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Federal Agencies Make the Case for Quantum

Amid development of emerging technologies like AI and machine learning, leaders see promise in quantum computing.

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quantum computer at Air Force Research Laboratory
A quantum computer at the Air Force Research Laboratory's Information Directorate in Rome, New York helps conduct experiments to improve quantum computing and networking. Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force/DVIDS

Federal leaders see promise in quantum technology across agency missions and are pushing for further exploration of the technology, they said last week at the Quantum.Tech Conference in Washington, D.C.

Energy Department CIO Ann Dunkin said quantum can help with energy management across the department and ensuring grid security and resiliency.

“Being able to use quantum sensing for resiliency against attacks will make a huge difference and make that more secure in terms of our ability to manage the burdens of disruptions,” Dunkin said.

The department sees potential for quantum technologies to maintain and expand a presence in space. In its 2021-2031 Energy for Space Strategy, the agency wants to explore how high-performance computing and quantum technology can support space science, security and commerce.

Rima Oueid, commercialization executive in the Office of Technology Transitions, cited cooperation with other agencies and the private sector to bring quantum forward.

“We’re not limiting ourselves. We’re trying to think outside the box, and we’re also collaborating very closely with industry, our sister agencies like NASA and Transportation,” Oueid said. “Sometimes we’ll be using the same technology, but for different purposes. It was an opportunity for us to really put our minds together and try to do this faster.”

Oueid cited the International Energy Agency’s October 2023 World Energy Outlook in saying that the power of quantum technologies will bring 10 times the number of electric cars onto roads. The report also said photovoltaic technologies, or solar panels, will generate more energy than the U.S. grid currently generates.

Dunkin said Energy wants to be a leader in adapting emerging technologies and is partnering with its 17 national laboratories to research the uses of quantum technologies through mapping and modeling. Dunkin hopes to create a future where complex problems can be easily solved with quantum by embracing advancements in technology and empowering researchers.

“We don’t have a crystal ball on where this will go, but we do know that … the value of quantum will outweigh its risks to us,” Dunkin said. “We need to be vigilant to protect ourselves against those risks. But we also need to ensure that we are moving forward.”

The Defense Department also is increasingly keying in on funding for quantum. The 2024 National Defense Authorization Act included provisions for a quantum pilot program to test and evaluate how quantum may be used throughout the department. The program did not land in Congress’ appropriations, however.

Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) CIO and Director of the Digital Capabilities Directorate Alexis Bonnell encouraged industry and government to embrace quantum. The lab is testing tech like quantum magnetic imaging and quantum cryptography to keep military personnel safe. The Army recently cited quantum as a key enabler for modernized intelligence operations.

While government and industry are navigating benefits and risks of other emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, Bonnell said that embracing quantum must exceed just talking about the pros and cons. Changing the intricate — and often too scientific — conversations about quantum can help harness the true potential of it and make it more accessible to government officials and the public.

“If we want to bring other people along, stories matter. And as of right now, the industry is not telling a cohesive, coherent story in a way that benefits everyone,” Bonnell said. “People’s curiosity in an interest is crushed when we make it too hard for them to understand. But we need to band together and tell the story better. Until we do, investment will not grow to the magnitude of its potential.”

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