Archive for April, 2019

NanoBCA Interview: Arthur Herman, Senior Fellow, The Hudson Institute

Posted on April 23rd, 2019 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The NanoBusiness Commercialization Association (NanoBCA) is excited to share the next interview of our NanoBCA Interview Series. Through this series we offer in-depth interviews with some of the key stakeholders influencing our nanotechnology community today. Many of these dynamic professionals will be participants at our:

18th Annual NanoBusiness Conference
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
K&L Gates Washington DC


This month we are excited to share the following interview with New York Times bestselling Author and Pulitzer Prize Finalist, Dr. Arthur Herman. Dr. Herman is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC.

Steve Waite: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, Arthur. There is a lot of ground to cover. Let’s start with the work you are doing on quantum technology, which encompasses nanotechnology. What inspired you to get involved with quantum technology?

Arthur Herman: I wrote a book titled, “Freedom’s Forge: HowAmerican Business Produced Victory in World War II,” that was published in 2012. It became a big hit, both in business circles and in the U.S. defense department. There was a lot of discussion in the book about how to return to the principles that underlay the building of the Arsenal of Democracy, which we seem to have gotten very far away from in terms of a big, labyrinth, bureaucratic organization we see today. I’m working with the DoD on ways in which to get back to those principles. Getting involved with the DoD has got me interested in the ways in which technology and national security, and defense technologies, are engaged in an interplay and the way in which policy shapes the evolution of technology, and likewise how the evolution of technology shapes national policy.

They brought me to the Hudson Institute to work on these kinds of issues, initially in energy and then in the area of cyber security and cyber deterrence. One day, we had as a visitor here, Mike Rogers who is the former Chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House. He mentioned quantum computers and the possible future threat of a quantum computer for decrypting public key encryption systems and networks. I suddenly had this flash in my mind of a scene from the movie, Sneakers. In the movie, an eastern European scientist devised a black box that instantly decrypts all encryption systems and lays bare the secrets of the National Security Agency. The code phrase for the black box is “no more secrets.” It struck me that this is a fascinating technology. That was about three years ago. Since then, I have become more interested and delved into it from the point of view, both from the threat of quantum computing, but also the huge opportunities that come from tapping into the power quantum-based technologies. I find quantum technology an irresistible subject.

SW: Very interesting, Arthur. You launched the Quantum Alliance Initiative (QAI) at the Hudson Institute. It appears to be kindred with what Paul Stimers is doing with the Quantum Industry Coalition. Tell us about the QAI.

AH: The QAI was set up to accomplish two things. The first is to foster collaboration and bridge the gap I was seeing in the quantum technology landscape. What I noticed when I surveyed that landscape was a kind of stove piping of effort among the various communities that were working on quantum computing and quantum cryptography. They were not talking to each other, and in many cases, were actually rather suspicious of each other. I realized that the people in each group had different scientific backgrounds. A lot of people who are working in quantum computing have backgrounds in physics, while a lot of people working on quantum and post-quantum cryptography had mathematics backgrounds. Neither group seemed to have much interest in what the other was doing.

One of the messages I wanted to send through the QAI is to urge the people working quantum encryption to pay attention to what the people who are working on quantum computers are doing and vice versa. I believe the people working on quantum computing need to be fully cognizant of the development of ways to protect and secure data in the future because of the implications quantum computers have for cyber security. Ultimately, if we are going to have quantum key distribution networks they are going be networks built around quantum computers.

The second mission of the QAI has to do with the notion that the U.S. cannot win the quantum race by going it alone. In many areas, such as quantum communication and post-quantum cryptography, we have key allies, like Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, who are major contributors to exciting developments in quantum technology.

The reason we call it The Quantum Alliance Initiative is we are looking to internationalize, to build a strong and vibrant alliance for the U.S. in its quantum efforts, and to build a strong alliance between the different quantum communities: quantum communication, quantum secure cryptography and quantum computing. We want to bring these all together so there is an ongoing dialogue and discussion. Our first conference in October 2017 was the very first to try to achieve this in Washington. This is the direction we’ve been going in all along.

I should mention that we are also reaching out to other technology communities. We just had a conference on quantum and artificial intelligence. We had an event on quantum and the problem surrounding intellectual property. Our mission is to help people not think of this as some kind of exotic, science fiction, fantasy world, but one that can address fundamental principles that apply to all emerging technology through what is happening in the quantum area.  

SW: That makes a lot of sense. There is a great deal of hype, and at the same time, skepticism about quantum computers. Where is the hype and skepticism coming from and how do we navigate through it all?

AH: One feeds the other. Let’s be honest. We have companies crowing about their latest advances in quantum computing and making bigger and bigger claims about future developments. This type of behavior generates skepticism. One of the ways to navigate through hype is to internationalize your perspective. Look at the effort the Chinese are putting into quantum. They are going at it in a very deliberate and strategized way. According to the recent report from CNAS in China’s quantum effort, government spending on China’s flagship National Laboratory of Quantum Information Science in Hefei will amount to $15.76 billion over the next five years. At the same time, they are aggressively pursuing advances in quantum communication. They launched their quantum satellite. Their Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) network connects Shanghai and Beijing. By contrast, U.S. government spending on Quantum Information Science (QIS) over the next five years, counting the $1.25 billion authorized under the Quantum Alliance Initiative Act, plus the $200 million the U.S. government normally spends through other programs, amounts to $2.25 billion, which is 14 percent of what China is investing. 

Now, the quantum skeptics, some of whom I have spoken to here in Washington, think this is ridiculous. I understand the skepticism, but this is how revolutionary technologies get launched. Once quantum repeaters come into play – and there are people who are working diligently on this today – there will be more breakthroughs. Then you will see the QKD networks really become more than just simply science experiments. What you will see is something that will provide hack-proof information connections. And this is exactly what the Chinese are doing and what they have been thinking about for the past four years. If you look at their record on patent applications going back to 2015 they lagged behind the U.S. in quantum computing, but they are the world leader in quantum communication patent applications. That tells you they are moving ahead on this front in a major way.

I would also point out that the quantum computing skeptics do not yet seem to fully appreciate the potential for a cyber security and privacy disaster. There is a growing recognition of this threat that was recognized by The National Academy of Sciences report on quantum computing. Let me quote from that report: “Even if a quantum computer that can decrypt current cryptographic ciphers is more than a decade off, the hazard of such a machine is high enough, and time from transition to a new security protocol is sufficiently long and uncertain, the prioritization of the development, standardization and deployment of post-quantum cryptography is critical for minimizing the chance for a potential security and privacy disaster.” The upshot of this message is you better get ready and the time to start is now. There is not much the skeptics can say to refute this statement.

I have to say I encounter a lot of quantum skeptics in my travels throughout the world. My sense is that a lot of them do not understand how quantum technologies work because they don’t have the backgrounds required to understand it. Even the quantum skeptics have to concede that the very possibility of such a threat to cyber security and privacy means that you have to make major changes to the way in which encryption works. I think even the skeptics can agree on the need today to develop agile solutions, not just for quantum cyber security threat, but also for the current classical threat. If you don’t have agile PKIs (i.e., Public Key Infrastructure) that can be updated and can evolve with the technology, then you are going to constantly fall behind and playing catch up.

SW: What are some of the major market opportunities for producers of quantum technology over the next three to five years?

AH: I should first note that I look at quantum technology from the point of view of national security policy, not from the point of view of investment. That said, I see several active areas of opportunity today. One is quantum software for quantum computers. As quantum computing hardware develops, there is going to be a huge demand for ways in which to program them. Another area is the development of quantum materials. There is a need for new materials, to develop ways to facilitate entanglement and finding ways in which materials allow the qubits to do the seemingly impossible. Right now, the challenge with qubits is that any contact with any kind of matter – boom! They are gone. Quantum materials that can facilitate and ease that transition will be important, whether for quantum computers, as Michelle Simmons is trying to do with developing a microchip for quantum computers – or whether you are talking about Quantum Random Number Generator (QRNG) and QKD. If you have quantum materials that facilitate entanglement from one node to the next you don’t have to start over at each node, then you have QKD repeaters that can take off from there.

Another area I would mention is quantum sensors. Quantum sensing is already here and already in use. Developments there would be of interest to Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security. Lastly, I would add quantum communications, and in particular, hardware that would be useful to U.S. government agencies. I have some thoughts on this area of quantum opportunity but would prefer not to discuss it at the present time.

SW: We appreciate your perspectives on near term quantum opportunities. What are some of the major challenges and impediments for producers of quantum technology today?

AH: We have a lousy export control regime at the present time that limits the possibility for international cooperation and also retards our ability to have a truly innovative quantum technology ecosystem. If you place all the stress on everything having to be U.S. made, it will be challenging to do this if you are freezing out international partners. In the larger picture, export control as status quo limits our possibilities in a lot of advanced technologies, not just in quantum. And, of course, the current regime is associated with the concern that the technology will end up in the hands of the Chinese. It is an understandable concern. However, as we are finding with the current furor over 5G, we are going to have a tough time convincing even our close allies to shy away from using Chinese technology in this area if we don’t have a reasonable and viable alternative to offer. We are having a big problem with that and 5G, and I believe we are going to have even more of a problem with regard to quantum. We must also keep in mind that many U.S. companies working in this area are global with offices all over the world, including China.

The other major challenge is associated with something we’ve already touched on, and that is the walls and lack of cooperation within the quantum community. This is a big problem. We know from the work in nanotechnology over the past two decades that we need cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary interaction to foster advancement and spark new thoughts, ideas, partnerships, and, ultimately innovation.

SW: Right on, Arthur! Given all of the challenges today, are you concerned that the U.S. may fall behind in the development of quantum technologies?

AH: Well, let’s compare what is going on in China with what is going on here in the U.S. at the current time. Over the next five years the U.S. federal government will be spending $14.25 per second on QIS, whereas China’s government will be spending $99.49 or nearly $100 per second, almost seven times the amount the U.S. is spending. If we subtract the NQI Act money, which still has not been appropriated yet, we’re looking at $6.34 per second, or fifteen times less than China is spending. By comparison, the European Union, which is slated to invest $550 million in QIS over the same five years, is looking at a spending rate of $3.48 per second.    

SW: We know that the amount of spending does not necessarily correlate with the amount of innovation. The two Steves at Apple (Jobs and Wozniak) had a much smaller research and development (R&D) budget than IBM when they started out, but Apple was the far more innovative company in the personal computer segment.

AH: Totally. Money is never the answer, and that is one of the mistakes the Chinese may make. But having said this, notice what the Chinese have done. The money that they are spending is not in R&D. They steal the R&D from us. It is really fascinating to look at the big Chinese IT firms like ZTE and Huawei. These companies generate an enormous amount of patent applications and are at the forefront of where the technology is going, but their R&D budgets are extremely low. The R&D is done for them by the American companies, European companies, as well as American and European universities. They just help themselves to whatever it is useful to them. What is scary about the difference in the money being spent on quantum technology in China versus the U.S. is that the money in China is being spent on the application of the technology, the building of infrastructure, the hiring of staff, the creation of a workforce that is devoted and focused entirely on these technologies.

In the end, what it really reflects is a comprehensive national strategy which the Chinese have, and which a lot of our European partners have as well. We haven’t really developed a national quantum strategy in the U.S. We have a lot of very able people and a lot of programs that are underway that are being led by the U.S. government. But there is no comprehensive strategy at the present time.

SW: Yes. Paul Stimers and I talked about this during our NanoBCA interview last month. Given what the Chinese are doing today, do you see quantum technology as a moonshot challenge?

AH: Given the stakes involved, and the opponent we are dealing with, which is China, I think there is a need for a moonshot type offense. I say this with two caveats. The first is that it can be done with a fraction of the expenditure that we see in China today. I don’t believe we need to spend all that much money. Second of all, it is one in which the drivers will have to be private industry and the entrepreneurs. In other words, it’s not so much picking winners and losers. Nobody wants that to happen. It is a peril because the temptation is so great. We’ve seen that failure with areas like Green Energy.

SW: Boy, did we ever. What a disaster.

AH: Solyndra is a case study in how bad this could go. What you have to do is build in the safeguards to prevent this from happening. But what is really necessary is summing up all the animal spirits and exuberance and keeping everybody pointed in the right direction. That’s where a national strategy will come in handy. We can set certain types of benchmarks for what we want to achieve, where we want to see resources going, the allies with whom we want to work and the international players with whom we don’t want to work. The Chinese are totally unprincipled about what they help themselves to and what they are going to do with these technologies. There is very little to be gained and a great deal to be lost by allowing them to be players in the R&D ecosystem, because that is where they have been able to leverage their advantage. We have to find way to screen them out, while also inviting our foreign partners, as well as our own homegrown entrepreneurs, to work together. I don’t think it’s going to be that complicated to do this. The real challenge is educating lawmakers, decision makers and the general public as to what quantum technology is really all about.

SW: You are a regular contributor to Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and other popular media outlets. Do you find your work on quantum technology generating greater interest among the general public?

AH: Here is the way I would measure that. The amount of time I have to spend in each column explaining what quantum computing is has been shrinking. It used to be two paragraphs and it is now down to one paragraph. Increasingly, going forward, I think it will be down to a sentence. That is a sign to me that something is happening. The first article I wrote for The Wall Street Journal on quantum computing in 2017 I had to write a column that was three times longer in order to get the editor – who is a very smart guy, by the way, and whose background is in technology and science – on board with what a quantum computer does and how it is different from a classical computer. I don’t have to do this type of explanation anymore. That’s a sign of progress.

The real challenge we face in trying to foster an informed public and informed decision makers, is trying to navigate around the hype that is being generated by the companies themselves who are involved with quantum technology. We face a challenge to come up with a more realistic timeline for where this technology is going and have a more sober assessment about the risks involved and how difficult it is going to be if we do not start dealing now with the future threat.

SW: I want to switch gears now and discuss some of the great books you have written. You published a book in 2013 titled, “The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization.” Tell us about the inspiration for that book.

AH: The roots of that book lie in my first book, “The Idea of Decline in Western History.” There is also a link to another book I wrote titled, “How the Scots Invented the Modern World.” In writing these books what I was coming to understand was the degree to which the declinists tended to be philosophers influenced by Plato whereas the more optimistic view, the one I actually subscribe to with regard to the progress of civilization, tended to follow much more of an Aristotelian way of thinking. From that, I was able to begin to say maybe what we are really seeing here unfolding is two conflicting worldviews. One, arising from the philosophy of Plato and the other arising from the philosophy of Aristotle, which was specifically directed against, as a reply to and refutation of his old teacher’s theories of nature, of society, of politics, etc.

SW: Fascinating! Please continue.

AH: If we look at the history of western ideas and culture going all the way back to Hellenistic times, the successors to Plato and Aristotle, we see this constant tug of war between these two different world views. It is this tug of war and the tension between the two that has given western civilization its unique dynamic that everyone has recognized. Why is it that western civilization is so adaptable? What is it that is able to undergo renaissances and a rebirth of principles, even in times when its future is at its darkest and it is most in doubt? In the book “The Cave and the Light,” the reason is that it is the dynamic tension – the dynamic balance between the world view of Plato and the world view of Aristotle, which are ultimately irreconcilable – that is fundamental to giving western civilization its creative impetus.

SW: You mentioned several books you have written. We could talk about your other books, including “1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Disorder,” the Pulitzer Prize finalist, “Gandhi and Churchill,” and “To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World,” but there isn’t sufficient time today. However, inquisitive minds do wonder and have to ask: What is the next book about and when will it be released?

AH: The new book is on the Vikings. It discusses the Scandinavian contribution to not just western civilization, but the whole way in which history has been shaped, including the history of the United States. I am hoping to finish the manuscript this summer and expect the book to be out in spring 2020.

SW: Very good! We look forward to reading it. If somebody asked you to state your overall mission with your work and books, what would you tell them?

AH: If I have any overall mission, it’s making sure technology supports freedom not tyranny. We need a path forward that shows us how to be part of the modern world, without being devoured by it. A path the Scots understood, and the Vikings and their descendants and admirers have instinctively felt. My grandparents on both sides include Norwegian immigrants. The story of the Scandinavian migration to America is a very powerful one. It is, I think, a way of restoring some faith in what America represents. One of the important themes of the new book is: Why are we always so fascinated by the Vikings? A large part of the book discusses the Vikings and the way in which Scandinavia had in the shaping of western civilization once the Roman Empire collapsed. Scandinavian culture has enormous impact on what that looks like.

The reason we are so fascinated by the Vikings is because what is encapsulated in the Viking experience is the core of what every child goes through in terms of confronting unseen dangers. The human experience of going out, feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. In the Vikings we have a people venturing into new lands, including America. People who venture out into the unknown, confront their deepest fears and greatest dangers, and overcome them in order to build a new life from themselves and their families. This is what the whole Vikings experience encapsulates and why I think we are so perennially fascinated by it.

SW: I have one final question for you today, Arthur. Looking out over the next couple of years, what are the one or two positive developments you think might surprise people? Is there anything you are excited about that’s not on many people’s radar screens today?

AH: I would say one of the things, which I think goes back to my book, “1917: The Birth of the New World Disorder,” is that the roots of the worldview, which has dominated over the last century, are eroding. This worldview is really driven by a progressive and Marxist – and ultimately, Hegelian worldview – which is that government in the hands of a leadership elite, could achieve a kind of utopian reality where all human needs and wants would be met. We see this in the political sphere right now. It lingers on. I am sensing a growing discontent with this type of worldview. There is a realization that with this view people no longer count, and in which culture and community are seen as being basically erased or being homogenized in ways that human beings lose their identity. What I see taking place is a shift of rediscovering the importance of roots. I don’t mean identity politics. I’m talking about the ways in which nation states, whether it is the United States, Israel or Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and what it is that makes it possible for human beings to be happy in a community, is that sense of shared values and shared culture which is distinct from and different from other cultures. That the effort toward homogenization, far from making us happier, is actually a major source of chaos and disorder.

In conclusion, while I think there are a lot of things to be concerned about today, including the state of our colleges and universities outside of science and technology here in the U.S, I am sensing a growing disenfranchisement with the Marxian world view, that it is not working. You look at what’s going on in the U.S., in Europe and Scandinavia. People are realizing that there are things that are undercutting what makes people happy and what makes nations function properly. These are harbingers of things to come. In many ways, the new book on the Vikings, which I’ve tentatively titled, “The Viking Heart,” is about how that story may, in fact, have a happy ending.

SW: Thank you, Arthur. It has been wonderful speaking with you today. We thank you again for your time and wish you all the best with your quantum technology-related work and book writing endeavors.

Steve Waite is a member of the NanoBCA Advisory Board and author of several books including Quantum Investing and Venture Investing in Science.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s interview. Looking forward to seeing you on June 4th in DC!

NanoBCA Interview: Paul Stimers, Partner, K&L Gates

Posted on April 15th, 2019 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The NanoBusiness Commercialization Association (NanoBCA) is excited to share the next interview of our NanoBCA Interview Series. Through this series we offer in-depth interviews with some of the key stakeholders influencing our nanotechnology community today. Many of these dynamic professionals will be participants at our:

18th Annual NanoBusiness Conference
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
K&L Gates Washington DC


This month we are pleased to share the following interview with Paul Stimers, Partner at K&L Gates and NanoBCA Policy Advisor. K&L Gates will be hosting our 18th Annual NanoBusiness Conference.

Steve Waite: Thanks for taking time to speak with us today, Paul. We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). What have been the major accomplishments of the NNI from your perspective?

Paul Stimers: I think the main accomplishments have been a coordination and acceleration of federal research and development in the nanotechnology space, as well as a more intentional, a more thoughtful, and hopefully more efficient, application of funds to the problems associated with nanotechnology.

PS:  That’s an interesting and somewhat challenging question that gets to what I think is one of the missed opportunities of the NNI. That is, we are pretty good at the pure research end of the research, development and commercialization spectrum. Looking back, we were not as good at the development side, and we were quite bad at the commercialization side of things. The NNI made great strides on the pure research side. China took up a lot of our basic research and commercialized it. They did so very aggressively with industrial policy and incentives for companies, including buying the assets of distressed U.S. nanotech companies that were not able to bridge the valley of death between the R&D side and the commercialization/go-to-market side.

SW: What industries have been the biggest beneficiaries of nanotechnology over the past twenty years?

I think that is a very important lesson we learned from the NNI. But to answer your question the rest of the way, one of the key places we have seen a lot of development from the NNI is in novel materials that are used as building blocks for a whole variety of different industries. The materials and the coatings side have been tremendously benefited. I think some of the work in nanoelectronics has been tremendously helpful as well. 

SW: Having monitored the nanotech space closely for the past two decades, it seems like U.S. policymakers have been on the one hand, supporting nanotechnology research through the NNI, and on the other hand passing regulations that work against nanotech commercialization. Is that how you see things?

PS: Well I think that is certainly part of it. It was difficult for companies to do IPOs in the U.S. for a long time, although I think it is fair to say that nanotech companies were particularly hard hit. With respect to the NNI, there were a couple of different ways that we slowed our ability to commercialize. One way is by following what is a perfectly reasonable impulse to its unreasonable conclusion. That is, we do not want to pick winners and losers in the marketplace and we do not want to latch on to specific technologies as a government. That is not the role of government in the U.S. But in trying very hard not to do that, we ended up strictly on the pure research side and not providing anywhere near as much help on commercialization as we could have without crossing that line. We did not have much of a push. The second aspect of it is that the NNI was, to some degree, captured by the academic world. There were a lot of universities spending a lot of time and effort and engaging a lot on pure research. That is fine and great. There’s nothing against this, but it did seem to crowd out some vital commercialization activities.

This is where the NanoBusiness Commercialization Association (NanoBCA) comes into the picture. It is a valuable voice in the nanotechnology community. We saw why this was important. We also saw over time the challenges that arise when that voice is not as prominent as the academic voices. At the end of the day, the combination of those two impulses ended us up focusing I think, more than it was optimal, on the pure research side and less than what was optimal on commercialization. As a result, we had a lot of companies in the U.S. that could not cross the valley of death and could not make it.

There is one other aspect of this, and that is the federal government can be very helpful by being a good customer, and by on-ramping nanotechnology-enabled products and working with nanotechnology-focused small and medium-sized businesses to purchase their products and help create a market. Not out of charity or industrial policy, but because the products are going to be very useful to whatever mission or whatever the agency that is buying them is trying to accomplish. A number of agencies, especially the Defense Department, are wrestling with how to be a good customer. This is an ongoing battle that is by no means limited to nanotechnology. It is something that the government recognizes as a challenge. This challenge is limiting our ability to build innovative industries and to ensure that the latest and greatest new products get to the government as a customer.

SW: What government agencies have benefited the most from the NNI’s initiatives?

PS: Unquestionably, the research agencies such as the NSF and NIST have been big beneficiaries. If you are talking about mission-focused government agencies whose mission is not research, they have had some successes. But better commercialization efforts could have given them more successes.

SW: How do you see the NNI evolving in the years ahead?

PS: The NNI itself is in the process of winding down. Congress has indicated a desire to do that. I think this is a recognition that the field has matured to a substantial extent. Let me emphasize that nanotechnology is not an industry. 

SW: Correct! There is a tendency to confuse a disruptive technology such as nanotechnology with being an industry.

PS: Right. My sense is that the bootstrapping mission of the NNI has been successful and is no longer such an urgent priority, which is great. I think we will see a continuation of research activities of the two dozen or so agencies that have been involved in the NNI, with a little bit less of a centralized clearinghouse like the NNCO – the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office – being needed to make sure we are not having gaps and overlaps. I think the natural progression of research is going to take the interested parties in their own direction. The field is mature enough now, and characterized well enough now, that people understand what is going on.

SW: What are some of the challenges facing policymakers in the realm of nanotechnology?

PS: I think there are issues related to EH&S – Environmental, Health and Safety. Those issues continue to lurk and will be ongoing issues if there are flare-ups – stories in the media or studies that are done that attract attention. In general, nanotechnology is vastly better for the environment than the technologies it is replacing. It enables a tremendous amount of environmental benefit. It enables a tremendous amount of health and safety benefits as well. But, of course, the media will want to focus on negative aspects because that will be what drives views. We also have to keep an eye out for this and be prepared to tell the other side of the story.

SW: Which typically does not sell papers and attract views.

PS: Right. The second area policymakers will focus on in the future is in areas where nanotechnology plays into activities such as advanced manufacturing. EH&S and advanced manufacturing are the primary areas I see immediate potential interest from U.S. policy makers. For now, we can expect a somewhat quiet period as nanotechnology returns to its original fields and progresses along within those.

SW: What kind of advice would you give to policymakers today with respect to encouraging investment in nanotechnology?

PS: To begin with, anytime we are dealing with a disruptive technology, it is important to help policymakers understand what it is and why it is important intrinsically. In the case of nanotechnology, we speak about it having to do with a certain scale and the special characteristics that emerge at that scale. Then we discuss why we can use those characteristics to do new things that were previously unavailable to us. Then we take this and apply a public policy lens to it. We address why it is important that we be leaders in this field and what it means for U.S. innovation, jobs, and national security and international trade. This is the positive case we build for nanotechnology.

After that, we begin discussing what we need to do to make U.S. leadership happen. In the case of the case of the NNI, it was, “Let us coordinate and accelerate federal nanotechnology R&D. Let’s get everybody together and understand what’s going on so we can think carefully about where to invest – based on our comfort that we are doing the right thing and not duplicating efforts and leaving substantial gaps in our research. Let’s go ahead and put more money toward the R&D because we believe we are not wasting it. Then hopefully we will do a little bit better on the commercialization side of it.” The end goal is to have all of that trickle out through the scientific process and the marketplace to the benefit of U.S. citizens and the U.S. economy.

SW: You recently launched the Quantum Industry Coalition and are leading the charge on the quantum front in the U.S., of which nanotechnology is part. Tell us about the purpose of the coalition.

PS: The Quantum Industry Coalition was a direct result of my work with the NNI and the NanoBusiness Alliance and the NanoBCA. About two and a half years ago, I started seeing around the quantum fields – quantum computing, cryptography, communications and sensors – the same sorts of things I had seen twenty years ago around nanotechnology. I had seen a bunch of small companies, each of which had radically different approaches to addressing the problem. I was seeing a smattering of federal R&D funding that was not particularly coordinated or thought out from a strategic perspective, although each of the particular projects made plenty of sense. I also saw a significant international competition aspect and a national security aspect. When all of those things are present, what I learned from the NNI is that we need a national coordination and acceleration plan to ensure U.S. leadership in the field.

I started speaking with quantum companies and asking them what they thought about whether or not we needed such a thing as the Quantum Industry Coalition. Quite a number of them agreed that we do need a National Quantum Initiative like the NNI. We formed the new coalition to advocate for just that purpose. As it turned out, as we were pulling the coalition together we learned that the House Science Committee was putting together legislation to do precisely that. We had an opportunity to consult with them as they drafted that legislation – to make some suggestions from the perspective of the U.S. quantum business community, and then to help pass the bill.

The bill was remarkable in that it had bi-partisan, bicameral support from the get-go. It passed the House of Representatives quite quickly and overcame a little jurisdictional hiccup to pass the Senate. It was signed by the President in December. All of which took less than a year, which is blindingly fast from a Congressional perspective. I had planned to use the coalition to press for this bill all of this year and possibly all of next year. We have had to come up with new things to do since the bill has already passed, which is a nice problem to have. In fact, what we are spending this year doing is ensuring that the National Quantum Initiative is funded and is implemented well by the Administration. We are also working on developing an analog initiative for the defense side and the intelligence community side, because the National Quantum Initiative Act focused entirely on civil quantum.

SW: Who are some of the companies in the coalition and what types of things are they working on?

PS: We currently have fifteen members. There is a mix of large and small companies, some pure-play quantum and some very much “not just quantum.” What they all have to have in common is a desire for the U.S. to be a leader in the quantum fields. Beyond that, anything that they are doing in quantum is fine with us. Our goal is to be strictly business. That is, we don’t have non-profits, academics, or professional societies involved. We have nothing against them. There are other organizations that we work with very closely who have those voices in them. But our charter is strictly the voice of the U.S. quantum business community and those internationally who support U.S. leadership. We want to make sure we are just business, but we want to make sure we are ecumenical within quantum. We are not picking different methods or technologies. And we are also consensus-based. We require everybody’s buy-in before we do anything. What that means is we are driven to the fundamental principles everybody can agree on even though they may be competing against each other tooth and claw. This gives us a very effective platform in which to operate.

SW: What is your view of quantum computing? There are some naysayers out there who think it will be many decades before we see commercial quantum computers.

PS: There have always been naysayers around any disruptive technology. I am not aware of a disruptive technology did not have an army of naysayers around it. The trick, of course, is distinguishing a disruptive technologywith an army of naysayers around it from quackery with an army of naysayers around it. That is hard to do. Equally hard, if not harder, is nailing the timing. We do not know what will pan out or when. There are people who are working right now on time horizons in the twenty-year range and there are people who may have something within the two-year range. The thing is, you never can tell who is going to win and when.

SW: One of the best quotes I’ve seen on quantum computing recently came from MIT professor of physics and electrical engineering, Isaac Chuang, who said: “The thing driving the hype is the realization that quantum computing is actually real. It is no longer a physicist’s dream—it is an engineer’s nightmare.” Does that perspective resonate with you?

PS: Yes, it does resonate. A lot of the issues we are wrestling with are engineering challenges. I deal with the commercial space industry and there are some useful parallels. For instance, when people were talking about building airplanes back in the late nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, the general expectation at the time was that the first airplane was going to be developed by Samuel Langley, the Secretary of the Smithsonian at the time. He had a tremendous amount of funding and support. He was going to be the guy who finally got us off the ground. As it turned out, his airplane was a disaster. It was a couple of bike mechanics out of nowhere – the Wright brothers in Ohio – who achieved the first powered flight.

This is a lesson that shows that we just don’t know what will happen, especially when you are dealing with a technology that, all things considered, does not require a massive capital investment in order to play. You should be very careful about assuming that an entrant can’t disrupt, even a very non-traditional entrant. You may need a billion dollars to build a microchip fab or to manufacture a passenger aircraft, but you don’t necessarily need a whole ton of money to make a real impact in quantum. We do not know where it will come from, and we cannot accurately predict the timeline. We can be humble about it, we can warn that there will be hype, and we can stick to principles like “no technology mandates,” “not picking winners and losers,” things like that, that should protect us from having the federal government invest somewhere that turns out to be worthless or turns out to be a poor decision. We need to be really careful about pretending we know more than we do.

SW: Well stated, Paul! Do you sense a growing awareness in Washington of the potential threat of quantum computing to cyber security?

PS: Yes. I think about this frequently and work on it constantly. It is a serious issue. What I see is that a country such as China is moving forward with quantum in a big way, with a plan that is directed at both developing an advantage over the U.S. and attacking our own capabilities. I believe we need to take what China is doing seriously. We recall the Sputnik moment, but what we don’t recall is that it was actually three moments. The Soviets launched the first Sputnik satellite, and that was a surprise and caused great consternation. Then, a month later, they launched a second satellite which demonstrated a proficiency at doing it. Then, third, when the U.S. tried to answer the Soviets, we failed. The rocket we built that was supposed to carry our own satellite blew up. It was a disaster. It was after that failure that the U.S. really got serious.

China has now demonstrated a capability to have a quantum downlink from a satellite, which is something that, at least publicly, we are not able to replicate. They have also demonstrated a quantum broadband connection, another capability that, at least publicly, we are not able to replicate. Thirdly, they have dedicated $10 billion in funding to a quantum cluster in China. This is a level of funding commitment that, at least publicly, we are not able to replicate. Our own funding for the National Quantum Initiative is $1.25 billion over five years. The three quantum developments, taken together, indicate to me that China is worth taking seriously. Now, China’s focus so far has been on quantum communications. That’s interesting. In the U.S., we are more focused on quantum computing. My expectation is that China will attempt to acquire our quantum computing capabilities by hook or by crook and is counting on us to develop it, so they can have it later. I don’t believe we should be complacent about that at all.

SW: That makes sense. Thanks for your perspectives on the Quantum Industry Coalition and related quantum developments. We look forward to hearing more in the future. I wanted to ask you about one of your other areas of specialization. You work closely with the commercial space industry. Tell us about the work you do in this area.

PS: For the last twelve years or so, I have been involved in commercial space policy, which has involved representing the industry association for commercial space flight as well as many of its members in the launch space, in the satellite space and advanced manufacturing, off-world and asteroid mining and other related things. It has been incredible to be at the policy center of another major revolution in our capabilities. Over the last couple of years, we have gone from traditional space, where the government builds, owns, and operates a rocket, to an entirely new paradigm where the government is buying rides on rockets that are manufactured by private industry.

In this emerging new paradigm, the government is the customer rather than the owner and operator. We are also seeing, for the first time, reusable rockets. Imagine how often you would fly if you had to throw out the plane every time you flew somewhere. That’s what we have been doing. Now that we have reusable rockets, thanks in part to nanotechnology and a number of industrial innovations, all of a sudden – literally just in the last couple of years – that has gone from impossible to “of course that’s what we do.”

This fundamental shift has been really incredible. What we are going to continue to see is the development of this commercial space infrastructure that enables people to innovate at the application layer, just as Amazon and Facebook and others were able to take advantage of the internet and other aspects of the physical infrastructure level to innovate at the application layer and change the world. We are going to start seeing that capability develop with respect to space. I think this is an extremely exciting time for the country and for the world. This is like the dawn of aviation. It is the change between government-led exploration and private sector expansion. It’s the change between the Lewis and Clark expedition and the wagon trains. It’s just a tremendous time to be around for, let alone to be a part of it.

SW: What are some of the major milestones we are likely to see in the commercial space industry in the years ahead?

PS: Well, just last December, Virgin Galactic sent its first commercial astronauts to space as part of its test program getting ready to fly paying customers into space. They were awarded astronaut wings by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The engine that powered them into space is now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Virgin Galactic followed this up last month with a second test flight in which they had a third person in the cabin who became the first female commercial astronaut to go to space on a commercial vehicle.

When Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin and the other launch vehicles come on line in the next year or so, we are going to start having people going to space in large numbers. A suborbital trip to space on Virgin Galactic will cost $250,000. Blue Origin has not listed a price but it is expected to be somewhere in that neighborhood. Already, Virgin Galactic has signed up and taken deposits from more people than have ever been to space in human history. Just on the strength of their backlog, they are already set to more than double the number of people that have been to space. 

SW: Fascinating stuff, Paul! We could talk all day about this, but unfortunately, we don’t have time. In the remaining time we have today, I wanted to have you tell us about K&L Gates and the types of services it provides to entrepreneurs of emerging technology companies. You have a heritage of helping disruptive technology companies. 

PS: Yes, the Gates in our name is that Gates. We are tremendously honored by that heritage with Microsoft and the Gates family. Our firm is a global law firm with offices across five continents with just under 2,000 lawyers on staff. We pride ourselves on being extremely friendly to emerging companies, both in terms of growing early stage companies and in terms of helping disruptive companies and companies that are creating disruptive industries. That means everything from having one of the world’s leading IP practices with more engineers and scientists than you can shake a stick at on staff, to having people who focus on VC funding and other ways of raising capital, to corporate lawyers who deal with mergers and acquisitions and so forth.

My own aspect of the practice is focused on the policy side and advocating for disruptive technologies in Washington, D.C. The policy environment is created for and by incumbents, by the industries that are being disrupted or that other companies want to disrupt. Therefore, finding ways to make the policy environment safe for, if not helpful to, those disruptors is challenging. That is what I try to do.

SW: What are some of the main lessons you have learned in working with emerging technology companies during your career?

PS: I think the main thing I see is that when you have a new, disruptive technology and you are excited about it, you see its value. You are committed to it. It is validated and so forth. There are all sorts of opportunities that you can pursue with that technology. Time after time, we see executives want to try to do all of it, because it is all exciting. There is money associated with all of it. We counsel our clients to make and stick with a plan and focus on one or two things that are right on your development path, and not to get sidetracked by all of these interesting opportunities. If you chase the whole school of fish, you are unlikely to catch any of them.

Our experience is very useful to our emerging company clients. We help them stay laser focused on what they are doing. We will show them the opportunities and then we will help them work through the process of deciding, “Is this really the thing that I should focus on or not?” It is those companies that have stuck with a focus and only worked with the government or taken advantage of a government opportunity when it really dovetails with what they want to do and had planned to do – it is those companies that have the most long-term success. Our fondest hope is that our emerging company clients will be successful over the long term and will grow into the kind of company that our namesake helped found all those years ago.

SW: Right on, Paul! That is terrific advice. Thank you for it and for all of your time today. We really appreciate it. The NanoBCA thanks you for your excellent work over the years in the nanotechnology community. We look forward to the collaborations ahead.

Steve Waite is a member of the NanoBCA Advisory Board and author of several books including Quantum Investing and Venture Investing in Science.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s interview. Looking forward to seeing you on June 4th in DC!