Washington Takes Notice of Quantum Computing. But Can They Outsmart Justin Trudeau?

There has been a plethora of announcements from Washington within the last two weeks on quantum computing.  The first came from the office of Senator Kamala Harris who introduced the Quantum Computing Research Act to establish a Department of Defense Quantum Research Consortium.  Next, U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith announced his intent to introduce a (potentially competing) National Quantum Initiative Act. IBM temporarily set up a replica of their 50 qubit quantum computer in a conference room at the Rayburn House Office Building (click here for an interesting video of them setting this up).  And yesterday, the Washington Post reported that 14 members of the industry are working to set up a Quantum Industry Coalition to influence legislation.

In the meantime, Canada has been focusing on quantum computing for quite some time. In a press conference held at Canada’s Perimeter Institute in April 2016, a journalist jokingly asked Justin Trudeau to explain quantum computing and to the surprise and delight of the technical audience, Prime Minister Trudeau did provide a rudimentary explanation of the difference between a classical bit and a quantum qubit.  (Click here for the video).

But Canada has been doing more than just holding press conferences.  As an example, the National Research Council Canada has a program called Quantum Canada “to grow coherence in Canada’s vibrant quantum ecosystem”.  Recently, the Sustainable Technology Development Canada (SDTC) funding agency provided $10 Million (CAD) to D-Wave for energy efficiency and before that the Canadian Public Sector Pension Investment Board provided $50 Million (CAD) to D-Wave for development of their next generation quantum annealing processor.  Earlier this year, the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo received $15 Million (CAD) in government funding. Additionally, Canada is supporting a thriving quantum startup ecosystem.  The Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto founded the Creative Destruction Lab as a seed program to nurture new science based companies. We know of at least three quantum companies that have been spawned from their Quantum Program. Another example of encouraging startups is the University of Waterloo’s Quantum Quest Seed Fund using funds provided by the Canada First Excellence Fund (CFRF) to develop new ideas and applications for quantum devices.

Certainly, the U.S. government does have already have its share of quantum computing funding programs, most notably those lead by iARPA and NSF.  But the big difference we see between the U.S. and Canadian programs is that the U.S. programs direct their funds more towards government labs, university research and larger companies while the Canadian programs have a higher focus on startups and nurturing new companies.


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