Ethics and quantum computing
New technology and ethics are inseparably linked in today's rapidly evolving technological landscape. Quantum computing is no exception: as we stand on the precipice of a new era of computing, the ethical considerations that arise are complex and far-reaching. As a company that recognises the importance of these ethical consideration and is committed to responsible innovation, we believe that these concerns must be understood and addressed.
Ethical quantum concerns typically fall into several major categories:
1. Resource Allocation and Inequality: Quantum computing is a resource-intensive technology, both in terms of the physical resources required to build quantum computers and the human resources needed to program and operate them. Such resources are available only to a few nations. Given this, and given the rise in “quantum nationalism” - the development of country-specific quantum programs - will the benefits of quantum computing primarily accrue to the wealthy, developed nations that can afford to invest in it? This could further deepen global socio-economic divides. Within the legal frameworks of the countries QuEra operates in, we seek to provide equitable access to potential users, whether via the cloud or by owning a quantum computer.
2. Misuse of power: a sufficiently powerful quantum computer could one day break many current encryption schemes leading to unparalleled breaches of privacy and security. That’s why many experts warn against bad actors that implement “Store Now Decrypt Later”, capturing encrypted information today while hoping to decrypt it in a few years. This is especially relevant for information with a long shelf life such as medical records or certain financial transactions
3. Accountability and Transparency: The complexity of quantum algorithms could lead to a lack of transparency and accountability. If a quantum algorithm, for instance, makes a mistake or causes harm, it may be difficult to understand why or how it happened. Ensuring such “explainability” is a key requirement of many algorithms such as those deciding the outcome of a loan application. At QuEra, we seek to understand the reasons certain algorithms work and share this knowledge with our customers.
4. Job Displacement: The increased processing power and efficiency of quantum computers could automate many jobs currently performed by humans, leading to potential job displacement. We do our best to support education and re-training programs both to address the potential of job displacement as well as to train the next generation of scientists and technicians that will help build, program and maintain these advanced machines.
Some of these categories, such as job displacement, are not specific to quantum computing and present themselves when discussing other technologies such as AI or robotics. Others – breaking the encryption system - are specific to quantum, whereas AI presents its own unique challenges such as bias and discrimination, the ability to generate artificial consciousness.
Striving to address these concerns, several organisations have started constructing ethical frameworks for quantum computing. The World Economic Forum has developed a set of Quantum Computing Governance Principles that aim to guide the responsible development and use of quantum computing including inclusiveness and equity, security and safety, environmental sustainability, and transparency and accountability. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has published a report on The Ethics of Quantum Computing that identifies a number of ethical issues including the potential malicious use of quantum computing, the potential to disrupt existing industries, the negative environmental potential, and the need to ensure that quantum computing is developed and used in a way that is fair and equitable. Last, Deloitte has developed a Trustworthy & Ethical Tech Framework that can be used to guide the development and use of quantum computing.
Beyond ethical frameworks, one could imagine some solutions. Job displacement, for instance, is often associated with the introduction of transformative technologies. Factory workers that manually assembled cars might find themselves displaced by robots, but these robots need to be built and serviced by people. If quantum computers make certain jobs obsolete, they open other opportunities.
Other solutions might require multinational collaboration. For example, the World Health Organization serves an important function that ultimately helps both developed as well as developing nations. Promoting standards, monitoring global trends, and coordinating emergency responses have helped address inequality in healthcare, benefiting all. Similarly, a “World Quantum Organization” might provide shared quantum resources to benefit all, not just those that could develop an autonomous quantum ecosystem.
Concurrent with developing solutions and ethical frameworks, there is a need to educate and inform the public, policymakers, and stakeholders about the potential implications of quantum computing to foster informed discussions about its ethical, social, and economic impacts.
Quantum computing's potential to revolutionise industries is matched by the complexity of the ethical considerations it raises. At QuEra, we recognise these challenges and are committed to responsible innovation that prioritises inclusiveness, security, and sustainability. Collaborative efforts, such as the proposed 'World Quantum Organization,' resonate with our belief in shared quantum resources and global partnerships, and we invite interested parties to engage with us. As we navigate this exciting frontier, we must do so with both eyes open to the potential downsides, ready to tackle them head-on, and always guided by ethical principles.
Yuval Boger is the Chief Marketing Officer at QuEra Computing.