Sounds like a dangerous combination. The US Army Research Office and the National Security Agency (NSA) are together looking for some answers to their quantum physics questions.

Specifically the scary couple is soliciting proposals to achieve three broad goals:

-develop new quantum computing algorithms for hard computational problems;

-characterize the efficiency of candidate quantum algorithms;

-develop insights into the power of quantum computation and consider issues of quantum complexity and computability.

The announcement went on to say proposals for research should devise specific quantum algorithms to solve mathematically and computationally hard problems from such diverse fields as algebra, number theory, geometry, analysis, optimization, graph theory, differential equations, combinatorics, topology, logic, and simulation.

The Army said quantum algorithms that are developed should focus on constructive solutions for specific tasks, and on general methodologies for expressing and analyzing algorithms tailored to specific problems- though they didn't say what those specific tasks were or problems exactly were.

Other specifics of that the NSA and Army are looking for are as follows:

"To characterize the efficiency of candidate quantum algorithms, metrics must be developed to quantify the performance of quantum algorithms relative to their classical analogs. The problems to which they are being applied must have well-defined inputs, and well-defined outputs, along with a well-defined statement of what exactly is being computed. A full accounting of all computational resources must be made including such things as numbers of qubits, numbers of quantum gates, amount of memory being used, amounts of classical pre-computation and post-computation, probability of success, and number of times the algorithm must be run.

Investigators should presuppose the existence of a fully functional quantum computer and consider what algorithmic tasks are particularly well suited to such a machine. A necessary component of this research will be to compare the efficiency of the quantum algorithm to the best existing classical algorithm for the same problem."

The agencies went on to say they expect to award in March 2009 multiple, one to three year awards of less than $200K per year.

Quantum physics has long been an area of enormous government interest. In March, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said it was looking for innovative research proposals in the intriguing area of quantum entanglement -- a developing component of quantum physics that looks at the behavior between atoms and photons that could ultimately play a key role in developing security, unbelievably fast networks and even teleportation. DARPA's program, called Quantum Entanglement Science and Technology (QuEST) has the lofty goal of developing revolutionary advances in the fundamental understanding of quantum information science, DARPA said.

DARPA last month put out a research request it calls Mathematical Challenges, that has the mighty goal of "dramatically revolutionizing mathematics and thereby strengthening DoD's scientific and technological capabilities." The challenges are in fact 23 questions that if answered, would offer a high potential for major mathematical breakthroughs, DARPA said.

And just this month researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated a technique that could make quantum cryptography significantly cheaper to implement, moving it nearer to possible commercial acceptance. The technique is aimed at cutting the cost of equipment needed for quantum key distribution (QKD), designed to distribute cryptographic keys using a secure system based on the principles of quantum mechanics.

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