Quantum Ethics: What The Growing Field Of Quantum Computing Needs To Get Right

Quantum Ethics: What The Growing Field Of Quantum Computing Needs To Get Right

Quantum computers are expected to be exponentially faster than current supercomputers, and they could help us solve currently unsolvable problems. And while they’re still in their infancy, they could be used to design new materials and drugs, discover new elements, and make other advances.

The computer is getting smarter and smarter with each passing day. What happens when computers become too smart?

There are certain areas that quantum computing companies must be careful of when creating their products and services, ethics. At the 2022 World Economic Forum, academic and business experts created governance and fundamental values themes to direct the development and use of quantum computing.

Among the core values is “non-maleficence.” They recommend that stakeholders ensure that “quantum computing does not put humans at risk of harm, either in the intended or unintended outcomes of its use, and that it is not used for nefarious purposes.”  

One example of such a potentially negative intent is the potential for hackers to one day decrypt data using quantum computing. While anticipating the quantum evolution, here is what the growing field of Quantum Technologies needs to get right.

Data Security And Privacy

For years, industries like communication, finance, and health have relied on cryptography to secure data. The idea underlying cryptographic encryption is that to read an encrypted file, the reader must have the key, or code, to unlock it. The longer the key, the more difficult it is for a machine to crack, and the safer your information is.

Recently, the NIST increased the industry standard for key length protocol from 128 bits to 256 bits to improve security and prepare consumers for the future of quantum computing.

They also announced the first four quantum-resistant cryptographic algorithms, including CRYSTALS-Kyber for general encryption to access secure websites and CRYSTALS-Dilithium, FALCON, and SPHINCS+ for digital signatures. These moves by NIST are targeted at improving security and preparing consumers for the future of quantum computing.

Today’s cryptography encodes data in vast numbers combinations that are hard to crack in a reasonable amount of time using traditional digital technologies.

However, quantum computers that use quantum mechanical phenomena like superposition, entanglement, and uncertainty may be able to test out combinations so quickly that they can quickly crack encryptions by brute force. This could have serious implications for both individuals and businesses alike. The quantum threat is real.

Countries such as China and the United States have an advantage over other nations since they have made great progress in creating a quantum computer and testing many applications. But this progress could jeopardize billions of individuals’ data, threaten hundreds of countries’ technological sovereignty, and expose state secrets. 

When fault-tolerant computers become a reality, hackers will be able to crack the cryptography systems available. A major issue has arisen over the information currently available on the cloud, including thousands of internet-enabled gadgets, storage devices, and millions of servers with massive amounts of data. It’s possible to steal these data, store them, and decrypt them sometime in the future as technology advances.

Can AI Become Too Intelligent?

Another area where quantum computing can have an impact is artificial intelligence (AI). Quantum computers are expected to process information at speeds far beyond anything seen before, which means that AI could become more intelligent than ever.

With a handful of global technology businesses making enormous breakthroughs in quantum technologies, such as Google, IBM, and Intel, they may exercise even more control over global technology decisions, major technical trends, and laws regulating their usage.

This might lead to more monitoring by these digital titans. Combined with Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT), they could easily expand on their oligopolistic behaviour.

The same might be said of nation-states. The potential of select governments to massively scale surveillance of their people and employ a range of technology tools to monitor them will also rise exponentially with the development of quantum computing.

In areas like medical sciences, where research has proven will experience exponential growth with quantum computers, how can the fairness and morality of experiments be guaranteed for biologists when quantum computers are developed enough to change genetic sequences?

Quantum Ethics

In light of this, it is necessary to establish regulations, agreements, frameworks, and standards for quantum technology that is morally and ethically acceptable. Quantum technologies should follow ordinary principles of ethics and legality, and scientific community traditions should also be respected.

Frameworks must be established that are consistent with quantum science’s fundamental principles. Because quantum applications and data will differ from traditional applications and data, ethical frameworks tailored to particular application areas may emerge. For example, healthcare ethics may differ from those of financial markets. 

The normative ethical norms can be applied to quantum technology at the most acceptable level. These include sustainability, kind and benignly translated technology, and equitable and fair usage. As Prachi Mishra, a Young Leader in Tech Policy Fellow at the University of Chicago, suggests, meta-ethics of quantum technologies will need to be attuned to the underlying laws that govern quantum science, such as superposition, tunneling, and entanglement.

Companies should ensure that they have a strong security system to protect against malicious attacks or unauthorized access attempts by hackers or other cyber criminals who may try to get hold of sensitive data using quantum computers. 

According to research by the University of Oxford, there is a “window within which technologies might be probed on concerns of societal effect” before such technologies become commonplace. For quantum technology, the window is open. 

“A big part of it is to not stifle, especially in the early days, but certainly learn from our predecessors with AI. If anything, AI has given us a lot of interesting corner cases that certainly tells us what to look out for, and we just need to be mindful of that as we develop the technology.”

Jerry Chow, IBM’s director of quantum infrastructure

While developing ethical guidelines for quantum technologies, physicists, scientists, and academics who are specialists in the topic should be given decision-making authority.

About The Author

Prachi Mishra is a Young Leaders in Tech Policy fellow at the University of Chicago Harris. She is also working with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) on their Quantum Meta-Ethics (QM-E) project, which is a joint effort with the University of Sydney. She researches, reads, and writes on India’s adoption of quantum technologies and how it may make the transition to quantum technology.