Recently, Congress held a hearing on expanding the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) Act. On its own, this doesn't sound all that notable — new research and new technologies means new funding and new budgets, after all. Given the level of hype in quantum computing over the past few years, expanding the NQI isn't all that surprising.
At the same time, go read that first sentence again. Does it jump out at you that this is a discussion playing out in the US Congress, out of all political venues in the United States? Maybe not, as much of the rhythm of politics-as-usual plays out with the banging of gavels in hearing after hearing. Sitting in 2023, however, we are very far from politics-as-usual, so maybe the word "Congress" should jump out at you.
Maybe it is significant that the future of quantum investments by the United States government is being made in the same halls that recently saw a manufactured debt crisis nearly shut down the entire government. Maybe it's more significant still that the hearing was held in the US House, the same august body currently debating things like how much to restrict abortion healthcare, whether or not to impeach cabinet members for spurious right-wing fever dreams, or something incomprehensible about gas stoves. Maybe it's more significant that the hearing on funding for quantum computing research and development was held in the same halls that, almost 30 months ago, were home to a vote to overturn democracy in the United States. Maybe it's more significant that the hearing was chaired by Representative Frank Lucas, who on January 6th, sided with insurrectionists by voting to invalidate the election in Arizona.
Maybe it's significant that as Rep. Lucas regurgitated empty rhetoric about China's funding for quantum computing (making sure to get the word "communist" in there for Fox News viewers at home), he stood in the same building where a two and a half years ago he tried to help a violent mob bring an end to free and fair elections in his own country.
It's tempting to treat quantum computing as some neutral thing, a technology without any moral values of its own. Perhaps it's even true, but that need not imply that researchers, developers, technical writers, project managers, or anyone else in the quantum research community or the quantum industry should act without morals. When someone like Rep. Frank Lucas stands up and tells us that he "cannot overstate the importance of maintaining the U.S. competitive advantage in quantum capabilities," we need to take him seriously, including the full and complete context of whom Rep. Lucas considers to be American, or even human.
Representative Lucas voted against COVID-19 relief, against providing a legal immigration path for DREAMers, against the right of same-sex or mixed-race couples to get married, against the freedom to vote (twice, even!), against healthcare for women and pregnant people more generally, against protections for Native Americans and LGBTQIA+ individuals who have been subjected to domestic violence, and against LGBTQIA+ rights more generally. Most critically of all, however, is indeed still his vote on January 6, 2021. As GovTrack.us notes:
Lucas was among the Republican legislators who participated in the attempted coup. On January 6, 2021 in the hours after the violent insurrection at the Capitol, Lucas voted to reject the state-certified election results of Arizona and/or Pennsylvania (states narrowly won by Democrats), which could have changed the outcome of the election. These legislators pumped the lies and preposterous legal arguments about the election that motivated the January 6, 2021 violent insurrection at the Capitol. The January 6, 2021 violent insurrection at the Capitol, led on the front lines by militant white supremacy groups, attempted to prevent President-elect Joe Biden from taking office by disrupting Congress’s count of electors.
Had Rep. Lucas and his effective collaborators scaling the walls outside the Capitol succeeded, we might well be dealing with a second Trump term despite the will of the voters. We can't know for certain what such a term would look like, but both in his time in office and in his social media posts since, Trump himself has given a pretty good clue that a second term would be horrific for queer people, people of color, people with disabilities, women and nonbinary people, and would be especially horrifying for anyone whose identity intersects multiple modes of oppression.
When Rep. Lucas tells us that "quantum computers have vast, untapped potential for both good and evil, which is why it’s so important that we stay ahead of our adversaries on these technologies," maybe we should consider whom Rep. Lucas considers his adversaries to be. At least for myself, I would posit that he made that much clear on January 6, 2021.