Quantum computing is an even bigger threat than artificial intelligence – here’s why
The danger is aggravated by the absence of any AI regulation. Instead, irresponsible tech conglomerates like Google and Meta have taken on the role of judge and jury in all things AI. They silence dissenting voices, including their own engineers who warn of dangers.
The world’s failure to tame the demon of AI – or rather the rudimentary technologies masquerading as such – should serve as a profound warning. There is an even more powerful emerging technology with the potential to wreak havoc, especially if combined with AI: quantum computing. We urgently need to understand the potential impact of this technology, regulate it and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands before it is too late. The world must not repeat the mistakes it made by refusing to regulate AI.
Although still in its infancy, quantum computing operates on a very different basis from today’s semiconductor-based computers. If the various projects pursued around the world are successful, these machines will be extremely powerful and perform tasks in seconds that would take conventional computers millions of years.
Due to the immense power of the technology and its revolutionary applications, quantum computing projects are likely already part of defense and other government research.
Semiconductors represent information as a series of 1s and 0s, which is why we call it digital technology. Quantum computers, on the other hand, use a computational unit called qubit. A qubit can hold values of 1 and 0 simultaneously by incorporating a counterintuitive property in quantum physics called superposition. (If you find this confusing, you’re in good company – it can be difficult for even experienced engineers to understand.) So two qubits could represent the sequences 1-0, 1-1, 0-1, and 0-0, all in parallel and all at the same time. This allows for a large increase in computing power, which grows exponentially with each additional qubit.
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If quantum physics moves out of the experimental stage and into everyday applications, it will find many uses and change many aspects of life. With their ability to quickly process immense amounts of data that would overwhelm any current system, quantum computers could potentially enable better weather forecasting, financial analysis, logistics planning, space research and drug discovery. Some actors will most likely use them for nefarious purposes, compromising banking records, private communications and passwords on every digital computer in the world. Today’s cryptography encodes data in large combinations of numbers that are impossible to decipher in a reasonable amount of time using conventional digital technology. But quantum computers – taking advantage of quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition, entanglement and uncertainty – may potentially be able to try combinations so quickly that they could crack brute-force encryptions almost instantly.
To be clear, quantum computing is still in its infancy, but where, exactly, we can only guess. Due to the immense potential power of the technology and its revolutionary applications, quantum computing projects are likely already part of defense and other government research. This kind of research is shrouded in secrecy, and there are a lot of claims and speculation about the milestones reached. China, France, Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, Canada and India are known to pursue projects. In the United States, competitors include IBM, Google, Intel and Microsoft as well as various start-ups, defense contractors and universities.
Despite the lack of publicity, there were believable demos of some basic apps, including quantum sensors capable of detecting and measuring electromagnetic signals. Such a sensor was used to accurately measure Earth’s magnetic field of the International Space Station.
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In another experiment, Dutch researchers teleported quantum information through a rudimentary network quantum communication network. Instead of using conventional fiber optics, the scientists used three small quantum processors to instantly transfer quantum bits from transmitter to receiver. These experiments have yet to show practical applications, but they could lay the groundwork for a future quantum internet, where quantum data can be transported securely over a network of quantum computers faster than the speed of light. So far, this has only been possible in the realm of science fiction.
The Biden administration considers the risk of losing the quantum computing race to be imminent and serious enough to issue two presidential directives in May: one to place the National Quantum Initiative advisory committee directly under the authority of the White House and another to direct government agencies to ensure American leadership in quantum computing while mitigating potential security risks that quantum computing poses to cryptographic systems.
Experiments are also working on combine quantum computing with AI to transcend the limitations of traditional computers. Today, large machine learning models take months to train on digital computers due to the large number of calculations that need to be performed – OpenAI’s GPT-3, for example, has 175 billion parameters. . When these models grow into trillions of parameters – a requirement for today’s dumb AI to become intelligent – they will take even longer to train. Quantum computers could dramatically speed up this process while using less energy and space. In March 2020, Google launched Tensor Flow Quantum, one of the first quantum-AI hybrid platforms that takes the search for patterns and anomalies in huge amounts of data to the next level. Combined with quantum computing, AI could, in theory, lead to results even more revolutionary than the AI sensitivity that critics have warned of.
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Given the scope and potential capabilities of quantum technology, it is absolutely crucial not to repeat the mistakes made with AI – where regulatory failure has given the world an algorithmic bias that fuels human bias, social media that promotes conspiracy theories and attacks on democratic institutions fueled by AI-generated fake news and social media posts. The dangers lie in the machine’s ability to make decisions on its own, with flaws in the computer code leading to unintended, often damaging results. In 2021, the quantum community released a call to action urgently address these concerns. In addition, essential public and private intellectual property on quantum technologies must be protected against theft and abuse by opponents of the United States.
There are also national defense issues. In security technology circles, the holy grail is what is known as a cryptanalytically relevant quantum computer– a system capable of breaking much of the public-key cryptography used by digital systems around the world, which would allow the cracking of the blockchain, for example. It is a very dangerous ability to have in the hands of an adversarial regime.
Experts warn that China seems to have a head start in various areas of quantum technology, such as quantum networks and quantum processors. Two of the most powerful quantum computers in the world have been built in chinaand as early as 2017, scientists from the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei built the first quantum communication network using advanced satellites. Certainly, these publicly released projects are science machines to prove the concept, with relatively little bearing on the future viability of quantum computing. However, knowing that all governments are pursuing technology simply to prevent an adversary from being first, these Chinese successes may well indicate an advantage over the United States and the rest of the West.
Beyond the acceleration of research, targeted controls on developers, users and exports should therefore be put in place without delay. Patents, Trade Secrets and Others intellectual property rights must be tightly secured – a return to the kind of technological control that was a major element of Cold War security policy. The revolutionary potential of quantum computing increases the risks associated with intellectual property theft by China and other countries to a new level.
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Finally, to avoid ethical issues that has gone so wrong with AI and machine learning, democratic nations must institute controls that both match the power of technology and respect democratic values, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Governments must urgently start thinking about regulation, standards, and responsible uses – and learn how countries have managed or mismanaged other game-changing technologies, including AI, nanotechnology, biotechnology, semiconductors and nuclear fission. United States and others democratic nations must not make the same mistake they made with AI and prepare today for the quantum era of tomorrow.
About the authors
Vivek Wadhwa is a columnist at Foreign Policeentrepreneur and co-author of From Incremental to Exponential: How Big Companies Can See the Future and Rethink Innovation. Twitter: @wadhwa
Mauritz Kop is an Associate and Visiting Scholar at Stanford University. Twitter: @MauritzKop
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