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!