More international quantum partnerships likely as US stakes stake claim on the ground

The State Department announced a new international partnership focused on continuing research and development of new quantum technologies as the United States strives to solidify its global presence in this burgeoning field.

In announcing a new partnership with Sweden on Wednesday, the United States has now concluded several bilateral agreements specifically focused on the development of quantum technology with various allied countries, including Japan, Australia, Finland and the United Kingdom.

“Given the fact that QIST [quantum information, science and technology] ecosystems will rely on close international relations and collaboration with partners, we intend to focus on cooperation in QIST as outlined in this vision for the mutual benefit of participating countries and continue to strengthen cooperation science under our respective leaderships,” reads the State Department press release. .

As the national security of the United States – and that of other nations – becomes directly proportional to its technological infrastructure, more of these bilateral partnerships are likely to arrive, according to the executive director of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium, Celia Merzbacher.

Merzbacher, a scientist who previously worked in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said Nextgov that she is “completely confident” that the United States will pursue more partnerships to advance the development of quantum technology.

“These statements indicate that both sides see the other as having strengths in this area and wanting to partner up because we don’t have all the marbles right now,” she said. “We recognize that innovation happens outside of the United States and… vice versa. And so, we really want to hold hands and figure out how to leverage our respective strengths, form stronger partnerships. It’s a real statement.

The United States maintains a competitive edge in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, as well as a strong tech market sector anchored by companies like Google, IBM, and Facebook.

Yet other countries are overtaking the United States in direct state funding in quantum space, leading to global centers for quantum research.

“We don’t have the big lead that you might say we have in other areas,” Merzbacher noted. “There are governments spending, you know, probably more than us per capita, all over the world.”

Recent research published by the RAND Corporation and commissioned by the Pentagon highlights the progress the United States has made in quantum developments, particularly with military sensor technology and quantum computing. This is mostly supported by research in the private sector, although government spending on QIST totaled $710 million in 2021.

This study characterized US quantum efforts as “at or near the world forefront in every application area”.

“The government really cares about it,” Merzbacher said. “And so they take this kind of geopolitical approach because the quantum happens to be emerging in this geopolitical environment.”

Global security has been tested amid Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, primarily on the cybersecurity front. Law enforcement has cracked down on Russian-linked hacking groups, and federal authorities have issued several warnings to public and private sector companies about protecting their digital infrastructure.

Merzbacher said part of the United States’ recent partnerships with other countries focused on quantum technology plays into the country’s efforts to improve its cybersecurity posture. It details quantum algorithms and their potential to decrypt sensitive data stored on a standard digital computer.

She notes that such algorithms must run on a quantum computer and predicts that a working model will not be available for another decade.

Either way, she warns against complacency, as some hackers collect critical data so they can decrypt it.

“At the moment they can’t read it, but they can save it. And they can save it for the happy day when they have a quantum computer, and then they can read it,” Merzbacher said. “Even today’s vulnerabilities that companies can do next to nothing about, because it’s called ‘harvest now, decrypt later’.”

International partnerships focused on quantum computing and other research will likely focus on early-stage talent development, but will also work to develop regulations and encryption best practices and standards.

“The thing is, we’ve transitioned encryption standards in the past and it takes about 10 years to do that, and so it’s a bit more urgent, I think, than we sometimes appreciate,” she said.

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