White House cyber official: U.S. beating China in race to quantum supremacy

Exhibition model of IBM Q System One quantum computer. (Photo by Misha Friedman/Getty Images)

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A senior White House official overseeing cybersecurity said Monday that the U.S. is ahead of China in the dash to achieve quantum supremacy thanks to the “huge competitive advantage” conferred by the collaborative nature of American science and industry.

Quantum computing is a topic of discussion in the annals of power because quantum computers might be able to break encryption, including that protecting highly sensitive government data. The first country to produce functional quantum computers will claim a major strategic advantage in a variety of fields and especially in defense and cybersecurity, experts say.

The United States is in a “generally favorable position vis-à-vis China” in the race to win on quantum computing, according to the National Security Council’s Director for Cyber and Emerging Tech Policy Jonah Force Hill, who made the remarks at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“China, they do not have that same sort of broad coalition working together that we do,” Hill said. “The freedom to engage in scientific endeavors in the United States really is unparalleled. Our universities are unmatched and I think we’re gonna continue to maintain an advantage so long as we continue to invest in the kinds of things that we need to invest in, both in R&D, but also again in the basic science that can really drive new innovations in this tech.”

Gilman Louie, who co-founded and ran the CIA venture capital fund In-Q-Tel and is now the CEO of a nonprofit designed to stoke investment in deep technologies like quantum computing, said he believes the picture is more mixed.

“It’s debatable, right, because nobody can see inside China, what specifically they’re doing on the classified side,” Louie said. “What we do see is lots of progress by technology companies like IBM and Google and Microsoft, who are spending billions of dollars in trying to get to quantum supremacy. But I wouldn’t take for granted what’s happening overseas.”

Hill said that White House officials are concerned about the Chinese stealing American intellectual property and using it to outpace America in the race to quantum supremacy. He said a recent national security presidential memorandum focused on quantum computing directs law enforcement to educate industry on the dangers of such theft.

“This is a technology area that is ripe for abuse and manipulation and theft,” Hill said. “We’re going to try to build those relationships now so that over time those companies can build up their resilience and their capability to defend themselves.”

The Commerce Department blacklisted a dozen Chinese companies in November to keep emerging technologies created in the U.S. from being used for Chinese quantum computing efforts.
 
China has reportedly spent $11 billion on a quantum information sciences national lab, among other investments meant to push it ahead in the race for quantum supremacy.

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China, encryption, National Security Council, quantum computing
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