Take quantum. This technology of the near future is set to revolutionize the world of computing and will likely deeply impact our society and economy. Having been confined to research labs for years, it’s finally emerging as a nascent industry. For specific tasks, quantum computers promise to unlock processing power much superior to traditional, classical, computers. With continued progress, they should be able to perform calculations and generate simulations of unprecedented complexity at a fraction of the time it would take a classical computer. They should even be able to deal with problems a classical computer could never solve. The implications of quantum for security, chemistry, material design, financial markets, AI and machine learning are immense.
And now look at the people driving this quantum revolution in the U.S.; IBM, Google, Microsoft, Honeywell, Intel and startups like Rigetti and IonQ are all pursuing quantum computing research here in America. At IBM, among the foreign-born quantum researchers is the lead of our quantum program, IBM Fellow Jay Gambetta. An Australian, he has been working in quantum computing for 20 years, having come to the U.S. in 2004 to continue his research studies. He became a citizen last year.
When Gambetta first arrived in the U.S., quantum computing wasn’t yet mainstream. It was thanks to foreign-born, highly skilled researchers like him that this country has been able to emerge as a global leader in this crucial area. It was his quantum team, which included IBM Fellow Matthias Steffen—another immigrant and naturalized American—that in 2012 put IBM Research on the global experimental quantum computing map. They created stable superconducting qubits, the building blocks of quantum computers. And four years later, Gambetta and his colleagues became the first in the world to make quantum computers available globally and for free through the cloud—to anyone.
According to a 2019 report by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), more than 50 percent of computer scientists with graduate degrees currently employed in the U.S. were born abroad—and nearly 70 percent of enrolled computer science graduate students as well. The same report found, though, that the vast majority of this foreign-born talent wants to remain in the U.S. In AI-related fields specifically, around 80 percent of U.S.-educated Ph.D. graduates have stayed in the country—just like the 58 percent of foreign-born AI researchers that now work at IBM’s American labs.
These stats show that we should keep investing in our highly skilled citizens with vigor and ambition—be they naturalized citizens or citizens by birth. Economic opportunities abroad are rising, and it will soon be increasingly difficult to attract and retain these workers—the workers we so desperately need here in America. We must also consider the security of our research enterprise, particularly when it comes to the countries that do not share our democratic values, respect for human rights, and the rule of the law. But above all, investing in our citizens is simply the right thing to do, as it means we recognize and value the intrinsic potential of the talent present in every corner of our country.
We also need to address the chronic underfunding of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs)—great scientific, economic and cultural drivers. They accomplish a lot with very modest investment. Just consider that although only about 9 percent of America’s Black students enroll in HBCUs, roughly 16 percent of all Black scientists and engineers are their graduates. Imagine what they could achieve with more funding.
Each year, more than 50,000 bachelor’s degrees in computer science and related fields are awarded to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. It has been recommended to “staple” green cards to the diplomas of all foreign-born Ph.D.s who graduate in STEM from American universities. Similarly, we should award graduate fellowships to all U.S. undergraduate majors in computer science with GPAs above a certain level.
Our country and the wo