Quantum information science (QIS) combines elements of mathematics, computer science, engineering, and physical sciences, and has the potential to provide capabilities far beyond what is possible with the most advanced technologies available today. Although much of the press coverage of QIS has been devoted to quantum computing, there is more to QIS. Many experts divide QIS technologies into three application areas:
The government's interest in QIS dates back at least to the mid-1990s, when the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Defense (DOD) held their first workshops on the topic. QIS is first mentioned in the FY2008 budget of what is now the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program and has been a component of the program since then.
Today, QIS is a component of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (Presidential Executive Order 13702), which was established in 2015. Most recently, on August 30, 2019, President Trump established the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee (Presidential Executive Order 13885), in accordance with the National Quantum Initiative Act, signed into law in late 2018.
The United States is not alone in increasing investment in QIS R&D. This research is also being pursued at major research centers worldwide, with China and the European Union having the largest foreign QIS programs. Further, even without explicit QIS initiatives, many other countries, including Russia, Germany, and Austria, are making strides in QIS research and development (R&D).
This report provides an overview of QIS technologies: sensing and metrology, communications, and computing and simulation. It also includes examples of existing and potential future applications; brief summaries of funding and selected R&D initiatives in the United States and elsewhere around the world; a description of U.S. congressional activity; and a discussion of related policy considerations.
Combining elements of mathematics, computer science, engineering, and physical sciences, quantum information science (QIS) has the potential to provide capabilities far beyond what is possible with the most advanced technologies available today. Quantum science, generally, is the study of the smallest particles of matter and energy; QIS builds on quantum science principles to obtain and process information in ways that cannot be achieved based on classical physics principles. QIS is based on the premise that information science depends on quantum effects in physics.
The advantages to using QIS in certain circumstances can be illustrated by the example of quantum computing. Quantum computing is not just "faster" than classical computing. It is not useful for many types of problems where a classical supercomputer would excel. However, there are certain tasks for which the power of quantum computing is unmatched, such as code breaking. This power is derived from quantum computing's use of "qubits" or "quantum bits."
Whereas classical computing uses "bits" for data processing, quantum computing uses qubits. The practical difference between a bit and a qubit is that a bit can only exist in one of two states at a time, usually represented by a 1 and a 0, whereas a qubit can exist in both states at one time. This is a phenomenon called "superposition" and it is what allows the power of a quantum computer to grow exponentially with the addition of each bit. Two bits in a classical computer provides four possible combinations—00, 01, 11, and 10, but only one combination at a time. Two bits in a quantum computer provides for the same four possibilities, but, because of superposition, the qubits can represent all four states at the same time, making the quantum computer four times as powerful as the classical computer. So, adding a bit to a classical computer increases its power linearly, but adding a qubit to a quantum computer increases its power exponentially—doubling power with the addition of each qubit.
Quantum computing, for all its promise, is still a developing technology (along with other quantum applications). Assembling a working quantum computer is much more difficult than assembling a classical computer. The difficulty is caused by the narrow set of conditions that must exist for a quantum computer to work. For example, the temperature must be exactly 1/100th of a degree above absolute zero. Also, the slightest vibration can cause a qubit to lose its superposition. Until systems can be developed to maintain the ideal conditions to maintain a qubit, many quantum systems will remain theoretical in nature.
Although much of the press coverage of QIS has been devoted to quantum computing, there is more to QIS. Many experts divide QIS technologies into three application areas:
Quantum sensing and metrology include navigation, atomic clocks, gravimeters and gravitational gradiometers, inertial motion units, atomic magnetometers, electron microscopes, technologies to locate subterranean mineral deposits, and quantum-assisted nuclear spin imaging devices.2 They currently have the largest range of existing and potential commercial products. There are also several products in this category that have been manufactured for decades, making it the most established category.
In its report Assessment of the Future Economic Impact of Quantum Information Science, analysts at the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) determined that
new technologies in quantum metrology and sensing offer improved accuracy compared to products based on classical physics or existing quantum technologies. New QIS technologies are being used for position, navigation, and timing; medical imaging; and research.3
Some experts believe that the potential markets for these technologies are small because in some cases, traditional technologies remain more attractive due to the higher costs and technical complexity of QIS alternatives.4 However, others have stated that they believe continued investment and effective coordination between the research community and industry could bring a broad range of QIS-enhanced sensors to the U.S. marketplace by 2021.5
Quantum key distribution (QKD) is a method of securing communications that uses quantum physics, rather than mathematical algorithms, to safeguard data sent over unprotected networks. However, signals traveling over fiber-optic cable weaken at about 60 miles and must be retransmitted. Quantum repeaters can extend the distance the signal can be sent, but they significantly increase the complexity of the process. The communications are not only secure, but any eavesdropping attempt will destroy the communication, revealing the eavesdropping attempt.
The Chinese government has been spending heavily on QKD, but many analysts in North America and Europe do not believe that the benefits over existing nonquantum technologies outweigh the costs associated with QKD, making commercial demand difficult to ascertain.6
Quantum computing provides an exponentially larger scale than classical computing, which provides advantages for certain applications. Quantum simulation refers to the use of quantum hardware to determine the properties of a quantum system, for example, determining the properties of materials such as high-temperature superconductors, and modeling nuclear and particle physics.
However, the current capabilities of quantum computers limit the size of the problems that they can be used to solve. While significant research has been conducted to date by government laboratories, university departments, and large technology companies, as well as small start-ups, it is unlikely that any commercial quantum computing will be widely available before 2025.
The government's interest in QIS dates back at least to the mid-1990s, when the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Defense (DOD) held their first workshops on the topic. QIS is first mentioned in the FY2008 budget of what is now the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program and has been a component of the program since then.
In September 2018, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it had committed $218 million to 85 research projects lasting from two to five years. Also in September 2018, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that it had awarded $31 million in grants to 33 projects. Eight projects receiving a total of $6 million are engineering projects aimed at creating working quantum information systems (applied research). The remaining $25 million will be distributed to 25 basic research projects.7
Government QIS basic research is also conducted by NIST, the DOD services, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Additionally, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity have funded a series of targeted programs.
QIS is a component of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (Presidential Executive Order 13702), which was established in 2015. The White House has issued two reports on QIS strategy, the first under President Obama and the second under President Trump. Additionally, on August 30, 2019, President Trump established the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee (Presidential Executive Order 13885), in accordance with the National Quantum Initiative Act, signed into law in late 2018. Other agencies have also taken action related to QIS. Each is described below.
In July 2016, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC),9 under the purview of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP),10 issued Advancing Quantum Information Science: National Challenges and Opportunities. This report provided a brief description of the QIS disciplines, summarized developments and potential impacts in various fields of technology and areas of basic research, identified impediments to progress and potential approaches to addressing them, surveyed federal investments, and discussed the federal path forward in the context of international and private-sector activity.
The report outlined three principles to guide U.S. government QIS R&D:
The report concluded by stating that QIS should be considered a priority for federal coordination and investment, with particular attention paid to identifying and implementing methods to address impediments to progress and maintaining a commitment to keep the United States at the leading edge of QIS developments.
In September 2018, the NSTC issued The National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science. The policy opportunities identified in this strategic overview are summarized in Table 1.
CHOOSE A SCIENCE-FIRST APPROACH TO QIS
CREATE A QUANTUM-SMART WORKFORCE FOR TOMORROW
DEEPEN ENGAGEMENT WITH THE QUANTUM INDUSTRY
PROVIDE CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE
MAINTAIN NATIONAL SECURITY AND ECONOMIC GROWTH
ADVANCE INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
Source: The National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science, NSTC, September 2018.
According to the report, "following these recommendations, along with detailed planning and coordination made possible by the SCQIS as well as engagement with stakeholders, is crucial for the United States' future success."
On November 19, 2018, the Department of Commerce (DOC) Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS or "bureau") released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), "Review of Controls for Certain Emerging Technologies." The bureau controls the export of dual-use and other military items through export regulations.
This ANPRM seeks public comment on criteria to identify emerging technologies that may be essential to U.S. national security, for example, because they—
These criteria may be included in possible future export control regulations. The list of categories includes, among many others, a wide range of QIS applications: positioning, navigation, timing, computing, sensing, and encryption. Comments on the ANPRM were due on January 19, 2019. No further action appears to have been taken.
On May 30, 2019, the NSTC Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science (SCQIS) released a request for information (RFI) that calls on federal agencies to develop plans to address key policy areas to enable continued U.S. leadership in QIS. The RFI posed the following questions:
Responders were asked to answer one or more of the following questions:
Responses were due on July 29, 2019, and no further action appears to have been taken.
On May 31, 2019, the NSTC held a related summit attended by academics and government officials to discuss how to advance the country's QIS goals.
This Executive Order, signed on August 30, 2019, established the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee in accordance with the National Quantum Initiative Act, signed into law in late 2018. Committee members will include the director of OSTP (or a designee) and "not more than" 22 quantum experts to be selected by the Secretary of Energy. Members will meet at least twice a year and will work with agency officials and other QIS stakeholders to discuss relevant issues in the field. Members will be expected to advise the President and others and provide new recommendations on improving the National Quantum Initiative Program. The members will come from universities, laboratories, industry, and other federal agencies. On September 11, 2019, the Department of Energy issued a request for information seeking nominees to serve on the committee.
QIS R&D is being pursued at major research centers worldwide, with China and the European Union (EU) having the largest foreign QIS programs. The UK and Canada have also made high-profile investments in QIS R&D, while Australia and the Netherlands have made smaller investments. Even without explicit QIS initiatives, many other countries, including Russia, Germany, and Austria, are making strides in QIS R&D. A report by the Institute for Defense Analysis, Assessment of the Future Economic Impact of Quantum Information Science,15 and witness testimony at congressional hearings have provided information on these initiatives.
China designated QIS research as one of four "megaprojects" in its 15-year science and technology development plan for 2006-2020. Additionally, it designated quantum communications and computing as one of six major goals for this period. China's annual funding for QIS R&D is estimated at $244 million.16 In 2017, the country began construction of a national QIS science center. China also actively seeks out QIS experts. Since 2008, China has provided incentives to attract Chinese QIS experts and entrepreneurs, currently living and working overseas, back to China.
Between 2016 and 2018, China was the first to achieve three significant QIS milestones:
First outlined in the EU's 2016 Quantum Manifesto20 and updated in The Quantum Technologies Roadmap21 in August 2018, the EU's Quantum Technologies Flagship program is a $1.1 billion, 10-year initiative to commercialize the EU's investment in basic QIS R&D. The goals of the initiative are to
In 2013, the UK established a five-year, $440 million National Quantum Technologies Program to translate QIS R&D into commercial technologies. In September 2018, the UK announced that it would invest more than $105 million in four UK-based quantum technology development centers over the next five years. Likely research areas may include internet security, vehicle driving assistance systems, life-saving equipment for search-and-rescue missions, and helping firefighters.22
Canada's QIS program began in 1999 with private investments that established the Perimeter Institute and University of Waterloo as leaders in QIS R&D. Canada's 2018 budget provided $11.5 million (USD) over three years to the Institute of Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo.
One bill focused on QIS has been introduced in the 116th Congress. On May 16, 2019, Senator Gary Peters introduced "a bill to require the Secretary of Defense to conduct an assessment of quantum computing technology to address problems associated with exposure to PFAS, and for other purposes" (S. 1534).23 "PFAS" are "per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances," a class of more than 3,500 dangerous compounds found in ground and drinking water across the United States.
Additionally, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (S. 1790, H.R. 2500)24 would modify the DOD quantum information science and technology R&D program to specify a list of organizations to be consulted in developing the required research and investment plan and to require DOD to develop a taxonomy for quantum science activities and requirements for relevant technology and standards.
Finally, a number of bills have been introduced that would impose limits on exporting quantum technologies to China:
There have not been any hearings held on quantum issues in the 116th Congress.
Three QIS-focused bills were introduced in the 115th Congress. Additionally, the House held three QIS hearings.
The Senate introduced two bills and the House has introduced one bill related to QIS.
The National Quantum Initiative Act (S. 3143, H.R. 6227) was introduced in the Senate on June 26, 2018, by Senator John Thune and in the House on June 27, 2018, by Representative Lamar Smith. These bills would establish a federal program to accelerate U.S. QIS R&D. Specifically, the bills would establish a National Quantum Coordination Office within OSTP to—
The bills are intended to—
H.R. 6227 was signed into law on December 18, 2018.29
The Quantum Computing Research Act (S. 2998) was introduced by Senator Kamala Harris on June 5, 2018. The bill would require the Secretary of Defense to establish the Defense Quantum Information Consortium. The consortium would include—
The bill would also establish a board composed of—
The board would be responsible for—
The Department of Energy Quantum Information Science Research Act (S. 3673) was introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski on November 28, 2018. The bill would require the Secretary of Energy to conduct basic quantum information science research, including—
Three House committees have held hearings on different aspects of QIS.
On October 24, 2017, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology and Subcommittee on Energy held a joint hearing on "American Leadership in Quantum Technology."30 Issues discussed included—
On January 9, 2018, the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities held a hearing on "China's Pursuit of Emerging and Exponential Technologies."31 Issues discussed included—
On May 18, 2018, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection held a hearing on quantum computing as part of its "Disrupter Series."32 Issues discussed included—
In its July 2016 report, the NSTC stated that creating a cohesive and effective U.S. QIS R&D policy would require a collaborative effort among government, academia, and the private sector. The report cited five key areas that need to be addressed in crafting an effective policy: institutional boundaries; education and workforce training; technology and knowledge transfer; materials and fabrication; and the level and stability of funding. These topics were reiterated in the DOE report Quantum Sensors at the Intersections of Fundamental Science, Quantum Information Science, and Computing (2016), and during congressional hearings.
QIS research is often conducted within institutional boundaries with little coordination. For example, federal departments, and even agencies and offices within a department, have sponsored R&D at a number of universities in different disciplines to address unique federal mission requirements. As a result, coordination and collaboration among these university researchers is difficult. The creation of cross-cutting teams with diverse expertise is seen by many as vital to success. Many observers and researchers contend that partnerships that encourage such collaboration will lead to greater progress than working alone.
Scientists and industry representatives contend that current academic education and workforce training programs are insufficient for continued progress in QIS R&D, which requires a diverse, cross-cutting range of skills and expertise that varies from one application to another. For example, while a deep knowledge of quantum mechanics, taught in physics departments, is required for QIS basic research and applications development, disciplines taught in other departments—such as computer science, applied mathematics, electrical engineering, and systems engineering—are needed as well. Multidisciplinary QIS centers at universities and federal labs (e.g., DOE, NIST) are seen as one possible solution to this problem.
Some of the potentially serious impediments to creating successful commercial QIS products include issues related to the complicated nature of licensing of intellectual property from universities and obtaining patents, lack of a strong venture capital environment, and difficulty connecting qualified recent graduates and experienced scientists with companies. Industry and government representatives have noted that some federal programs exist to address these issues, but that challenges remain.
Advancement of QIS applications depends heavily on the generation of novel quantum materials and on improving the tools needed to fabricate them and package hardware that may currently fill a room into usable forms. These challenges are not yet fully understood, but scientists generally agree that advancement in QIS R&D depends upon solving them.
Like other R&D programs, QIS is affected by fluctuations in federal funding. Some assert that such fluctuations have slowed QIS progress, as well as the development of a fully qualified workforce. Some of the funding instability has been attributed to insufficient coordination among federal agencies, which has led to uncertainty in university research programs. This uncertainty may have contributed to promising researchers seeking opportunities outside the United States or being actively recruited by foreign governments or companies.
Author Contact Information
Some experts further separate computing and simulation into two categories.
Keith W. Crane, Lance G. Joneckis, and Hannah Acheson-Field, et al., Assessment of the Future Economic Impact of Quantum Information Science, Institute for Defense Analyses, IDA Paper P-8567, Log: H 17-000362, Washington, DC, August 2017, https://www.ida.org//idamedia/Corporate/Files/Publications/STPIPubs/2017/P-8567.pdf. (Hereinafter, Assessment of the Future Economic Impact of Quantum Information Science, IDA.)
Assessment of the Future Economic Impact of Quantum Information Science, IDA.
Assessment of the Future Economic Impact of Quantum Information Science, IDA.
White House Interagency Working Group on Quantum Information Science, Advancing Quantum Information Science: National Challenges and Opportunities, Washington, DC, July 2016, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/07/26/realizing-potential-quantum-information-science-and-advancing-high-performance. (Hereinafter, Advancing Quantum Information Science, White House.)
Assessment of the Future Economic Impact of Quantum Information Science, IDA.
"US Invests $249 Million in Quantum Information Science as White House Unveils Strategic Overview," Physics World, September 28, 2018, https://physicsworld.com/a/us-invests-249m-in-quantum-information-science-as-white-house-unveils-strategic-overview/. (Hereinafter, "US Invests $249 Million in Quantum Information Science," Physics World.)
The National Science and Technology Council is the principal means by which the Executive Branch coordinates science and technology policy across the diverse entities that make up the federal R&D enterprise. One of the NSTC's primary objectives is establishing clear national goals for federal science and technology investments. The NSTC prepares R&D packages aimed at accomplishing multiple national goals. The NSTC's work is organized under five committees: Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability; Homeland and National Security; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education; Science; and Technology. Each of the committees oversees subcommittees and working groups that are focused on different aspects of science and technology.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy advises the President in policy formulation and budget development on questions in which science and technology are important elements; articulates the President's science and technology policy and programs; and fosters strong partnerships among federal, state, and local governments, and the scientific communities in industry and academia. The Director of OSTP also serves as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and manages the NSTC. For more information on OSTP and the NSTC, see CRS Report R43935, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP): History and Overview, by John F. Sargent Jr. and Dana A. Shea.
Assessment of the Future Economic Impact of Quantum Information Science, IDA.
"Congress's Quantum Science Bill May Not Keep the US Military Ahead of China," Defense One, September 17, 2018, https://www.defenseone.com/threats/2018/09/congresss-quantum-science-bill-may-not-keep-us-military-ahead-china/151319/.
"At Last America Is Moving on Quantum," Forbes, August 20, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/arthurherman/2018/08/20/at-last-america-is-moving-on-quantum/.
"Is China the Leader in Quantum Communications?," Inside Science, January 19, 2018, https://www.insidescience.org/news/china-leader-quantum-communications.
"Chinese Satellite Uses Quantum Cryptography for Secure Video Conference Between Continents," MIT Technology Review, January 30, 2018, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/610106/chinese-satellite-uses-quantum-cryptography-for-secure-video-conference-between-continents/.
European Union, Quantum Manifesto, May 2016, https://time.tno.nl/media/7638/quantum_manifesto.pdf.
European Union, The Quantum Technologies Roadmap, August 2018, http://qurope.eu/h2020/qtflagship/roadmap2016.
"£80m Funding to Boost UK Quantum Technology Programs," Optics.org, September 13, 2018, http://optics.org/news/9/9/20.
See https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/6227 for all information about this bill. For information on the companion bill, S. 3143, see https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/3143.