6. The U.S.-China fight over quantum tech
Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports ... As the U.S. and China struggle for dominance in artificial intelligence, they are locked in a parallel, behind-the-scenes race to master quantum technology, a contest that could result in lasting military superiority and a possible new industrial revolution.
The big picture: Though still far off, conquering quantum technology could enable uncrackable communications, supercharged radar and more deadly undersea warfare. And as of now, China has some serious advantages.
A new report from the Center for a New American Security draws on open-source material for a window into China’s quantum progress and aspirations.
- The report’s authors, Elsa Kania and John Costello, say that China has made substantial advances in some areas of quantum research, putting it in a position to overtake the U.S. in the science.
- Chinese advantages include a national vision for technological research, significant investments, and tight bonds between the private sector and the military. By comparison, the U.S. yet to enact a quantum policy, though the White House recently added a quantum expert to its tech-policy staff.
- "China’s advances in quantum science could impact the future military and strategic balance, perhaps even leapfrogging traditional U.S. military–technological advantages," write Kania and Costello.
Among the spoils of conquering the quantum space are computers that could decipher most of the world’s encrypted data, like the NSA’s store of intercepted communications, and overcome the U.S. stealth technologies on which the military heavily relies.
How they got here: China had a "Sputnik moment" in 2013, igniting a national plan that funnels billions of dollars and top scientists into quantum research, the authors write.
- Its unlikely instigator was Edward Snowden, whose leaks revealed the extent of U.S. spying in China, and sparked a feverish response meant to shore up China’s protections against cyber-espionage.
- This inflection point mirrors another three years later: an Obama administration report outlining a future U.S. artificial intelligence policy. Afterward, Beijing scrambled to put together its own, far outstripping American planning, while the Trump administration has neither engaged Obama's policy nor formulated its own.
Go deeper: Read the rest of Kaveh's story here and one on the race to build quantum economy here.