Quantum mechanics describes the behavior and interaction of matter and energy at the scale of individual atoms or subatomic particles. We intuitively understand the collective effects of particles at much larger scales, but quantum behavior can often seem strange and counterintuitive. For example, at the most fundamental level, both matter and radiation (including visible light) behave in some ways like discrete particles and in other ways like continuous waves, resulting in surprising properties. These quantum phenomena include superposition (in which a system simultaneously includes all possible measurement outcomes with some probability, and only has a fixed value once such a measurement takes place) and entanglement (a superposition of the states of multiple particles, in which their properties are correlated with each other). Taking advantage of such properties to process information—working at the intersection of quantum phenomena with information science—provides unique and exciting opportunities in sensing, metrology, navigation, communications, fundamental physics, simulation, new paradigms in computing, and a host of other areas. These exciting prospects are summarized in a new report from the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), Advancing Quantum Information Science: National Challenges and Opportunities.
The NSTC report being issued today is the product of an interagency working group that was created to assess the current status of the field, coordinate activities across the relevant Federal agencies, engage stakeholders, and consider ways to address impediments and facilitate progress in quantum information science (QIS). Efforts to date have included internal discussions, agency-led and interagency workshops, and public requests for information; working group efforts will continue to include both Federal activity and outreach to the relevant research, development, and related communities in support of the broad ecosystem needed to realize the promise of quantum information science.
As a complement to the interagency report, the Department of Energy (DOE) is also publishing today the report of a recent roundtable on Quantum Sensors at the Intersections of Fundamental Science, Quantum Information Science, and Computing. The roundtable report provides a perspective from experts in the research community on promising scientific directions, needs for additional progress, and potential approaches consistent with the DOE mission. Other agencies have also held workshops and undertaken other activities reflecting the growing attention to QIS, including the recent launch of a cross-cutting National Science Foundation “metaprogram” on Connections in Quantum Information Science that complements and coordinates several existing programs within specific disciplines.
In addition to having strong connections to other related science and technology initiatives, there is significant synergy between the QIS effort and the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI). The NSCI is a whole-of-Nation effort, created by Executive Order on July 29, 2015, to ensure continued U.S. leadership in high-performance computing (HPC) and to maximize the benefits of HPC for the economy and scientific discovery.
One key NSCI strategic objective is to establish, over the next 15 years, a viable path forward for future HPC systems. The NSCI pursues this objective through two concurrent paths: technologies that accelerate traditional digital computing after the limits of current semiconductor technologies are reached; and a range of new computing paradigms—including quantum computing—to address problems beyond the scope of traditional high performance computing. Some promising options on both NSCI paths depend on QIS. Understanding and controlling quantum effects will be critical to further miniaturization of charge-based complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) devices, and to refining alternatives for digital computing such as spin-based CMOS or superconducting computing. Basic and applied QIS research and development is also needed to clarify the range of computational problems a potential quantum computer could address, and to resolve the many challenges to fielding a practical quantum computer.
Today, OSTP is also publishing the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI) Strategic Plan, authored by the NSCI Executive Council. Realizing the vision of the NSCI will demand a fully developed HPC ecosystem that meets the needs of government, industry, and academia. This Strategic Plan (Plan) focuses on areas where government engagement is essential in creating the technological capability, computational foundations, and workforce capacity to realize the vision of the NSCI. The Plan identifies the roles assigned to Federal agencies, and highlights ongoing and prospective activities that will contribute to NSCI’s goals. A combination of broad commercial drivers and government action is necessary to achieve the vision of the NSCI, but the success of the initiative depends upon deeper collaboration among the Federal Government, industry, and academia in the development, commercialization, and deployment of new HPC technologies and infrastructure. The NSCI strives to establish and support a collaborative ecosystem in strategic computing that will support scientific discovery and economic drivers for the 21st century, and that will not naturally evolve from current commercial activity.
OSTP intends to engage academia, industry, and government in the upcoming months to discuss activity in both fields, exchange views on key needs and opportunities, and consider how to maintain vibrant and robust national ecosystems for QIS research and development and for high-performance computing. These conversations will offer an opportunity to discuss mechanisms for addressing challenges in these rapidly-developing fields, including disciplinary and institutional boundaries, education and workforce training, and technology and knowledge transfer.
Altaf H. (Tof) Carim is Assistant Director for Research Infrastructure at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
William T. (Tim) Polk is Assistant Director for Cybersecurity at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Erin Szulman is Policy Advisor to the Chief of Staff at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.