Although this is a new chapter in the story of world order, history serves to inform us how new discoveries can impact the economic and political power of sovereign nations. The power of the world’s greatest empires — the Roman, Ottoman, Yuan Dynasty, Macedonian, Tang, Han, Qing Dynasty, Mongol, and British, to name a few — stemmed from access to natural resources, military might, exploration prowess, innovation, control of information, and a trustworthy currency. These factors were all critical to establishing an empire, while culture and a universal ideology were also necessary to sustain the empire.
The current hierarchy of world power is led by U.S., with China the closest rival following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The European Union remains an important bloc that has historically been allied with the U.S., though this relationship has suffered bumps in recent years. Russia under Vladimir Putin is still a powerful economic and military force but wields limited political influence with other countries. And while there are several regimes that can saber-rattle with the best of them (e.g, North Korea, Iran), they are mostly relegated to rogue nation status. In sum, China seems to be the only nation that can come close to rivaling the U.S. in terms of potential economic and military.
Will quantum computing power be the game changer in terms of which of these two horses takes the lead, or might it be just the thing to jumpstart another nation, or group of nations, to become the unexpected winner? How might current alliances shift in response to developments in quantum computing expertise?
We can imagine both positive and more sinister ways in which quantum computing could change geopolitical dynamics. The race to develop quantum capabilities will cost an exorbitant amount, perhaps giving the wealthiest nations an insurmountable head start. Advances in the development of energy resources, healthcare, military technology, security, and space exploration could have far-reaching impacts on economic and political power globally. While that would suggest the world order is not likely to change too drastically from the current state of the U.S. and China battling for number one, alternatives should be considered.
We cannot rule out that a less developed nation, perhaps one where a dictator usurps basic resources and redirects them to quantum computing development, could level the playing field. The concern of the more dominant economic and political powers would be the threat this could create. As the world continues to move increasingly “online” with everything, cybersecurity will have to remain a top priority, as espionage and hacking could prove immensely costly and damaging. It would be difficult for a nation without significant economic strength and political clout to take over a leadership role in the world order, but it may well cause alliances to shift.
While quantum computing will require significant investment to develop, it could be the great equalizer. It is no longer a guarantee that the wealthiest country with the strongest military will win the next “war.” Quantum computing capabilities, in the end, will matter most in the race between China and the U.S. to determine who will enjoy supremacy in the next chapter of world order. And while quantum computing will enable wonderful innovations, the initial focus is going to have to be around upgrading passwords, encryption, and cyber defenses, particularly for nation states that have a lot to lose should they become easy targets for hackers that gain access to new computing power.
Key Government Funding Initiatives
By: Jude Erondu, Pathstone
As of January 2021, 17 countries and the European Union had announced some form of national strategy around the research, development, and commercialization of quantum computing. The E.U., U.S., Japan, and China are investing the most heavily in the necessary research and development. Below we highlight spending across key global players.
United States: National Quantum Initiative.
In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the National Quantum Initiative Act, intended to accelerate quantum research and development in key institutions such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. The Act includes funding for plans and alliances that are intended to strengthen Quantum Information Science. To date the U.S. has committed approximately $1.2 billion to quantum computing research.
China: Chinese Academy of Sciences Center for Excellence in Quantum Information and Quantum Physics.
Quantum computer research and development was included in the government’s Fourteenth China Economic and Social Development Plan and “Made in China 2025” manufacturing strategic objective. China’s quantum initiative aims at fulfilling the Chinese government’s objective to become a global technological superpower through its Digital Silk Road initiatives, an essential part of its Belt and Road Initiatives. China has made a commitment of US$10 billion to build a National Laboratory for Quantum Information Science.
Canada: National Quantum Strategy.
The government agency Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) is tasked with helping the Canadian government to develop a national strategy on quantum. The strategy is aimed at putting Canada at the forefront of quantum research, deployment, and commercialization. So far, the Canadian government’s Budget 2021 economic recovery package has committed approximately C$360 million over the next seven years for investments in quantum initiatives.
Australia: Sydney Quantum Academy.
The Australian government has made considerable contributions towards the research and development of quantum technology. The Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, which is one of four centers under the agency, was funded by the Australian government to support and advance the research, deployment, and commercialization of quantum technology. In its 2021/22 Federal Budget, Canberra designated A$1.2 billion towards Australia’s digital future through its Digital Economy Strategy. Approximately A$22.6 million is to be used to improve the skills of Australians in emerging technological fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing.
European Union: Quantum Technologies Flagship Program.
The Quantum Technologies Flagship Program was established in 2018 as one of the largest and most ambitious research programs in the European Union. This flagship project, with a budget of at least €1 billion over a 10-year timeline, is designed to bring together research institutions, academia, industry, business, and policymakers in an unprecedented collaboration.
United Kingdom: U.K. National Quantum Technologies Programme.
The Government of United Kingdom National Quantum Technologies Programme was established to advance and create a cohesive partnership between government, the private sector, and academia. The program is designed to place Britain at the global forefront in the pursuit of new quantum offers the promise of adding value within some of Britain’s most important industries.
In 2013, The U.K. government committee allocated approximately £385M towards the Programme’s first phase. It has since attracted more funds; recently, in partnership with IBM, the U.K. government announced it “will invest £172 million over 5 years through U.K. Research and Innovation, with an additional £38 million being invested by IBM. £28 million of the government’s investment will be in the first year.”
This article is one section of the report, “Quantum Impact — The Potential for Quantum Computing to Transform Everything.” Click here to learn more and access the full report.
Please see the PDF version of the full report for important disclosures.