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November 11, 2021

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US Government Accountability Office releases report on status of Quantum Computing and Communications

A report, which examines in detail the status and prospects of Quantum Computing and Quantum Communications Technologies and proposes a number of options for future government policy, has been released by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report is the result of a technology assessment which was carried out by the GAO with the aims to investigate:

  • the availability of quantum computing and communications technologies and how they work;
  • potential future applications of such technologies and benefits and drawbacks from their development and use;
  • and factors that could affect technology development and policy options available to help address those factors, enhance benefits, or mitigate drawbacks.

As part of the assessment, investigators carried out a review of key reports and scientific literature and interviewed representatives from industry, government and academia, along with potential end users. They also convened a meeting of experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Numerous applications of quantum technologies are described in the report, including how quantum computers have the potential to solve problems which are unable to be solved by any conventional technologies (including the most powerful super computers), and how quantum communications technologies could provide secure communications and a future quantum internet, however, the sectors most likely to benefit from such technologies are not outlined.

The report notes that some quantum technologies are available for purchase already (such as quantum key distribution systems), however, extensive development is still required for more technologies to become widely available and provide significant commercial value. The report suggests that some quantum computing and communications technologies will likely be developed simultaneously due to the shared principles, techniques and hardware they rely upon and because some applications, e.g. distributed quantum computing where quantum computers are connected together to solve a particular problem, rely upon both quantum computing and communications technologies to operate together.

Despite a wide range of applications of these technologies being highlighted, it is noted that there are drawbacks which include cost, complexity, energy consumption, and the possibility of malicious use. Alongside these drawbacks, four factors that affect the development and use of quantum technologies are stated to be:

  • collaboration,
  • workforce size and skill,
  • investment,
  • and the supply chain.

In order to help address the above factors and to increase the benefits and mitigate the drawbacks of these quantum technologies and their use, investigators present a number of policy options and implementation approaches, for policymakers to consider. Opportunities and considerations linked to each option are also highlighted. A full summary of the options presented can be found on page four of the report, with detailed recommendations available to view on page 37.