Quantum technology seeks to harness the distinct properties of atoms, photons and electrons to build more powerful computers and other tools for processing information. A quantum Internet relies on photons exhibiting a quantum state known as entanglement, which allows them to share information over long distances without having a physical connection.
David Awschalom, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, called the Internet project a pillar of the nation’s quantum-research program.
“It’s the birth of a new technology. It’s becoming a global competition. Every major country on earth has launched a quantum program … because it is becoming clearer and clearer there will be big impacts,” he said in an interview.
The United States’s top technology rival, China, is investing heavily in quantum technology, a field that could transform information processing and confer big economic and national-security advantages to countries that dominate it.
The Department of Energy and its 17 national labs will form the backbone of the project.
How exactly the work will be funded wasn’t clear. The Energy Department did not announce a funding figure for the project Thursday. Speaking to reporters, Paul Dabbar, Under Secretary for Science at the Energy Department, said the federal government invests about $500 to $700 million a year in quantum information technology, suggesting some of that money would fund the new Internet.
In an interview, Dabbar said there would likely be further funding announcements for the project in the future.
Panagiotis Spentzouris, head of quantum science at the Chicago-area Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, said in an interview that more resources will be needed to bring the blueprint to fruition.
Scientists said it could take a decade to build a nationwide network. Some initial users could include national-security agencies, financial institutions and health care companies seeking to send data more securely, researchers said.
A quantum Internet could also be used to connect various quantum computers with each other, helping boost their total computing power. Quantum computers are still at an early stage of development and not yet more powerful than classical computers, but connecting them via an Internet could help accelerate their use for solving complex problems like finding new pharmaceuticals or high-tech materials for building products, Awschalom said.
In a sign of the potential economic rewards that quantum technology could bring, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot both spoke at the announcement Thursday, expressing hope that there would be spillover effects for the city’s tech community.
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