In the 1960s the U.S. government funded a series of experiments developing techniques to shuttle information from one computer to another. Devices in single labs sprouted connections, then neighboring labs linked up. Soon the network had blossomed between research institutions across the country, setting down the roots of what would become the internet and transforming forever how people use information. Now, 60 years later, the Department of Energy is aiming to do it again.
The Trump administration’s 2021 budget request — currently under consideration by Congress — proposes slashing the overall funding for scientific research by nearly 10% but boosts spending on quantum information science by about 20%, to $237 million. Of that, the DOE has requested $25 million to accelerate the development of a quantum internet. Such a network would leverage the counterintuitive behavior of nature’s particles to manipulate and share information in entirely new ways, with the potential to reinvent fields including cybersecurity and material science.
While the traditional internet for general use isn’t going anywhere, a quantum network would offer decisive advantages for certain applications: Researchers could use it to develop drugs and materials by simulating atomic behavior on networked quantum computers, for instance, and financial institutions and governments would benefit from next-level cybersecurity. Many countries are pursuing quantum research programs, and with the 2021 budget proposal, the Trump administration seeks to ramp up that effort.
“That level of funding will enable us to begin to develop the groundwork for sophisticated, practical and high-impact quantum networks,” says David Awschalom, a quantum engineer at the University of Chicago. “It’s significant and extremely important.”