The race to develop quantum technology is getting crowded

The race to develop quantum technology is getting crowded


>>Sreenivasan: IF YOU THINK BACK TO HIGH SCHOOL, YOU MAY REMEMBER SOME OF THE LAWS OF CLASSICAL PHYSICS, LIKE NEWTON’S THIRD LAW OF MOTION: FOR EVERY ACTION, THERE IS AN EQUAL AND OPPOSITE REACTION. INTUITIVE LAWS LIKE THESE FORM THE BASIS OF CLASSICAL PHYSICS, AND THEY’RE ALL TRUE. EXCEPT WHEN YOU GET TO THE SMALLEST UNITS IN THE UNIVERSE. THIS IS THE DOMAIN OF WHAT’S KNOWN AS QUANTUM MECHANICS. IT’S HOW PARTICLES SMALLER THAN ATOMS INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER, AND AT THIS MINISCULE SCALE, ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LAWS OF PHYSICS APPLY. IN FACT, IT MAY BE POSSIBLE FOR ONE PARTICLE TO BE IN TWO DIFFERENT PLACES AT THE SAME TIME. IT’S A DIFFICULT CONCEPT FOR ANYONE TO UNDERSTAND, BUT UNDERSTANDING HOW SUBATOMIC PARTICLES INTERACT COULD LEAD TO MAJOR TECHNOLOGICAL LEAPS. IN FACT, RESEARCHERS ARE ALREADY STUDYING HOW QUANTUM MECHANICS COULD LEAD TO BREAKTHROUGHS IN SUPER COMPUTING, ENCRYPTION, AND EVEN MEDICAL TREATMENT. BUT, IN THE RACE TO HARNESS QUANTUM TECHNOLOGY, THE U.S. MAY BE FALLING BEHIND. CHRISTOPHER BOOKER REPORTS.>>Reporter: IN 1957, A RUSSIAN SATELLITE CALLED SPUTNIK USHERED IN THE SPACE AGE WHEN IT ORBITED THE EARTH FOR THE FIRST TIME. FEW MAY REALIZE IT, BUT A CHINESE SATELLITE LAUNCHED IN 2016 MAY HAVE A SIMILAR SCIENTIFIC SIGNIFICANCE. IT’S THE WORLD’S FIRST SATELLITE CONTAINING QUANTUM COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY. IT’S BEEN CALLED QUANTUM’S SPUTNIK MOMENT. WHY IS THAT?>>WELL, I THINK IT WAS AN AWAKENING IN MANY AREAS OF THE GOVERNMENT TO NOTE THAT IT WAS TECHNOLOGICALLY POSSIBLE.>>Reporter: UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PROFESSOR DAVID AWSCHALOM HAS SPENT A GREAT DEAL OF TIME THINKING ABOUT THAT AWAKENING. NOT ABOUT THE SATELLITE ITSELF, BUT HOW, AFTER DECADES OF INVESTMENT IN QUANTUM RESEARCH, AMERICAN CAPABILITIES HAVE BEEN SURPASSED.>>TO PUT A SATELLITE IN ORBIT THAT COULD SEND ENTANGLED PARTICLES OF LIGHT TO GROUND STATIONS 1,000 KILOMETERS APART… IT’S AN EXTRAORDINARY TECHNOLOGICAL ACHIEVEMENT.>>Reporter: THE LAUNCH IS A GIANT LEAP FORWARD IN A GLOBAL RACE TO DEVELOP TECHNOLOGY THAT EXPLOITS THE PRINCIPLES OF QUANTUM MECHANICS. THOSE ARE THE GOVERNING BEHAVIORS OF THE SMALLEST PARTICLES IN THE UNIVERSE.>>THE FACT THAT WE CAN CONTROL THE QUANTUM PROPERTIES OF INDIVIDUAL ATOMS, ELECTRONS, NUCLEI, EVEN PHOTONS, WILL LEAD TO LOTS AND LOTS OF NEW APPLICATIONS, FROM NEW TYPES OF MEDICAL DIAGNOSTICS, TO NEW TYPES OF SENSORS, TO ENCRYPTED AND SAFE COMMUNICATION, TO ADVANCED TYPES OF COMPUTING.>>Reporter: AND THIS IS WHAT THE CHINESE SATELLITE DID. BEAMING LIGHT PARTICLES CALLED PHOTONS BACK TO EARTH, IT DEMONSTRATED THAT IMPENETRABLE, ENCRYPTED COMMUNICATION MIGHT NOW BE POSSIBLE.>>ONE OF THE ODD THINGS ABOUT THESE QUANTUM STATES, IS, THE ACT OF LOOKING CHANGES THEM. SO YOU MIGHT THINK THAT’S A LIABILITY, BUT FOR SECURE COMMUNICATION, THAT’S AN ASSET. IF YOU SEND ME A QUANTUM STATE, AND SOMEBODY ATTEMPTS TO EAVESDROP, YOU’LL CHANGE THE MESSAGE. YOU’LL ACTUALLY DESTROY THE MESSAGE.>>Reporter: SO, AS AN OUTSIDE VIEWER, IF WE WERE TO TRY TO LOOK AT THAT TRANSMISSION, THE STATE WOULD CHANGE? WE WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO INTERPRET WHAT IT WAS SAYING?>>CORRECT. THIS IS ONE OF THE UNUSUAL, WEIRD PROPERTIES OF QUANTUM MECHANICS THAT MAKE IT VERY DIFFICULT TO GRASP, FOR ANY OF US.>>Reporter: DIFFICULT TO GRASP, OR EVEN HARDER THAN THAT. AFTER ALL, THE WORDS OF THE MOST FAMOUS AMERICAN-BORN PHYSICIST OF THE 20th CENTURY, RICHARD FEYNMAN, STILL RESONATE MORE THAN 50 YEARS AFTER HE SAID THEM:>>…I THINK I CAN SAFELY SAY THAT NOBODY UNDERSTANDS QUANTUM MECHANICS.(LAUGHTER)>>IT’S COMPLICATED IN THE SENSE THAT IT’S EXTREMELY NON-INTUITIVE. IT’S COUNTER-INTUITIVE. WE DON’T SEE THIS IN OUR WORLD TODAY, RIGHT? WE DON’T SEE THE PROPERTIES OF MATTER THAT COULD ALLOW YOU TO WALK THROUGH A WALL.>>Reporter: WAIT A MINUTE, PROPERTIES THAT WOULD ALLOW US TO WALK THROUGH A WALL?>>IN THE QUANTUM WORLD, THAT’S ALLOWED, WITH A CERTAIN PROBABILITY. IN OUR WORLD, IN THE CLASSICAL WORLD, THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. THAT CAN’T HAPPEN TO YOU. THIS TYPE OF INTERACTIONS HAS BEEN HAPPENING IN THE ATOMIC WORLD FOREVER. IT’S HOW MATTER IS PUT TOGETHER. IT’S HOW MATTER INTERACTS. IT’S THE– POTENTIALLY THE PUZZLE PIECES THAT KEEP OUR WORLD TOGETHER. THIS CLEAN ROOM IS ONE OF THE BEST IN THE COUNTRY.>>Reporter: FOR DECADES, THE U.S. HAS BEEN WORKING ON THIS PUZZLE, SPENDING AROUND $200 MILLION A YEAR IN RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT GRANTS. THAT SOUNDS LIKE A LOT. BUT IN RECENT YEARS, MANY OTHER DEVELOPED NATIONS HAVE LAUNCHED NATIONAL QUANTUM INITIATIVES, PUMPING BILLIONS INTO PROGRAMS OF THEIR OWN. MOST NOTABLY, CHINA. WHILE THE EXACT NUMBER IS NOT KNOWN, SOME ESTIMATES PUT THEIR INVESTMENT AT TENS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS.>>CHINA HAS LAUNCHED A MAJOR PROGRAM; EUROPE, JAPAN, AUSTRALIA, CANADA. SO, I DON’T BELIEVE THE UNITED STATES IS BEHIND, BUT I THINK THE UNITED STATES WILL HAVE FORMIDABLE COMPETITION.>>Reporter: LAST DECEMBER, CONGRESS APPROVED A SLIGHT EXPANSION OF U.S. EFFORTS, ESTABLISHING THE NATIONAL QUANTUM INITIATIVE ACT COMMITTING NEARLY $1.3 BILLION OF FEDERAL MONEY TO THE RESEARCH OF QUANTUM INFORMATION SCIENCE OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS. THE ACT ALSO ESTABLISHES A FEDERAL STRATEGY TO COORDINATE RESEARCH ALREADY TAKING PLACE IN UNIVERSITIES AND PRIVATE INDUSTRY. BUT IF THE U.S. HOPES TO BUILD AND PATENT THOSE QUANTUM PRODUCTS OF THE FUTURE, AWSCHALOM SAYS FUNDING IS NOT THE ONLY ISSUE; THE COUNTRY WILL NEED TO DRAMATICALLY INCREASE THE NUMBER OF QUANTUM SCIENTISTS.>>WELL, WITHOUT A WORKFORCE, IT WON’T HAPPEN. WE NEED TO TRAIN STUDENTS THAT ARE BOTH COMFORTABLE WITH THESE NEW EXPERIMENTAL TECHNIQUES; DEVELOP NEW MICROSCOPES, NEW WAYS TO LOOK AT MATTER; AND ESSENTIALLY BRING INDUSTRY UP TO SPEED, TRANSLATE THESE IDEAS INTO A LARGER SETTING. SO, THEY’RE ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL.>>Reporter: THERE IS ALSO A FAIRLY LONG TURNAROUND TIME, BECAUSE THE STUDENTS THAT WE TRAIN TODAY, WE ARE TALKING ESSENTIALLY ALMOST A TEN-YEAR DEVELOPMENT PERIOD?>>IT IS IMPORTANT TO APPRECIATE THAT. SO, A GRADUATE PhD PROGRAM IS FIVE TO SIX YEARS. THEN THERE ARE COUPLE OF YEARS OF ENGAGEMENT. SO IF WE DON’T START NOW, WE WILL BE A DECADE BEHIND. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO LAUNCH THIS NOW. SO, THE YELLOW LIGHT IS DESIGNED SO THEY CAN MAKE SMALLER CIRCUITS.>>Reporter: IN 2013, WHEN THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO CONVINCED AWSCHALOM TO MOVE HIS QUANTUM LABORATORY FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT SANTA BARBARA TO ITS NEW INSTITUTE FOR MOLECULAR ENGINEERING HOUSED IN A $300 MILLION STATE-OF-THE-ART BUILDING, HE BROUGHT 12 GRADUATE STUDENTS WITH HIM, AND WAS ONE OF ONLY FOUR PROFESSORS. BUT TODAY, WITH UNIVERSITY, FEDERAL, AND CORPORATE, AND DONOR FUNDING, THE INSTITUTE HAS EXPANDED EXPONENTIALLY, JUST HIRING ITS 31st FULL-TIME PROFESSOR, AND TEACHING 128 GRADUATE STUDENTS. IN MAY, AFTER RECEIVING A $100 MILLION GIFT, THE INSTITUTE BECAME THE NATION’S FIRST SCHOOL DEDICATED ENTIRELY TO MOLECULAR ENGINEERING. BUT AWSCHALOM SAYS THE U.S. WILL NEED THOUSANDS OF QUANTUM ENGINEERS IF IT HOPES TO OUTPACE THE EFFORTS OF FOREIGN COMPETITORS. AND IT WILL NEED THE HELP OF PRIVATE INDUSTRY, WHICH THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PARTNERS WITH.>>SOME MAJOR AMERICAN COMPANIES, LIKE GOOGLE, AND IBM, AND MICROSOFT, AND INTEL, ALL NOW HAVE QUANTUM PROGRAMS. SO, IT’S BEGINNING TO MOVE. PEOPLE ARE SEEING REAL SYSTEMS BEING BUILT.>>Reporter: IN ADDITION TO ADVANCED ENCRYPTION, AWSCHALOM SAYS APPLICATIONS OF QUANTUM TECHNOLOGY WILL INCLUDE DRAMATIC INCREASES IN COMPUTING SPEED, AS WELL AS THE DEVELOPMENT OF PRECISE MEDICAL DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS.>>SO IMAGINE PUTTING A SENSOR IN A LIVING CELL, WATCHING INFORMATION MOVING THROUGH THE MEMBRANE, MEASURING THE TEMPERATURE OF THE CELL PRECISELY. LOOK AT THE EFFECT OF A PHARMACEUTICAL IN A BIOLOGICAL SYSTEM. IT WOULD REVOLUTIONIZE AREAS OF MEDICINE AND HEALTHCARE.>>Reporter: BUT AWSCHALOM SAYS THAT THE BIGGEST ADVANCES FROM QUANTUM TECHNOLOGY WILL LIKELY BE BEYOND WHAT WE CAN IMAGINE TODAY.>>YOU KNOW, WE’RE JUST AT THE BEGINNING. AND, YOU KNOW, A NICE PARALLEL IS WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT THE ELECTRONICS TECHNOLOGY. WE’RE AT THE STAGE OF THE FIRST TRANSISTOR BEING DEVELOPED. THAT’S THE WAY A LOT OF US LIKE TO THINK ABOUT IT. AND I THINK IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE, WHEN PEOPLE BUILT THE FIRST TRANSISTOR THAT WAS ABOUT THE SIZE OF YOUR THUMB, THAT THERE’D BE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF THEM IN AN iPHONE. IT’S VERY HARD TO PREDICT WHERE THESE THINGS WILL GO, AND I THINK MANY OF US WILL NOT BE THE USERS OF QUANTUM TECHNOLOGY. IT WILL BE THE NEXT GENERATION.>>Reporter: WITH THE SPACE RACE, IT WAS IDENTIFIABLE TO EVERYONE. WE’RE GOING TO SEND A ROCKET TO SPACE. WE’RE GOING TO PUT A PERSON ON THE MOON. THIS ISN’T LIKE THAT.>>WELL, IN A WAY, IT IS; IN A WAY, IT ISN’T. WHAT I FOUND EXTRAORDINARY ABOUT THE SPACE RACE IS, A DECISION WAS MADE TO GO TO THE MOON, NOT REALLY KNOWING HOW TO DO IT, BUT WITH THE CONFIDENCE THAT, WHEN PROBLEMS WOULD APPEAR, THEY WOULD BE SOLVED. SO, QUANTUM TECHNOLOGY, I VIEW A LITTLE BIT OF THAT. THERE ARE CHALLENGES, BUT I’M VERY CONFIDENT THE COMMUNITY WILL OVERCOME THEM. AND I THINK IN THE END, IT WILL END UP BEING MORE EXCITING THAN WE ENVISION TODAY.

Danny Hutson

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