The Geopolitical Rush Behind Quantum Technologies

The Geopolitical Rush Behind Quantum Technologies

Technological innovation is geared to significantly change the economic balance of power and severely affect the international security order. Quantum revolution is one such critical domain of emerging technologies which is pitched to transform the capabilities of various international actors.

Let us first get our basics sorted and dwell a little on what is the new quantum revolution. The new quantum revolution refers to the development of quantum computing to alter conventional sectors like security, energy, communications, climate change, finance and medicine.

The word “quantum” refers to the idea that all light, matter and energy is composed of discrete units or quanta. Quantum science deals with examining how nature works at the infinitesimal levels of atoms, protons and other subatomic particles.

Now, quantum mechanics is used in quantum computers to enable data processing at unprecedented scales. Researchers feel that quantum computers are tremendously more powerful than any supercomputer ever built. These quantum computers produce qubits. Qubits are physical carriers of quantum information and are added to microchips. This significantly increases the processing powers of microchips.

Put simply, quantum computers are state-of-the-art machines that can solve complex mathematical problems. They theoretically promise immense potential for AI, machine learning, security, digital infrastructure, financial market analysis and bioengineering.

Techno-politics

The United States, China, Russia and UK are the global players who have a head start in this niche domain. The fascination of countries to develop quantum computers has become irresistible to gain a strategic lead in cybersecurity, intelligence operations and economic industry.

The nations mentioned above have devoted exponential monetary resources toward quantum research and development. Currently, the United States houses the world’s largest quantum computer, IBM’s Eagle. IBM also seeks to dominate the quantum space with a mega-computer chip that could potentially process over 1.000 qubits. Technological powerhouses like Google, Microsoft and IBM are all American companies that allow the United States to retain a strong lead in quantum computing.

China, the United States and the UK have competitive national plans for attracting computing talent and expertise. For example, the Chinese have their “Thousand Talents Plan” which has transfixed global eyeballs. Beijing is splurging monies to lure scientists and researchers. China has also invested in two different architectural pathways for gaining computational advantages in quantum supremacy. These pathways are light-based Gaussian boson sampling and electron based-random quantum circuit sampling, which is also used in IBM’s Eagle.

Both United States and China have further imposed tit-for-tat restrictions on domestic companies to limit technological exchange with each other. This has raised questions from different quarters around geopolitical dynamics shaping quantum technology supply chains. Due to their concentrated and capital-intensive nature, these supply chains are under the threat of geopolitical rivalries. This will intensify as intellectual property regimes and global standards for quantum technologies are developed.

As far as patents are concerned, China has more total patents across the full spectrum of quantum technology whereas American companies dramatically lead in quantum computing patents. We also need to underscore that quantum research in China is entirely state driven and ranks quite high on the Communist Party’s priorities

The European Union is also diverting significant resources toward developing quantum technologies in computing, simulation, communication, metrology and sensing. Europeans are fearful of being squeezed in the middle of Sino-American tech competition and are clamoring to design tools to protect their interests.

France, Germany, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Israel, Netherlands, India, South Korea, Singapore and Japan are a few other nations that have also crafted well-defined national initiatives in quantum technologies.

New issues-based bilateral partnerships on quantum information sciences and technologies (QIST) are also gathering shape. The United Kingdom and the United States signed one such initiative in November 2021.

Prospects for India

For a country like India, quantum technologies hold multiple possibilities. Experts point out that quantum encryption can secure communications, quantum simulation can assist in exploring materials for green technologies and quantum sensing can help in mapping the impact of climate change. India has already launched a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications (NMQTA) with a total budgetary outlay of eight thousand crore rupees and has demonstrated its intent in developing these technologies.

India should also work towards securing stable supply chains, creating incentives for attracting talent and working with like-minded countries for strategic cooperation agreements in quantum technologies. Deepening synergies within the QUAD’s working group on critical and emerging technologies also holds meaningful opportunities.

We also need to be cautious and not jump the gun on quantum technologies. Broader structural implications of quantum technologies remain vastly unexplored. Quantum applications could also undermine the stability of digital infrastructure and pose serious structural threats when used by malicious actors seeking to break encryption protocols and modern cryptography.

[Image credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay]

*Ved Shinde is a student of Political Science and Economics at St Stephens College, Delhi University, India.

The Geopolitical Rush Behind Quantum Technologies

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