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August 22, 2022updated 24 Aug 2022 10:15am

Is quantum computing more dangerous than AI?

Quantum computers will change the world but ethical and societal implications must be considered carefully.

By Ryan Morrison

Quantum computing could be “more dangerous than artificial intelligence” if sufficient regulation is not put in place around the technology, a prominent academic has warned. However, with quantum machines already emerging from laboratories into the real world, it may be too late to effectively regulate its application.

IQM is building task specific 5 qubit quantum computers for clients in finance and medicine where it has benefit today over classical machines (Photo: IQM)
The quantum computer industry is in its infancy but is growing at a rapid pace with 1,000 qubit machines expected by 2025 (Photo by IQM)

In an article in Foreign Policy Magazine, Stanford University law professor Mauritz Kop said it is vital to learn from the mistakes made around the regulation of AI “before it is too late” to control the impact of quantum machines. Kop is researching transformative technologies such as AI and quantum to understand the impact it will have on society and how it should be regulated.

Governments are only now starting to tackle the issue of artificial intelligence regulation, with the technology’s use already widespread. The UK government this year revealed a framework that includes limiting biometric usage and requiring the publication of risk and mistake levels in data output. This follows multiple instances of bias found within AI applications used in public and private sector organisations.

Significant benefits from quantum computing technology

Quantum computers operate on a completely different basis from classical machines, with quantum qubits measured at multiple states rather than just ones and zeros of standard bits. This could allow for error-resistant and rapid solutions to incredibly complex mathematical problems.

The multiple states mean quantum computers can increase exponentially with every new qubit added to the machine. Most quantum machines have between five and 20 qubits today with companies expecting 1,000 qubits within five years and a million within a decade. Indeed, it could take up to 15 years before quantum advantage, the point at which quantum computers can consistently outperform their classical counterparts, is achieved.

It is hoped that as well as cracking existing cryptography, quantum technology will be used to create new materials without the need for prototyping, predict future climate change with greater accuracy and model new chemical combinations for drug treatments.

Though a lot of funding is being pumped into the sector, today’s quantum computing start-ups are making long-shot bets that their chosen approach might define the next computing paradigm, argues Todd R. Weiss, an analyst who covers quantum computing for Futurum Research. “A lot of these ideas aren’t going to work,” he says.

As such, the next decade will be a process of weeding out the bad ideas. “Quantum will start as a big funnel in terms of ideas and will converge and squish together into five or ten serious companies in five to ten years,” Weiss predicts.  

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In his article, Professor Kop said that it is vital we have an understanding of the full potential impact of quantum now so it can be regulated and prevented from getting into the wrong hands before its too late to make any changes or stop irreparable damage from happening.

He predicts that some will use the technology for illegal purposes including compromising bank records, hacking into private communications and being able to access the passwords of every computer in the world. Companies and government agencies are working to protect against this with the emergence of quantum cryptography, but this is also in its infancy.

Quantum danger: every classical computer 'at risk'

David Williams, founder of quantum cryptography company Arqit says that the solution isn't regulation but technology. He told Tech Monitor quantum technology is “already out of the bag” and beyond the reach of regulators internationally.

Williams says that governments taking “a restrictive national approach to innovation and export control will merely harm domestic interests whilst more assertive countries like China storm ahead”.

The biggest risk to the world from quantum computers could be its ability to quickly and easily crack existing cryptography, he believes. “Regulators therefore need a very open mind about what technologies they seek to deploy in protecting the data of Governments, enterprises and citizens," Williams says.

“Relying on a small cohort of academics and public servants to decide what good looks like is also not an approach that has produced great innovation in recent decades – the best and brightest minds of global industry need to come together to solve this problem at scale.”

Liz Parnell, COO Rackspace Technology told Tech Monitor the bigger risk is the fact that the technology is likely to be concentrated in a few small hands rather than be widespread and readily available like current classical computer. “How comfortable are we with that?,” she asks.

She gives the example of a company like Amazon, which is investing heavily in quantum computing projects as well as controlling a large share of the retail sector and increasingly buying up health providers in the US.

“Amazon knows everything about us and putting that data into quantum computers could allow them to make incredibly accurate predictions," Parnell says.

“This technology could runaway from us so quickly and I don’t know many people who are having conversations about the ethics of this, intrinsic bias and how to protect people from misuse.”

As quantum computing research ramps up, will regulation follow?

Countries around the world are pouring money into quantum computing project or launching centres for quantum research to ensure they're not left behind in the race for quantum supremacy. Currently China and Europe are outpacing the rest of the world in terms of public funding for quantum computing efforts with China planning $15.3bn and the EU $7.2bn. In comparison the US has a $1.9bn planned budget and the UK $1.3bn according to a report by McKinsey.

Kop writes that to avoid the ethical issues that have dogged AI and machine learning around misuse, transparency and bias, nations need to introduce controls that correspond to the power of quantum and respect democratic values, human rights and freedoms. The article states that "governments must urgently begin to think about regulations, standards and responsible uses".

Mira Pijselman senior consultant at Ernst & Young wrote in an article for the company that business and technology leaders can't risk waiting for quantum technology to mature before enabling quantum ethics, agreeing with Kop in that it has to be done now before the technology is widespread.

She wrote that “a successful transition to quantum will require existing cyber, data and AI governance capabilities to be expanded upon — but not replaced. Quantum technologies will magnify current organisational risks, with a particular focus on where quantum computing intersects with AI”.

Read more: IonQ strikes quantum computing deal with Airbus

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