Quantum technology has emerged as a top priority for the U.S. government in recent years. Quantum science has been foundational in areas like GPS, sensing and position, navigation and timing. Now, new applications are being identified, and quantum has the potential to be a major disruptive element in areas like defense and national security.
Dr. John Burke, principal director of quantum science at the Department of Defense, said that although a full-scale quantum computer would have existential military impact, it’s still firmly in the concept phase, and we have a long way to go in actually developing, prototyping and fielding a quantum computer.
“Building a full-scale quantum computer on one chip, one wafer, whatever you might think of, probably won’t be nearly enough. You’re going to need a lot of processing cores,” Burke said during the Quantum Technologies Forum hosted by ExecutiveBiz Events.
Those processing cores will then need to be linked together at quantum levels in order to fully utilize them. “You need a lot of interconnect to make that happen. We don’t really know how to do that for quantum systems, so that’s a tremendous amount of work to figure that out,” shared Burke.
“If someone can figure out this, this interconnect problem, this quantum interconnect problem, they could build a much larger system. And so there’s a lot of potential for disruption if someone can figure this out,” he added.
Burke noted that there are a lot of ideas circulating that could contribute to building a singular full-scale quantum computer that is capable enough to be useful. He lauded the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives, launched in the early 1990s, as a major milestone in the fundamental research of quantum science.
Over the last 30 years, Burke said he has seen “increasing interests in fundamental research in quantum science, from computing and networking to sensors and clocks.”
“Fundamental research maybe doesn’t get the attention that it deserves,” he shared. “Quantum science is really a success story for fundamental research in this country, and I think it’s worth remembering that.”
Quantum sensors could be useful in areas like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as command, control and communications. Large-scale quantum computers, in particular, are already having an impact in the quantum science field today despite still being in the concept phase.
Dr. Burke highlighted a memo signed by President Biden that called for modernization of crypto gear to be resistant to a quantum computer as early progress that we’re already seeing.
He argued that quantum computers are “already having a very large impact in the sense that just the potential to make one of these larger quantum computers that’s fault tolerant, that’s leading us to change out all of our crypto analytic gear today.”
Research and education are imperative now in the development of disruptive quantum technologies. Burke said our quantum future will rely on the next generation of quantum breakthrough developments.
“In order to kind of realize all of these dreams, we need a lot of breakthroughs,” he said. “We need breakthroughs in photonics, cryogenics, breakthroughs in dilution refrigerators and vacuum equipment. We need all those things.”
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