Quantum International Relations

Quantum International Relations

Visions of a Quantum Future: US takes the long view.


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Alexander Vipond

Unbeknownst to most, the White House held a summit on Quantum Information Science last week. It brought together 13 different government agencies from NASA and NIST, to the Departments of Defense and Energy, as well as major industry players such Microsoft and Intel. The summit addressed calls by academia and industry for a coordinated, national approach to the research and development of quantum technologies.

The results of the summit were positive. The US National Science and Technology Council released a National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science (QIS) accompanied by announcements of $249 million in funding for 118 quantum information science projects through the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation. US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry stated that QIS represented the “the next frontier of the Information Age”.

The key focal points of progress that emerged from the summit were the promise to establish a formal national coordination body, possibly as an extension of the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science, and a national strategy. The Whitehouse also made clear its intent to unite disparate quantum projects and researchers under a US quantum brand.

The summit emphasised taking a science first approach to a national strategy by connecting and investing in organisations that are seeking to solve grand scientific quantum challenges over the next ten years. To realise this, the government will provide the support to develop greater manufacturing facilities and infrastructure for scientists to conduct quantum research. They will also invest in educating a new quantum workforce with the introduction of quantum mechanics into primary and high school education and funding boosts for university programs.

The strategic effect of all this, is to scale up and sustain the rise of a larger QIS research industry which can discover new quantum applications and technologies. Not to mention compete against quantum rivals like China and Europe. While the announced funding is a step in the right direction, concrete policy plans built from the strategy are not scheduled for delivery until February next year.

Due to the continuing FBI investigations and political turmoil engulfing the current US administration (which is heading into US midterm elections this November) the final size and scope of a national strategy, its policies and levels of funding could be subject to a high degree of variability. This could even be positive given the Trump administration’s chaotic approach to funding science.

However, it is important that the national strategy is not delayed. The EU, China, UK and many other countries have already launched long-term national strategies with greater levels of government investment. For the US to remain a leader in the field and transfer that knowledge to the next generation visions of a quantum future must turn into actionable plans for leadership.

 

Quantum Applications, Quantum International Relations

Keeping up with quantum: The Pentagon’s JEDI contract


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DODJEDIImage via ZDNet

Gabriella Skoff

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) approach to the technology industry (namely, playing competing tech providers off against one other in order to procure the highest quality technology) has recently focused in on cloud technology. Early this year, the DoD announced plans to open bidding for a $10 billion contract for the single-award procurement of a new cloud strategy called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, or JEDI. This decision has received bountiful industry criticism. Arguments have focused largely on whether the contract’s single-award system and its precise requirements allow for competition between cloud technology providers or if it has been created to favor certain companies. But a potentially tragic flaw that few are hitting on is the fallibility of a cloud storage program being widely used for defense purposes in the context of other rapidly developing emerging technologies, namely quantum computing.

The decision to transition DoD IT infrastructure to a cloud-based system has indeed been made with emerging technologies in mind. Ellen Lord, Defense Undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, acknowledged that technologies “such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are fundamentally changing the character of war”, and that the use of these technologies “at scale and at a tempo relevant to warfighters requires significant computing and data storage in a common environment”. The updated cloud technology would store the government’s top defense secrets and enable military personnel working in remote locations to access critical information. These improvements are vital updates to the current defense IT infrastructure that will help the U.S. military to maintain a technological advantage, as per the Obama-era Third Offset Strategy.

However, between all the unfolding “races” to technological supremacy this IT transformation is set to accommodate, the predicted capabilities of quantum computing seem to have been critically overlooked.

It is well known that quantum computing will transform the security of cyberspace within the coming decades, but an approach to countering this threat is not noted anywhere in the JEDI contract. There are certainly companies and researchers working on quantum-secure cryptography through applications such as quantum key distribution, and even some research into the creation of a quantum blockchain—potential solutions to the quantum computing security threat. Surprisingly, however, these are not areas toward which the DoD seems to be looking.

Further concern stems from a lack of clarity around how much the DoD will come to rely on the single-source provider across all defense systems—will this be the first step towards an ultimate systems consolidation, centralizing cloud storage across the U.S. defense sector? If this is to be the case, it is even more critical that the utmost caution be taken now to ensure that the new system will be as secure as possible in the future.

Tech companies have been outspoken on this front, claiming that the use of multi-cloud technology would help to prevent security breaches and major outages. As IBM’s General Manager of the company’s federal business said: “No major commercial enterprise in the world would risk a single cloud solution, and neither should the Pentagon”.

The US DoD should be looking not one step ahead in its IT solutions, but five, even ten steps ahead. With the rapid pace at which technologies are being developed, there is a real need for foresight in this space. As Thomas Keelan of the Hudson Institute argues, in this cloud technology venture, the DoD is both missing a holistic approach to emerging technologies as well as limiting its own “crypto-agility”. The replacement of old systems is cumbersome and logistically challenging. But failing to roll out a new, quantum-secure system across such a large organization before the age of quantum computing dawns on us is both inefficient and leaves systems vulnerable to the threat of quantum capabilities. Capabilities which may very well not fall into the hands of the U.S. DoD first.

Quantum International Relations

The role of tech companies in achieving quantum supremacy


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These-Former-Obama-Officials-Are-Helping-Silicon-Valley-Pitch-the-Pentagon-article-header-1532026495Image via The Intercept

Gabriella Skoff

In anticipation of the fifth annual Q Symposium, ‘The Quantum Race:  Parallels, Promises, Perils’, Gabriella Skoff considers the drivers and obstacles to ‘quantum supremacy’.

Quantum supremacy is the point at which quantum computers will surpass the capabilities of classical computers, outperforming them at any given task. While quantum supremacy refers to a technological phenomenon, it can be argued that this is a race that is also being run on a political playing field, with the United States and China battling for an advantage. However, the biggest names in quantum technology today– IBM, Microsoft, Google– are not the names of governments but of technology companies, one of which will likely be the first to succeed, at least in the United States, in creating a fully functioning quantum computer. The race is not only profit-driven:  Quantum, like many other technologies (think: AI and facial recognition) is both a consumer and a defence-coveted goal. In the United States, the Department of Defence (DoD) relies heavily on the momentum of Silicon Valley’s booming venture capitalist culture to achieve quantum supremacy before its competitors do. But will this relationship of dependence be a disadvantage in the long run?

While the relationship between the United States DoD and Silicon Valley reaches back to the Second World War, the DoD has only recently come to fully entrust the private sector as its technological powerhouse. Since the early 2000’s, as Ash Carter’s predictions about technology and commercialization espoused in his paper entitled ‘Keeping the technological edge’ have been realized, the DoD has focused on maintaining close ties with the commercial sector. Carter argued that by using an approach that “works with rather than against market forces, leveraging commercialization to secure the needs of defence”, the growing, independent, “industrial and technology base” would be able to act as a vehicle, enabling the U.S. military to “be the world’s fastest adapter and adopter of commercial technology into defence systems”. When Carter became the U.S. Secretary of Defence in 2015, he was able to put these ideas into action, eventually with great success.

While Carter’s system has so far allowed the DoD unprecedented access to the newest and best technologies, lending itself to a definitive strategic advantage over competing world powers, there are several issues with regard to its application in the quantum race that should be explored.

One salient issue is the prevalence of “technological entanglement”. Carter argues that integral to maintaining technological supremacy is the U.S. military’s ability to deny access to and information about new technologies to competing powers. However, the technology community now largely responsible for innovation in quantum is highly collaborative and mobile, functioning in a globalized economy.

China, the United State’s main competitor in the quantum race, has taken full advantage of this weakness in the American system by pursuing strategic partnerships between Chinese firms with military connections and U.S. tech companies. This poses a unique problem to a system where those creating military technologies traditionally did so in the service of the U.S. national interest as DoD employees. Today, the intellectual capital associated with the creation of quantum technology is dangerously fungible.

Unlike the United States, China has taken the responsibility of achieving quantum supremacy unto itself, investing US$10 billion in building a new National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences, set to open in 2020. Comparatively, U.S. government spending for quantum research is now set at US$1.275 billion from 2019 to 2023.

Another cause for concern is the recent stirrings of protest in the tech community, with regard to large defence contracts. Earlier this year, Google made headlines when about a dozen of its employees resigned in protest to the company’s involvement in Project Maven, a DoD funded project developing AI surveillance for drone footage. Over 3,000 Google employees took a moral stance on the issue, signing a letter addressed to Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, which eventuated in the company’s decision to not renew the contract.

More recently, Microsoft employees had their own moment of revolt over Azure Government, the facial recognition software used by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) in the forced separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border. This also resulted in an open letter, signed by over 100 employees, which stated: “We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”

While the number of vocal protestors within these tech giants may be just a drop in the pond, these examples should cause the DoD pause for thought about the loyalty required of its industrial and technology base to win the quantum race. Lest we forget that the booming creative, entrepreneurial tech culture we see today is a product of the anti-war counter-culture of the 1960’s.

Defence contracts are inherently political, and above all else, it is critical for the DoD to keep in mind that tech companies are not pursuing quantum computing for reasons of patriotic allegiance. Ultimately, the success of the current system of reliance on this community hinges on the operationalising of defence projects as a viable business model for tech companies, whilst ensuring there are systems in place to assure that the technology created will be responsibly regulated.

Quantum International Relations

Space Force and quantum: the next chapter of the space race


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space force

Six potential logos for the US Space Force, created by the Trump-Pence 2020 Campaign PAC.

Gabriella Skoff

“When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space…” proclaimed Donald Trump, “We must have American dominance in space”. Trump’s recent announcement of the establishment of Space Force, a sixth branch of the US armed forces dedicated to US defence operations in space, has both captured the imagination of the general public and left many scratching their heads. Although the Trump administration’s recent declaration leaves little doubt as to the objective of US military dominance in space, many questions were left unanswered: Is this really necessary? Who will pay for it? How will dominance be measured? And as has been said of generals and war, is the US seeking to win the wrong, meaning the last, race?

Of course, this announcement remains confined to rhetorical space, having no real impact on policy until the plan receives congressional approval. In fact, recent policy proposals toward establishing a dedicated space corps have successively been knocked back by Congress (the last one as recently as last year). Regardless of whether Space Force is set to become a legitimate policy item on the 2020 agenda, it warrants a closer look at the current international space-security dynamic and begs the question of what international legal frameworks are in place to protect the final frontier from military domination.

While many are concerned about the militarisation of space, it is important to note that this has long been a process in which the US and other global powers have been engaged. In fact, “space” is one of the five dimensions of military operations, defining it as a domain of warfare in the core US military doctrine. Space Force, far from being a novel concept in US military policy, has actually existed as a dedicated space command within the US Air Force since 1982. The Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) currently employs over 35,000 people and is responsible for supporting vital satellite, missile and cyber operations worldwide. As such, rather than setting a bold historical precedent, the Trump Administration’s Space Force announcement fits squarely in line with the history of the space race, a marathon that has always been run with military ambitions.

In his speech declaring the creation of Space Force at the Pentagon in June, Mike Pence claimed, “Our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already”. This speech positioned Space Force as a US response to the rapidly developing military threats of China and Russia, especially with regard to the destruction and jamming of satellites. Anti-satellite weapons are a critical component of the Space Force plan, as satellites are not only the backbone of the US military complex, critical for logistics of ballistics and drone navigation, but also a technology we rely on daily for civilian matters such as telecommunications and weather reporting. The jamming, destroying, or hacking of US satellites would have widespread and crushing ramification for US infrastructure and defence capabilities.

But the use quantum computing, communication and control could profoundly tip the scales in this next chapter of the space race. Quantum encryption presents the most enticing hope of a massive security advantage with regard to satellites in space, allowing for the highest level of security possible. The use of quantum encryption would theoretically prevent hackers from cracking codes and other forms of espionage, military or otherwise. Quantum computing could allow for an exponential military advantage in space. Satellites equipped with quantum capabilities would enable offensive tactics like surveillance and reconnaissance to be done with greater speed, accuracy and security than ever before.

It would obviously be in the interest of Space Force to lead the way in quantum-satellite technology; however, China has been steadily gaining the lead on the US for some time. In 2016, China successfully launched the Micius satellite, the first quantum satellite in space. Earlier this year, Micius set up the first ‘intercontinental cryptology service’ using quantum cryptology.

So, if the world’s strongest powers are actively developing space forces with satellite striking and quantum encryption capabilities, what international legal protections prevent an all-out battle for space dominance from developing?

Notably, the US and the Soviet Union are both signatories to The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the most comprehensive legal framework enforcing non-armament and guiding the collaborative, peaceful and scientific exploration of space. While this treaty does not explicitly concern the militarization of space, Articles I and IV are of particular interest.

Article I states: “The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.” This article exists to counteract claims exactly like Trump’s, to settle for nothing less than establishing US “dominance” in space.

It is worth noting that even prior to the Trump Administration the position of dominance in space has been a cornerstone of US policy. In contrast to Pence’s assertion of adversarial aggression in space, Russia and China actually made a joint effort over a decade ago to prevent the proliferation of military arms in space. The Russia-China working paper— “a draft document containing possible elements of an international legal agreement on the prevention of the deployment of weapons in outer space, the threat or use of force against outer space objects”— was presented to the UN Conference on Disarmament in June 2002. The treaty outline did not progress in large part due to the US’ staunch opposition.

According to Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty:

“States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.

The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden…”

Article IV is the only article specifically concerning the use and orbit of arms in space but only prohibits weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This WMD-specific language is a major loophole in the treaty that will ultimately aid US interests in creating Space Force, allowing (or rather, not legally disallowing) the use of air or ground weapons, including the use of anti-satellite or anti-missile weapons in space.

There exist a handful of other treaties guiding space issues, but these mostly concern the temporal matters of nuclear testing and explosions in space, damages to space objects, and natural resources on the moon. While these treaties were and remain important, they do not provide a thorough legal framework to prevent military dominance and armament in space. The most relevant treaty concerning this issue, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty between the Soviets and the US, is no longer in effect after the US withdrew in 2002.

Clearly, the US has long since decided to dominate the domain of space. This position is much more pervasive than Trump’s claim that the idea came to him recently. US leaders have historically fought to ensure that the US military-space advantage would not be subject to legal oversight, despite the risk of adversarial challenge from competing world powers.

While international conventions strive to position space exploration as a cooperative venture for scientific purposes, the reality is that the space race has always been largely focused on military advantage and political economics. Given this perspective, there is little doubt that quantum capabilities will be at the heart of this next chapter in the space race.

 

 

Project Q, Quantum International Relations

Quantum Computing and the New Space Race


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As the race for quantum supremacy heats up, the question of whether this technology will prompt international powers to prioritise cooperation over competition remains unanswered.

While the USA has several experts in quantum technologies working in elite research institutions, public investment in the field has thus far been limited. In contrast, concerted effort and investment in Asia has positioned China as the current global leader in the development of quantum technologies.

In this article featured in The National Interest online, philosopher, neuroscientist and geo-strategist Nayef Al-Rodhan explores China’s quest for supremacy in the development of quantum technology and its application in outer space.

Great powers need to think more seriously of the challenges that the final frontier will pose.

Quantum International Relations

The United States in the Quantum Race?


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Credit IBM (50 Qubit Quantum Computer)
 Credit: IBM

Alexander Vipond

Chrysostomos Loizos Nikias, President of the University of Southern California has called it. There’s a new space race and it’s for quantum technology. The trouble, he says in a recent Washington Post opinion piece; America’s losing.

To whom? To China. As the Chinese government invests upwards of (US) $10 billion in a new National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences, The US has been lagging behind with total government funding for quantum science at $300 million in 2016.

Countries around the world including Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands have also invested heavily in academia and business to make breakthroughs in quantum computing, cryptography, sensors, information science and more. The investments the US made across academia and government in 1990’s such as the National Nanotechnology Initiative turned the country into a world leader in quantum science. Yet that comparative advantage, a foundation to build upon, is being lost.

During Congressional testimony last year on American leadership in quantum technology a cross section of the country’s brightest scientific minds came together to announce that the science was reaching an inflection point. As Dr. Jim Kurose of the National Science Foundation testified, the US must “continue to invest in long-term, fundamental, and game-changing research –and education – if we are to maintain US leadership in an emerging quantum world”. Academia and business came together to highlight the need for funding to train a new generation of computer scientists, engineers and physicists to advance into a new phase of the quantum revolution.

This same question applies to Australia. With substantial investment in the Quantum race and world class talent such as Australian of the year Michelle Simmons, are we doing enough to raise a new generation of talent and build a new quantum sector? The long lead times in training experts and providing the tools necessary requires forward strategic planning and investment to bridge the science to commerce gap and forge the critical partnerships that create a functioning quantum industry.

As Nikias points out the space race analogy is dwarfed by the new era of strategic competition where the quest for technological superiority reigns supreme. Technologies of the Cold War period are being surpassed by a broader set of innovations. Designated the 4th industrial revolution by the World Economic Forum, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, synthetic biology and quantum technology are among the new forces that will reshape our world and change global power relations. This a race that the US cannot afford to lose.

This is because this isn’t a race to the moon, it is a race to understand the sub atomic origins of life itself. Quantum technologies focus on the control and manipulation of sub-atomic particles that defy conventional physics. In communications, materials science and medicine, quantum technologies are displaying enormous potential at delivering qualitative leaps in our understanding how information, energy and matter work.

This also has national security implications. The ability for quantum computation to defeat the cryptographic safeguards designed to withstand attack from regular computers is serious. As the internet of things and countries critical infrastructure become dependent on strong cybersecurity, understanding quantum information science will become a vital asset. The same holds true for commerce where securing info data against hacking and espionage has become a new normal.

At the end of his proclamation, Nikias calls for a US national quantum strategy. This is a crucial step to funding a push in quantum technologies and of organising a cohesive framework for business, institutions and policymakers to unite under. It will take time for the notoriously complex science behind quantum to be translated into optimal policy settings and harnessed effectively by business. By creating goals and linkages between communities that process can begin to form the bedrock of a new industry. This foundation matters because it gives entrepreneurs, investors and aspiring students the knowledge that there is a long-term quantum future they can be part of. A national strategy will require foresight and commitment from a Trump Whitehouse big on words and short on policy. However, it is essential that the administration take the race seriously as the lasting impacts of the quantum race will be felt for decades.

Nikias’ call mirrors efforts of tech leaders in other fields with the first Whitehouse Summit on Artificial Intelligence occurring last week. Tech leaders from the Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft echoed calls for greater investment in basic research and training as they too seek to capitalise on the early lead they have established as they face competition from China and Europe. It is important to note that funding for one  technology or the other will not be enough for the US to maintain global power relative to its competitors. It will be states that can take advantage of the inter-disciplinary synergies between these fundamental technologies that will succeed.

 

 

Quantum International Relations

A Bright Quantum Future: France and Australia join forces


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Alexander Vipond

Australia and France will come together to develop the worlds first commercial silicon quantum integrated circuit.

Both countries signed a memorandum of understanding on quantum computing as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s whirlwind visit to Australia.

The memorandum will be the basis for a joint venture between Silicon Quantum Computing in Sydney (SQC) and Frances Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives (CEA) in Paris. SQC is a public company backed by investment from the Australian government, Telstra, Commonwealth Bank and UNSW. CEA is the publicly funded research and development arm of the French government and will bring considerable resources and talent to the effort.

They will join SQC’s efforts to build silicon-based quantum complementary oxide semi-conductors (CMOS), which are the core technology in several key components of computers. Led by Australian of the Year Michelle Simmons, the SQC team unveiled a blueprint for such a CMOS chip late last year.

Christophe Gegout, the CEA Investissement chairman said “SQC’s scientific capability in Australia and the CEA’s research and development capability in France provide an excellent basis for a collaboration to develop and commercialise a quantum silicon integrated circuit based on Silicon-CMOS”.

Prime minister Turnbull stated that CEA had recently demonstrated a 300mm industrial-scale R&D facility, silicon CMOS technology that can be leveraged to create qubits and had fabricated isotopically 28Si substrates to further benefit from the intrinsic coherence properties of silicon.

Both organisations are keen to win the global race to build a silicon quantum CMOS and the first quantum computer. As they look to the future, they will examine how to develop Industrial scale quantum manufacturing capabilities. This is crucial to building a sustainable quantum industry sector in Australia.

The joint venture is part of a larger framework to nurture greater Franco-Australian ties and achieve strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific region. The two governments also signed agreements to deepen cooperation on cybersecurity, prevent terrorism financing and co-develop hyperspectral remote sensing satellites.