Chris Monroe’s vision for quantum computers is simple: He wants people to use them. Monroe, a physicist and co-founder of the quantum computing startup IonQ, wants the machines to be as sleek as the iPhone. He wants people to code on them without needing to understand complicated quantum physics. Basically, he wants the devices to be so intuitive that, on a lonely evening in 2050, a high schooler will log on to invent the cultural equivalent of Snapchat—but quantum .
The industry has a ways to go. They have a timeline, sort of, give or take a few decades. And at the moment, their roadmap has at least one glaring pothole: a lack of trained people. “Quantum computer scientists are in high demand right now,” says Monroe. “I would know. IonQ has a lot of trouble hiring people.” This dilution refrigerator keeps Intel’s quantum computing chip cooled within a degree of absolute zero.Intel And hiring will only get harder, as companies like IonQ, Intel, D-Wave, and Google race to build bigger and better quantum computers. “There’s definitely a shortage of people coming,” says Christian Weedbrook, the CEO of Canada-based quantum computing company Xanadu.
That’s why Monroe, along with a team of other quantum computing experts, helped put together and lobby a Congressional bill called the National Quantum Initiative. The bill basically guides federal science agencies to invest in quantum technology—quantum computers, quantum cryptography , and other devices that obey quantum mechanical rules, rather than classic binary logic—for the next 10 years. A key part of the bill also instructs the agencies to train people, from students to professionals, for quantum computing-related jobs, in the next 10 years.
The bill has yet to be scheduled for a full vote in either the House or Senate, but both versions of it have moved through their respective legislative processes with bipartisan support. The House science committee passed it unanimously. (Their version authorizes $1.275 billion dollars in spending, although appropriators in Congress, who decide the actual amount of funds, often grant less than the authorized amount.) “There’s a real sense of optimism around the bill,” says Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel. “It appears to be bipartisan in both houses, and it can tackle a lot of work force problems in this space as the technology emerges.” Of all America’s issues right now, it was quantum computing that brought Democrats and Republicans together this summer.
The newly-developed field spans physics, computer science, chemistry, and more—which is why it’s so hard to find people with the right job qualifications, says Jim Held, the director of emerging technologies at Intel. If you work on quantum computing software, you need to know how to write good code. If you’re trying to use quantum computers to simulate molecules—one of the most promising near-term applications—you have to know chemistry. And of course, you need to understand quantum physics to follow what the computers are doing. “There are concepts like entanglement that have no counterpart in today’s computers,” says Held, referring to the strange statistical rules that quantum bits obey. Ultimately, companies often have to do a fair amount of job training for new hires. […]