Is the U.S. ready for a quantum leap in computing?

Stock illustration ID: 503250016/ by sakkmesterke 

While widespread use of quantum computing is likely still years away, experts stress that government should ramp up preparations now for a future that could disrupt the underpinnings of conventional encryption.

Although its application is still "speculative" in some ways, quantum computing presents the opportunity for faster data processing, advancements in pattern recognition and stronger security, explained Dr. Christopher Monroe, professor of physics at the University of Maryland.

Quantum computing works by replacing the binary zeros and ones of conventional computing with multivariable quantum bits, radically increasing the speed of calculations. But with that technological advancement also comes the threat of making obsolete the fundamental cryptography on which most technology has been built for decades.

Scott Totzke, CEO of the quantum-focused security firm ISARA Corporation, said the advent of quantum computing will upend public key cryptography.

"We’ve fundamentally built a trust system…based on public-key cryptography, which we know to be susceptible to the advent of large-scale quantum computing," he said. "We don’t know what that date is... But we do know the public-key infrastructure, the underlying cryptography that we have built our entire technology industry on since the 70s, is going to be broken, and we need to do something different than what we’re doing today."

There are pockets of government already investing quantum technologies. For example, NIST is requesting submissions for quantum-resistant cryptography through November, and the Departments of Energy and Defense, among others, are also looking at its applications.

However, to prevent the U.S. from falling behind internationally, and from risking the insecurity of all sorts of data, Dr. Arthur Herman, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, advocated for a national quantum initiative with a "Manhattan Project-style funding focus."

The Manhattan Project "is not a perfect comparison... but it gets across the sense of urgency," he noted. "The plan for making [the quantum transition] possible has to start now in order to be prepared in a decade’s time, or even less."

Warner Miller, a physics professor at Florida Atlantic University, said that "to be a serious player in this game I think we have to invest substantially more money... in the order of billions."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

Featured

  • Defense
    Ryan D. McCarthy being sworn in as Army Secretary Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. Dana Clarke/U.S. Army)

    Army wants to spend nearly $1B on cloud, data by 2025

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said lack of funding or a potential delay in the JEDI cloud bid "strikes to the heart of our concern."

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

Stay Connected

FCW INSIDER

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.