Washington’s new crush on quantum computing – POLITICO
With help from Derek Robertson
For years, quantum computing has been the elusive next big tech breakthrough.—a crucial novelty international scientific battlefield; a potential tech jackpot for whoever gets there first.
Right now, real-world momentum is building. Venture capitalists are pay money on the groundinvesting more than $1 billion in quantum computing startups in 2021. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, also spends billionsjust like other established companies like IBMMicrosoft and Amazon.
Congress is not far behind. A bipartisan bill presented on monday would strengthen federal support for quantum-resistant encryption. And a whole host of quantum science-related provisions are more likely than this latest bill to become law this year — and could see action as soon as Congress returns from recess.
There is only one problem. Quantum computing experts – who have every reason to want more money and attention – say it’s too muchor at least too soon.
That’s because quantum computers that can solve otherwise intractable real-world problems don’t yet exist, and knowledgeable experts say they can’t say whether such computers are a decade away., or a century.
It’s hard to write about quantum computers without explaining how they are unique, and it’s hard to do it directly, but here’s a short version: traditional computers work by manipulating “bits”, units of information that take a value of 0 or 1. A computer chip is a machine that performs simple logical operations like “and” or “or” billions of times per second, using defined 1s and 0s. Quantum computers are different: each of their “qubits” is kept in a fuzzy state that physicists call superposition, neither 0 nor 1.
In theory – and “in theory” is a phrase you often hear in quantum computing – a computer built from many qubits could perform calculations that are for all intents and purposes impossible with classical computers. In practice, it is very difficult to maintain these qubits in a coherent state long enough to build a quantum computer with even a small number of functional qubits.
Washington cares about quantum computing for big reasons. In theory, a quantum computer could crack the codes used to encrypt many modern communications, such as those that enable secure web browsing. This makes quantum computing a huge national security risk or opportunity, depending on who gets there first. Quantum computers could also simulate the behavior of molecules to design everything from more effective drugs to more efficient solar cells.
But they are still far away. And It is important to note that quantum computers are not a general-purpose technology – there are particular problems for which they could be very effective, but for most applications classical computers will remain dominant.
Policymakers have seized on “quantum” as a buzzword. The Senate version of a major pending competitiveness bill includes the Quantum Network Infrastructure and Workforce Development Act, which would create a K-12 education pilot program. year to equip students with the skills they will need for a future quantum workforce. (The skeptical take: It’s important to teach kids math and physics, but the idea that training kids to be a “quantum workforce” is different from giving kids a solid grounding in the basics of math and physics. is laughable to anyone who actually works in these fields.)
The House Competitiveness Bill addresses even more provisions related to quantum research, some with much higher prices. It includes the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act, which would set aside $500 million over five years for research into distributed quantum computing systems, quantum communication technologies, and new quantum sensing and measurement tools. It would also ask the DOE to develop a Quantum User Expansion Program for Science and Technology (QUEST), granting the department $340 million over five years to give US-based researchers access to tools advanced quantum computing.
Despite continued delays and expectations of a tough conference, a draft competitiveness bill is expected to pass this year. And barring any surprises, it’s likely that most (if not all) of the quantum provisions present in both bills will be included in the final package.
Quantum computing is a fascinating and important area of basic research – not only does it have potentially important applications, but it can also provide important insight into the nature of reality, allowing scientists to develop a better understanding of the boundary between the counter-intuitive world of quantum mechanics and our everyday experience.
However, when deciding where to invest public money, policy makers should be careful: no honest expert thinks these transformations will happen in the immediate future.
One of the reasons it’s hard to keep up with advances in quantum computing is that the real performance of quantum computers is not easily captured by a single number. Performance depends not only on the number of qubits a computer has, but also on how resilient the qubits are to errors and how connected they are to each other, among other factors. In 2019, IBM researchers introduce a measure they dubbed it “quantum volume”, which is an attempt to combine these factors (along with a few others) in order to quantify the performance of a quantum computer in a single number.
Even IBM’s competitors agree that this is a reasonable, if not perfect, estimate of the quality of a quantum computer. (Although most rivals haven’t released “quantum volume” figures for their machines.) IBM says they want to double their quantum volume every yearFor now, however, Honeywell’s systems are ahead of IBM.
If these trends continue, quantum computers are on the verge of fulfilling their revolutionary promise. But, since technology is the most knowledgeable supporters point outthere are many reasons to believe that IBM’s stated ambition to double quantum volume every year through the end of the decade will prove elusive.
Spotify, already at the top of the music streaming world, never pass up a viral self-promotion opportunity. Last week’s “National Pet Day” provided a perfect opportunity: the company rolled out a new “pet playlist” feature, using its special sauce algorithm in a collaboration with musicologist David Teie to generate a tracklist based on a few basic questions about a given listener’s pet.
Naturally I created one for my cat. I turned up the ‘Energetic’ and ‘Friendly’ sliders (despite his relatively advanced age, my cat’s features are more puppy-like). The end product, a combination of my own tastes, musicologically cat-approved instrumental tones, and obviously planted gimmick bits (a lackluster cover of The Cure’s “The Love Cats,” for example), was, as one could tell. expected, well designed.
And yes, as far as it’s possible to tell, the cat seemed to like it.
Or at least I did. The company knows all too well what I like – dark English pop, Houston rap, Italo disco – and knows how to feed me more of it, based on a combination of audio analysis and taste matching with like-minded users. By securing a huge amount of streaming music before its competitors, and most importantly, allowing users to create their own playlists and stream songs on demand, unlike the more random and radio-based playback of early competitors like Pandora, the company has solidified itself as the go-to platform for music obsessives and tastemakers.
The mainstream followed, launching Spotify to the top of the heap – proof that while pioneering in tech is fun, there’s no substitute for having a solid business plan and executing it first. — Derek Robertson
Amazon is throwing his hat in the AR ringlooking for developers for a “magical and useful new-to-the-world consumer product”.
When it comes to ever-rising tech IPOs, what’s going up doesn’t have to come down.
The United States has identified a North Korean hacker group as the most likely culprits of a recent massive crypto heist.
A recent survey of American teenagers shows that a quarter have access to VR technology, but almost none of them use it.
A new book explores the possibility of human astronauts being replaced by robots.
Keep in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Constantin Kakaes ([email protected]); and Heidi Vogt ([email protected]).
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