened a variety of national security worries. The trickle of practical uses for NISQ computers as well as the emergence of other QIS applications (e.g. sensors) are creating a sense of urgency around QIS development overall.
It will be interesting to see what the next steps are and how quickly the advisory committee is named. There is no director of OSTP at the moment. Charlie Tahan is the assistant director for quantum information science at OST in the White House Right and oversees the National Quantum Coordination Office. The newly established advisory committee will have two chairs, one assigned by OSTP leadership and the other by the president.
Link to the National Security QIS Memorandum: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/05/04/national-security-memorandum-on-promoting-united-states-leadership-in-quantum-computing-while-mitigating-risks-to-vulnerable-cryptographic-systems/
Link to fact sheet issued by the administration: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/05/04/fact-sheet-president-biden-announces-two-presidential-directives-advancing-quantum-technologies/