Breaking Down Barriers, Accelerating Innovation, Ensuring US Leadership
The global race for quantum leadership is in full swing, and the stakes are high. Over the last five years, U.S. policy has created a sense of urgency, established strategic objectives, supported the creation of research and education centers, and developed training programs for quantum technologies. In addition, government spending on quantum research and development has increased. The National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) of 2018 is the centerpiece of U.S. policy on quantum. It is supported by subsequent actions by the Biden Administration, including an executive order and a national security memorandum, all intended to promote quantum development and address cybersecurity risks. While these efforts have been helpful, there are areas in which the U.S. is not keeping pace with the rest of the world and risks becoming a “fast follower” versus the global leader.
With the National Quantum Initiative Act up for reauthorization in 2023, the time is right to broaden its scope, break down barriers that slow innovation and adoption cycles, and accelerate a “whole of nation” approach.
During the past year, congressional hearings have highlighted how the NQIA can be expanded and investment increased. Industry groups like the Quantum Industry Coalition, non-governmental research organizations, think tanks, scholars, and civil society organizations have also weighed in. While most agree on the need to continue to increase investment in R&D, there are three areas where additional investments are needed: workforce and education, cross-governmental collaboration, and international partnerships.
Building a Quantum-Knowledgeable Workforce
Growing talent shortfalls in fields like cybersecurity will make it more challenging to meet the additional need for domestic quantum-knowledgeable workers in the future. There are three areas we must focus on:
Increasing the number of quantum scientists and PhDs;
Developing the talent to fill technology roles in quantum, including software development; and
Creating awareness of quantum applications in functional areas like manufacturing, life sciences, energy, telecommunications, national security, and financial services, among others.
Quantum concepts must be included in early introductions to science and computing. Education curricula in fields like the life sciences can also incorporate quantum at early stages. Workforce development is not an area where the U.S. can play catch-up later. It must begin at the K-12 level and permeate education, including technical and vocational learning. An accessible and consistent curriculum can help educators more quickly incorporate quantum concepts into current lessons. Given the federated nature of K-12 curriculum, Congress and the Administration should consider creating regional funding pools to help address curriculum development at the state and local levels. These regional curricula could be shared in a national “best practices” library from which educators can pull proven resources.
As we work to close the workforce gap, we must look beyond typical sources of talent. We must ensure that quantum concepts, in addition to foundational science, technology, math, and engineering skills, are reaching underemployed and underserved populations that represent an untapped talent pool. Policymakers can facilitate this by investing in school systems and vocational programs that serve underemployed and underserved communities and demographic groups.
It’s critical that education not be limited to those who want to work in quantum or quantum-enabled fields. The general population and those who are “quantum-curious” should have access to knowledge about quantum through popular, publicly accessible, and free resources. The NQIA could identify a public awareness campaign as a priority for the federal government to initiate and champion with industry, academics, and civil society organizations.
The National Quantum Coordination Office (NQCO) was established within the White House to provide advice, guidance, and assistance to agencies as they sought to develop their quantum programs. To further enhance their impact, the NQCO should be authorized to:
Provide guidance to agencies on how quantum can advance their missions;
Provide options and guidance on how agencies can best acquire and use quantum technologies; and
Establish a Quantum Program Integration Office (QPIO) to apply program management methods to help identify and break down barriers, resource, and fund joint efforts, and coordinate plans.
Encouraging and enabling federal agencies to participate in the quantum revolution will help them meet their missions and send a strong demand signal, unlocking further private-sector investment.
International Partnership and Collaboration
To realize the full potential of these technologies, like-minded countries must collaborate, share knowledge, and pool resources. Our discussions with international partners and others in the quantum ecosystem underscore the need for a formal structure for collaboration. Congress should consider authorizing and funding a formal International Quantum Forum to help accelerate and scale the quantum industry sector.
An International Quantum Forum would convene global cross-sector partners and nations with which the U.S. has signed bilateral agreements on quantum and emerging tech collaboration. It would advance critical topics, including research, funding, policy, ethics, innovation, and national security, and provide a global, cross-sector collaboration mechanism. This move would complement and include existing forums, consortia, and convenings in the quantum ecosystem in the US and globally. In addition to U.S. federal government participation, state and local governments should be engaged since many states have opened direct collaborations with international allies as part of their economic development and trade agendas.
The reauthorization of the National Quantum Initiative Act in 2023 represents a significant opportunity for the US to commit to leading the world in quantum.
This undertaking requires policymakers, government leaders, and their agencies to take additional steps to work “whole of nation” and “whole of world” to make it happen. The actions we highlight here are intended to build on and expand recommendations made by other organizations and leaders inside and outside the government. We hope that Congress and the Biden Administration strongly consider these additional steps to formalize a genuinely proactive and integrated National Quantum Initiative.
About the Authors:
Jim Cook is leading the launch of the Potomac Quantum Innovation Center Quantum Policy and Ethics Center, and he’s the former Vice President for Strategic Engagement and Partnerships with the MITRE Corporation
Paul Stimers is a Partner at Holland & Knight, LLP, and Founder and Executive Director of the Quantum Industry Coalition
Dr. Jesse Kirkpatrick is the Acting Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University
About the Potomac Quantum Innovation Center (PQIC) Quantum Policy and Ethics Center:
The PQIC Quantum Policy & Ethics Center, powered by Connected DMV, is a multi-institutional research and training center that will establish a national and global dialogue forum, facilitate dialogue between multi-disciplinary experts, conduct research and analysis, publish marquee thought leadership, provide quantum industry and solutions advisory services; and build capacity through training resources and tools.