Israel joins the quantum club

Google quantum computer component

In a five-year, government-sponsored program, Israel will focus on quantum science and technological applications.

Two weeks after it was revealed that the government might invest NIS 1-2 billion in development of artificial intelligence technology, it has now been revealed that the government has already approved investment in another national technological project - quantum computing. A report by the committee that discussed the matter and finished its work many months ago states that the state should invest NIS 1.25 billion over five years, although the investment mentioned when the committee began its work was only NIS 300 million.

While the original NIS 300 million proposal involved only academic institutions, the committee eventually formulated a national program to promote quantum technologies for all sections of the local ecosystem, senior sources informed about the matter told "Globes." Publication of the report has so far been delayed because it is waiting for approval by a new government.

The national quantum project is designed to prepare Israel for the next revolution in computing. The idea is not to develop a quantum computer. Since the investment required in order to develop a quantum computer will probably amount to billions of dollars, only countries like China and the US and huge companies like Alibaba of China, Google, and IBM are working on this. A dispute recently arose over Google's announcement that the company had achieved what it called "quantum supremacy," meaning that the quantum computer that it developed had performed computing tasks of which no ordinary computer was capable. Israel is planning to focus its investment on progress in quantum science and innovative technological applications based on it.

Among the most prominent capabilities that quantum science will make possible are advanced encryption capabilities, alongside code-breaking capability using existing technology, and complex simulations that are impossible at present even on the fastest super-computers. These simulations can be used for scientific and financial forecasting and for engineering new materials. Another sphere is quantum sensors, for example development of sensors with faster and more precise performance than GPS technology.

The committee's report states, "At the end of the extensive work carried out, the committee's conclusion on this matter is unequivocal: there is a critical need for Israel to initiate a national research and development program in quantum science and technology. Israel has the possibility and opportunity to be a leading country is certain areas, with an advantage over others. The existence of a national program in quantum science and technologies is critical for making Israel strong, and will contribute to enriching academic research, expanding the industrial base, generating substantial economic opportunities, and dramatically advancing Israeli security capabilities."

The report warns, "Alternatively, if no large investment is made in a national program to make Israel a leader in certain areas ahead of other countries, Israel will be unable to maintain its technological progress, achieve its needs and goals, and fulfill its commitment to its people's quality of life and the development of its economy and advanced industry."

The committee recommends promoting and focusing on human capital by recruiting academic staff, devising academic study programs, establishing research laboratories, attracting overseas researchers, providing scholarships, etc.; purchasing cloud computing time for use in the quantum laboratories; and developing national hardware quantum computing infrastructure in both higher education institutions and in a special applied R&D center.

The committee further recommends expanding system development and research in quantum communications, and speeding up important quantum sensor projects in industry and defense; encouraging the entry of new industries into sensors, communications, materials, and cloud computing; supporting construction of quantum components infrastructure to serve the industry; building hardware infrastructure in academic institutions that will be shared by different disciplines and research groups; and investing in consolidating international cooperative efforts.

Israel realizes the urgency

Approval of the plan makes Israel one of only a few countries with a national quantum computing program. The committee's report contains a review of countries that have initiated national quantum projects, under which the following countries are due to invest billions of dollars in the field in the coming years: China ($2.4 billion), the US ($1.6 billion), the European Union ($1.1 billion, an investment that is likely to triple), Canada ($1 billion), Germany ($780 million), the UK ($358 million), Japan ($300 million), Australia ($280 million), and even Singapore ($78 million). The report states, "Together with the publicly announced national programs, a number of simultaneous classified efforts are being made around the world to develop applications involving national security." Like Israel, most of these countries will invest the money in five-year programs.

The effort to leverage Israel's existing capabilities in this field to make it a leading country began in the middle of last year, with the establishment of two agencies. The main agency that has operated in this area is The National Infrastructure Forum for Research and Development (TELEM), which is part of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. TELEM has appointed a special committee to examine the matter, headed by former Chief Scientist Orna Berry, with representatives from the Israel Innovation Authority; the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Space; the Ministry of Finance; the Council for Higher Education Planning and Budgeting Committee; and the Ministry of Defense Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT).

The second agency is a subcommittee of the committee for promoting artificial intelligence, headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel. This subcommittee is also headed by Berry, who was specifically responsible for technological infrastructure.

Quantum initiatives already underway

Simultaneously, due to the perceived importance of the matter and the urgency of progress in it, initiatives on advancing quantum technologies are already underway. In early September, the Innovation Authority and MAFAT launched the first consortium of its kind in Israel, with companies and academic bodies as partners. The initiative is aimed at encouraging cooperation in the quantum field. These cooperative efforts were designed to facilitate development of quantum knowledge infrastructure that will lead to innovative technological capabilities. Among the partners in the consortium are the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel Institute of Technology (Technion), Ariel University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Bar Ilan University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and Rafael subsidiary for development of atomic clocks AccuBeat.

"The entire future of technology is headed towards quantum technology, an area in which every company hitherto acted independently. With the establishment of the new consortium, we will all have a guidance from the state. Every company and every agency will maintain its special activity and its quantum developments, but the consortium will make up for an enormous shortage of generic knowledge of the subject," Yaniv Leib, head of the innovation administration at RAMTA, IAI's land warfare enterprise, told "Globes."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 2, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

Google quantum computer component
Google quantum computer component
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