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U.S. CTO: How America Achieved ‘Quantum Supremacy’

October 23, 2019, 11:00 AM UTC

The United States has taken a giant leap forward in quantum computing. Google announced Wednesday that its quantum computer Sycamore has proven the scientific theory of “quantum supremacy,” demonstrating that a quantum computer can perform tasks that reach beyond the capabilities of classical computers. Sycamore showcased an algorithm that becomes exponentially harder for classical machines to emulate as the number of quantum bits increases. 

All of this happened because of America’s unparalleled innovation ecosystem.

This ecosystem is the result of the uniquely American cooperation between academia, the private sector, and the federal government.

To prove the theory of quantum supremacy, Google’s research team built upon foundational research at government laboratories. The company began its efforts at the University of California at Santa Barbara and other universities with National Science Foundation (NSF) support, then forged ahead with its experiments at Google. Google relied upon an Energy Department supercomputer and federal experts at the NASA Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to tackle the herculean task of verifying the quantum algorithm. 

No one entity could have achieved this historic milestone on its own. Instead, academic, industrial, and government teams worked together from the bottom up to push the boundaries of science and unlock new potential for human advancement.

Read more: Business Bets on a Quantum Leap

Critics may say that proving quantum supremacy is a great scientific achievement, but it doesn’t have any practical application; however, this ignores the amazing potential of quantum computing.

Quantum information science has already enabled the GPS in our cars, the semiconductors in our smartphones, and the MRI machines in our hospitals. In the future, we will be able to apply quantum computing to design new chemicals, materials, and drugs; to explore the mysteries of the origin of our universe; and to expand the capabilities of optimization and machine learning systems.

Whatever the future of quantum computing holds, we know that it will be transformative and that it will be built in America. Under the Trump administration, the federal government is reinforcing the innovation ecosystem that makes these achievements possible, and we are standing firmly behind quantum research and development.

Researchers with the Energy Department National Laboratories, NSF, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), NASA, Defense Department, and many other federal agencies and programs conduct fundamental quantum R&D and were instrumental to the quantum supremacy effort. Importantly, this administration’s budgets have prioritized quantum science by promoting research and coordination among agencies, demonstrating our commitment to quantum discovery and innovation.

In 2018, President Trump signed the landmark National Quantum Initiative Act, which provides strong support for quantum R&D across the federal government and established the first-ever coordination office to harmonize and strengthen quantum policies administration-wide. The law also directs NIST to establish and expand quantum consortia with the private sector, academia, and federal laboratories, bringing together America’s innovative ecosystem to make even more discoveries and develop the quantum technological base for our future high-tech economy.

In America, as with many of our likeminded international partners, we believe deeply that freedom coupled with a spirit of cooperation and strong public and private institutions produce incomparable innovations. This stands in stark contrast to our competitors, like China, that believe innovation is the result of public funding, government mandates, and bureaucratic plans.

Top-down systems may achieve limited and specific results with ruthless efficiency by mandating every party to work toward the same goal. But such a system leaves no room for the individual brilliance, out-of-the-box thinking, personal relationships, conceptual boldness, dynamic competition, and quick adaptation that all thrive in America and that have helped to make us the most innovative nation in human history.

We did not prove quantum supremacy through a government directive, and we won’t determine how to apply our new knowledge through administrative committees.

Today, we celebrate the remarkable achievement of proving the theory of quantum supremacy. Now, the United States stands prepared to usher in the next generation of quantum technologies by embracing the innovation ecosystem at the heart of our technological dominance.

Michael Kratsios is the chief technology officer of the United States.

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