US plans legislation to better compete in quantum space

The United States is intending to introduce legislation that will allow it to better compete with other regions on quantum science and technology. The intended National Quantum Initiative Act will aim to position the US as the global leader in quantum information science and ensure it ‘does not fall behind other nations that are advancing quantum programmes.’

Up until now, funding for quantum sciences in Europe has been far higher than in the US. The European Commission launched its €1 billion 10-year quantum flagship programme in 2016, while the UK launched its five-year £270 million quantum programme back in 2013, which has been one of the success stories of UK science. In March, a further £20 million was added to aid the commercialisation of several prototype devices that have been built as a result of the first funding rounds.  

‘Quantum is poised to redefine the next generation of scientific breakthroughs. We must ensure that the United States does not fall behind other nations that are advancing quantum programmes,’ said Lamar Smith, chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. ‘The National Quantum Initiative Act will accelerate quantum research and development. It will promote greater quantum research, standards, federal coordination, and collaboration among the key quantum players – laboratories, industry and universities.'

The US’ intention to introduce quantum legalisation, put forward by the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, has been applauded by The Optical Society (OSA), which it said represents an investment in the future for economic security.

‘OSA is pleased to see the House Science Committee supporting the national need for quantum research and technology with this bill,’ said Elizabeth Rogan, CEO of The Optical Society. ‘We believe this investment is critical if the US wants a leadership role in these technology developments. Quantum research and technology holds great potential, and OSA looks forward to continuing to work with lawmakers on this initiative.’

Yesterday, the committee released a fact sheet outlining the National Quantum Initiative Act of 2018. According to this document, the National Quantum Initiative Act will aim to:

  • Bring a government approach to moving quantum information science to the next level of research and development
  • Establish a National Quantum Coordination Office within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to oversee interagency coordination, provide planning support, serve as a central point of contact for stakeholders, conduct outreach, and promote commercialisation of federal research by the private sector
  • Support basic quantum research and standards development at the National Institute for Standards and Technology, support Energy Department basic research and establish Energy Department national research centres, and support National Science Foundation basic research and academic multidisciplinary quantum research and education centres
  • Encourage US high-tech companies, which are investing heavily in quantum research, and a wave of quantum technology start-ups, to contribute their knowledge and resources to a national effort
  • Address fundamental research gaps, create a stronger workforce pipeline, and take the lead in developing quantum standards and measures for global use and thereby give U.S. companies and workers an enduring competitive advantage

Since 2017, the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), a collaborative alliance among industry, academia, and government to raise awareness of optics and photonics, has been working with lawmakers to lay groundwork for this legislation. Last year, at the request of the Science Committee, the NPI created a white paper entitled 'A Call for a National Quantum Initiative'. The white paper explored how and why it is necessary to create a new information infrastructure using quantum technology.

In April 2018, the NPI – through the expertise of Dr Chris Monroe, chief scientist and founder, IonQ, and Dr Michael Raymer, professor of Physics at the University of Oregon – unveiled the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) Action Plan and presented it to lawmakers. The operational goals of the NQI are to produce a world-leading industrial quantum technology workforce; engineer, industrialise and automate quantum technology; provide access to the emerging quantum computer systems; develop conventional technology and intellectual property; produce quantum software and new applications; and continue the research needed to support these goals. The NPI has also highlighted the role the Department of Defence can play in the NQI. 

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