In an attempt to expand the general understanding of the technology, computer scientists and theoretical physicists around the world declared April 14 World Quantum Day with celebrations and learning opportunities in all the countries indicated here in blue:
Abe Asfaw, a quantum engineer at Google Quantum AI, itemized a list of what it will take for quantum computing to succeed today. On a Google blog, he wrote:
- We need more students pursuing careers building or using quantum computers and understanding what it would be like to be a quantum scientist or engineer.
- We need experts in several fields (from quantum chemists to physicists to computer scientists) to help us understand how quantum computing might be applied to their work.
- We need to help the broader public explore how quantum computing might be applied to their work.
A major problem with number one on the list is that quantum computing, like all quantum science, is based on principles that seem alien to our ways of understanding everything around us. There are no lenses for focusing on events like qubit superposition; our way to “see” it is through math or linear algebraic equations that are well beyond younger students’ understanding. That fence needs to be stepped over, and a number of video games and demonstrations aimed at K-12 appeared in the celebrations on the 14th to help.
The second suggestion is already approaching full engagement in some corners of medicine, biology, and materials science. Quantum computing now needs the kind of expansion that welcomed classical computing when it was new. The third suggestion was part of the discussion in many online presentations that day, which included a flurry of instructive videos, demonstrations, lesson plans, and university offerings of computing study programs as well as free courses for those who are merely curious. There were also a number of videos featuring quantum scientists from around the world who explained how they got involved in this next great branch of scientific exploration.
A variety of online quantum games intended to help visualize some of the more difficult quantum principles like coherence—the ability of qubits to maintain entanglement and superposition with other qubits. These included Queue Bits (modeled on Connect Four), quantum chess, and the challenging Qubit Game from Google Quantum AI and Doublespeak Games. In the game you build and then run a browser-based quantum computer. Asfaw calls it “a playful journey to building a quantum computer, one qubit at a time, while solving challenges that quantum engineers face in their daily work. If you succeed, you’ll discover new upgrades for your in-game quantum computer, complete big research projects, and hopefully become a little more curious about how we’re building quantum computers.”
With the opening screen, you’re presented with a single qubit looking to cohere and to increase in number and the amount of information it can hold. At the same time, you have to use your mouse to brush away constant single and then multiple threats from heat and radiation (red dots) while you’re checking your growing array of qubits and the menus for additional information and help. One of the help screens has a glossary of essential terms, so there’s traditional learning from looking things up, but it’s the dynamic interplay that presents you with the complex of obstacles and problems the engineers face building their machines. The game gets complicated fast, and there are multiple levels to explore and master.
Click the image for a quick YouTube overview of the Qubit Game or go here to play the game. The game won’t work on a cell phone; it requires a laptop or larger screen.
Another idea that appeared in several presentations addressed the need for regulation of quantum computing, even prior to its general arrival. These massively powerful machines may have the ability to crack all forms of conventional encryption that we rely on today for securing everything from online banking to our email. An urgent goal now is quantum-safe cryptography or post-quantum cryptography (PQC). The SSL Store defines PQC on its blog page: “In a nutshell, quantum resistant encryption refers to a set of algorithms that are anticipated to remain secure once quantum computing moves out of the lab and into the real world.” It will replace the public key cryptography algorithms protecting us today, and it should be, according to the National Security Agency “resistant to cryptanalytic attacks from both classical and quantum computers.”
The race is on, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is currently evaluating PQC algorithms for what will become the “standard conversion techniques” that NIST will use to convert older solutions to standard PQC cryptographic solutions. The quantum-resistant algorithms NIST is considering fall into one of three general types:
- Code-based cryptography—These are algorithms that rely on “error-correcting codes.”
- Lattice-based cryptography—These algorithms involve matrices based on geometric structures.
- Multivariate public key cryptosystems—These types of algorithms vary based on the type of problems they’re trying to solve.
The competition has been ongoing at NIST for several years, and you can read more about the process on its website. Now in a third selecting round, it has narrowed the list to seven candidates and eight alternate algorithm candidates.
A group of congressional voices added their support to this effort on April 18, the Monday following World Quantum Day. A bipartisan group of U.S. House of Representatives led by Rep. Ro Khanna (D.-Calif.) introduced a bill to ensure the implementation of the NIST decision. Rep. Khanna released the following statement regarding the importance of getting PQC in place:
“Even though classical computers can’t break encryption now, our adversaries can still steal our data in the hopes of decrypting it later. That’s why I believe that the federal government must begin strategizing immediately about the best ways to move our encrypted data to algorithms that use post-quantum cryptography. I’m a strong supporter of federal funding for quantum computing and believe the technology can one day help us solve many of the world’s problems. Like with any new technology, however, we have to plan ahead for potential nefarious uses. A world where all of our encrypted data is exposed would have catastrophic implications for national security and the economy. That’s why I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Reps. Connolly and Mace to tackle this before it’s too late.”
The Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act would require the Office of Management and Budget to work with the federal chief information officer to ensure the NIST’s selected standards are implemented in all federal systems within one year of the agency’s decision. The bill has already won the endorsement of a number of major quantum researchers including Google, IBM, PQSecure Technologies, QuSecure, Maybell Quantum, and Quantinuum.
We can now expect an annual World Quantum Computing Day, but the horizon of the general arrival of the technology along with its promise of a quantum internet is still dark. Perhaps for next year’s celebration there could be a general scorecard on the progress made in 2022 shared on the World Quantum Day home page and maybe a few more quantum games that work on mobile devices.