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CHIPS Act Tries to Keep Quantum Away From China

by Amelia Ramiro

China’s rate of quantum computing research and development is expected to slow down in the coming years due to the US’ finalized guardrails around its multi-billion-dollar CHIPS and Science Act. The fact that these new clarifications specifically include provisions aimed at quantum computing is a strong indication of how close we are to achieving useful enough forms of it.

The Department of Commerce, through NIST, has issued guardrails around the CHIPS and Science Act to prevent funding from being used to benefit foreign countries of concern. Semiconductors, which are classified as critical to national security, are subject to increased scrutiny. The new clarifications also encompass semiconductors designed for quantum information systems, semiconductors designed for operation in cryogenic environments (including quantum computing sensors and superconductor research), silicon photonic semiconductors, and semiconductors utilizing nanomaterials such as graphene and carbon nanotubes.

From a technological perspective, the US has covered a lot of ground with these guardrails. However, there are challenges in technologically restricting a foreign country of concern in a globalized world, such as logistics and international business relations.

One of the fundamental difficulties is the wide scope of design and application of semiconductors, as they are versatile and can aid in performing almost anything. Declaring semiconductors as critical would be an unenforceable policy, hence the need for clarification on which semiconductors are critical to national security.

The effectiveness of sanctions is always a question, and in the case of quantum computing, the impact is not as clear-cut as expected. Sanctions may slow down the “opposition,” but alternatives like back-alleys and gray markets exist. Additionally, countries can outinvent the restrictions imposed by the US, as China seems to be doing in some ways.

As quantum computing becomes more useful and feasible, global attention is increasingly focused on this technology. Governments have to regulate emerging tools like blockchain, quantum computing, and generative AI. The US has shown particular concern around quantum computing and its potential impact on national security. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is coordinating the federal government’s uptake of quantum-resistant encryption, although there have been some challenges along the way.

One dark facet of the quantum era is that most encryption will become breakable, potentially leading to the need for new “unbreakable encryption.” However, the current world of geopolitics may not like the idea of unbreakable secrets, especially in the case of foreign countries of concern.

In conclusion, China’s quantum computing research and development may slow down following the US’ guardrails around the CHIPS and Science Act. While the US is taking a proactive approach to quantum computing and its potential impacts, challenges and concerns remain in terms of sanctions, encryption, and global geopolitics.

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