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Help wanted: U.S. government is seeking advice from quantum computing experts

Components for IBM’s quantum computer are on display at a science conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)
Components for IBM’s quantum computer are on display at a science conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

The U.S. Department of Energy is looking for experts to guide the White House and federal agencies through the weird world of quantum information science.

Today’s solicitation seeks nominations to the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee, a panel that gets its mandate from legislation that President Donald Trump signed into law last December.

In addition to calling for the establishment of the advisory committee, the National Quantum Initiative Act sets aside $1.2 billion over five years to support research, development and workforce training relating to quantum information science.

Quantum approaches to information processing are expected to bring dramatic changes to computer science in the years ahead. While classical computers deal exclusively with binary data in the form of ones vs. zeroes, quantum computers could manipulate quantum bits — or qubits — that can hold different values simultaneously until the results are read out.

Computer scientists say the unorthodox approach could solve specific classes of problems, such as simulating chemical reactions or cracking encryption codes, far more quickly than classical computers could.

Microsoft recently convened a summit at the University of Washington to bring together the Pacific Northwest’s experts on quantum information science. Other companies active in the field range from heavyweights such as IBM, Google and Boeing to startups such as D-Wave Systems, headquartered near Vancouver, B.C.

In a statement announcing the search for advisory committee members, White House chief technology officer Michael Kratsios noted that the Trump administration “has identified quantum information science as a critical ‘Industry of the Future’ that will grow the economy, enhance national security and benefit the American people.”

Paul Dabbar, under secretary for science at the Energy Department, said it’s a “very exciting time for quantum information science.”

“The National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee will be a tremendous help as we work to overcome the significant technical hurdles that remain as we work toward a quantum computer that will be useful for solving real-world problems,” Dabbar said.

The committee will provide advice and recommendations to the president, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science. Such advice will guide implementation of the National Quantum Initiative, alert the administration to trends in the field, and help policymakers determine whether national security and economic considerations are being adequately addressed.

Nominations should be submitted via email to by Oct. 4. Perry will consider the nominations with input from Kelvin Droegemeier, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or his designee.

Quantum information science is just one of the “Industries of the Future” on OSTP’s list. Another priority is research and development relating to artificial intelligence. Earlier this week, the Trump administration released a report that detailed its plans for R&D spending on networking and information technology, including AI.

According the report, non-defense spending in the AI category would be budgeted at $973.5 million for the 2020 fiscal year. Almost half of that sum — $487.6 million — would go to the National Science Foundation for research and related activities. The National Institutes of Health would get $202.5 million, and the Energy Department’s Office of Science would get $119.5 million. NASA comes in toward the low end of the spending scale with $4.8 million budgeted.

Kratsios said the report represents the first-ever agency-by-agency budgetary breakdown for non-defense AI R&D. “It provides an important mechanism and baseline for tracking U.S. AI R&D spending moving forward,” he said Tuesday at an event presented by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Center for Data Innovation in Washington, D.C.

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