Quantum Supremacy and the Regulation of Quantum Technologies

Walter G. Johnson

After a false-start in September, Google provided the first peer-reviewed evidence of “quantum supremacy” a month later in the prestigious journal Nature. The announcement was the latest crescendo in the development of quantum computers—emerging technologies that can efficiently solve complicated computational problems with hardware that takes advantage of quantum mechanics.

With data privacy and national security at stake, agile and adaptive regulatory strategies are needed to manage the risks of fast-approaching quantum computers without thwarting their potential benefits.

Although “classical” computers use binary bits to perform calculations, devices under development, like Google’s, use qubits that are not limited to 1s and 0s when they process information. Instead, through phenomena like superposition and entanglement, groups of qubits can have exponentially more power by not merely being “on” or “off,” but also being some blend of on and off at the same time. With the right programming and hardware design, quantum computers should be able to work smarter than classical computers when making sense of large datasets.

Demonstrating that a quantum computer can actually solve problems even supercomputers cannot handle—so called quantum supremacy (or, preferably, the less violent “quantum advantage”)—has long been an envied goal in the quantum engineering field. But, as the CEO of leading quantum technology firm Rigetti noted, practical quantum devices will create new risks and could lead to unanticipated policy challenges.

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