American quantum policy lurched forward this morning when the House Committee on Space, Science and Technology approved a series of amendments to the National Quantum Initiative Act reauthorization, which will set national scientific, economic and security priorities for quantum technology over the next five years.
The original 2018 NQIA, which authorized $1.2 billion for spending on quantum and stood up new federal offices to oversee the government’s approach, expired at the end of September. The new version is a chance to keep pace with global allies and adversaries’ own quantum efforts, while continuing to boost a research field that has made major breakthroughs in the interim.
This was not a particularly rancorous or tension-filled moment in Washington, with the bill and each of today’s amendments enjoying unanimous bipartisan support on the committee.
It still faces a full committee vote after Thanksgiving, and then an anyone’s-guess encounter with Republican leadership before getting to the floor. For now, however, the amendment process offers some insight into how quantum is shaping up as a policy issue in Washington.
If passed, the bill would add a slate of additional provisions to the original, including a new quantum institute at NASA, support for quantum foundries under the Department of Energy and new research centers under the National Institute for Standards and Technology.
It’s also turning into a classic Washington Christmas tree, a $3.6 billion topline with a bunch of pet projects attached. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a former teacher, added language to ensure the inclusion of the Department of Education in quantum issues; former businessman Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.) mandated the inclusion of small businesses in strategy conversations.
But broadly speaking, most of the amendments offered today fell under one of three main policy buckets, each of which gives a revealing look into how American lawmakers are starting to view the technology:
China, security, and global competitiveness: The easiest element of quantum policy to recognize right now is the cybersecurity threat posed by quantum computers, the subject of a years-long competition organized by NIST to develop quantum-proof cryptography. To that end, numerous lawmakers today emphasized the need to stay ahead of China on quantum and boost cybersecurity, as in one amendment from Reps. Jeff Jackson (D-N.C.) and Claudia Tenney (D-N.Y.) that orders NIST to develop a strategy to standardize post-quantum cryptography across the government.
“One of the major concerns with quantum technology is that once we achieve it, all of our passwords become obsolete,” Jackson said. “There are a range of organizations that need to begin adopting these standards, and they haven’t done that yet.”
Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) also introduced an amendment that directs the National Quantum Coordination Office to monitor other countries’ quantum progress, saying “we’re in an arms race right now with China when it comes to quantum capabilities.” Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) introduced language that mandates the research activity the bill authorizes are subject to the same geopolitical security measures as those in the CHIPS and Science Act.
Commercial development and economic impact: Federal dollars create local spending opportunities, and quantum is no exception. Lawmakers introduced a slew of amendments to the bill to boost quantum development and manufacturing in the U.S., including one from Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Ohio) that encourages public-private partnerships to boost the quantum supply chain.
Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), speaking in support of her fellow Midwesterner, said the amendment would help “small businesses, new innovators, entrepreneurs,” and, of course, “certainly help make the Midwest shine.”
Other amendments sought to boost commercial quantum development and applications, a dear cause for the nascent quantum industry. Collins’ aforementioned amendment mandates the inclusion of “small and medium-sized businesses and startups” in discussions about federal quantum funding.
Funding research: And of course, with any technology still as largely theoretical as quantum computing, politicians have plenty of ideas about how and where research funding should be directed. Sykes offered an amendment prioritizing quantum research in health care; there was Bowman’s that would include the Department of Education in quantum strategy discussions; Reps. Andrea Salinas (D-Ore.) and Jim Baird (R-Ind.) directed the National Science Foundation to award grants to upgrade quantum research and tools at universities and nonprofits.
Salinas referenced the quantum research network in her home state of Oregon, and invoked the now-familiar litany of transformative use cases to which quantum might apply: “faster drug development, better clean energy technologies and improved climate modeling, helping us tackle some of society’s biggest challenges.”
As we’ve already covered here in DFD, those might be a long way off, if quantum computers even first achieve their goal of consistently outperforming their classical counterparts. But as the speedy, unusually unanimous bipartisan support for more quantum spending — at least in committee — shows, the prospect is already tantalizing enough to make it a very live political issue and target of lawmakers’ attention.
From the “first in Europe” file: Germany’s antitrust chief said today that the country’s regulators won’t review Microsoft’s investments in ChatGPT.
POLITICO’s Edith Hancock reported for Pro subscribers that Andreas Mundt, the head of Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, said his team “concluded that the previous investments and the cooperation between the two companies are not subject to merger control,” which is much stronger there than in the United States — making the decision a potentially bearish indicator for similar enforcement on this side of the pond.
That doesn’t mean, however, that big American tech firms will completely skate by European Union regulators in the AI era. The European Commission’s top antitrust official said last week it’s closely monitoring monopoly concerns, and another official in September said the bloc is looking into Microsoft’s integration of a chatbot into Bing.
A class action lawsuit filed yesterday alleges United Healthcare used an AI system to unrightfully deny seniors’ insurance claims, the latest in a series of similar lawsuits targeting health insurance companies including Cigna.
The lawsuit, brought by Clarkson Law Firm, says that after purchasing a third-party company that uses AI to evaluate insurance claims, the insurer denied coverage for extended care recommended by doctors, causing seniors to rack up massive medical debt. The lawsuit said 90 percent of those who appealed their denials were successful, although only 0.2 percent of those who were denied did so.
The behavior the lawsuit alleges is an almost textbook example of the fears voiced by AI critics who say a lack of transparency around the use of such systems will inevitably lead to discrimination and other harms. In the most high-profile example of such a mistake to date, the European Union’s privacy regulator fined Dutch tax authorities €3.7 million after an AI system wrongly accused tens of thousands of families of welfare fraud.
Stay in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Mohar Chatterjee ([email protected]); Steve Heuser ([email protected]); Nate Robson ([email protected]) and Daniella Cheslow ([email protected]).