Prepare now for the age of quantum computing

Today’s artificial intelligence (AI) is as self-aware as a paperclip. Yet the headlines tell us about the Google engineer who believes Google’s artificial intelligence system has come to life and Elon Musk’s tweet predicting that computers will have human intelligence by 2029. Sensationalism n It’s no surprise, given that Musk himself has warned that AI could become the “greatest existential threat” if we don’t regulate it.

Computers may never have human intelligence. But we’ve already “summoned the demon” that Musk warned of: AI being used to surveil and misinform – albeit failing in everyday tasks such as driving vehicles, in the face of unexpected circumstances.

We can still master the AI ​​demon. But an even more powerful impending technology could wreak far greater havoc, especially if combined with AI: quantum computing, and China taking the lead in its development.

Quantum mechanics is now being used to build a new generation of computers capable of solving the most complex scientific problems. Operating on a different computational basis than semiconductor-based computers, these machines will perform, in seconds, a set of calculations that would take conventional computers millions of years.

This all sounds crazier than Musk’s tweets, but the laws of physics are very different at the subatomic scale. Quantum physics is something for which we will find so many uses that we can expect it to bring about changes in many aspects of life.

An international race is on to build useful quantum computers. Competitors are large technology companies such as IBM, Google, D-Wave, Intel and Microsoft; startups; defense contractors; Governments; and universities. China, Russia, Germany, the United States and Japan are all striving to build the most powerful versions. India joined the race very late but have a chance to take the lead, thanks to the An investment of 8,000 crores announced in the 2020 budget and the launch of the national mission on quantum technologies and applications. India’s information technology (IT) companies are set to play a major role in creating a new generation of complex applications and they must be properly supported to achieve this.

Quantum computing is also combined with AI to transcend the limitations of traditional computers. These fusions or synergies of AI and quantum computing are known as quantum hybrids or AIs. Imagine what could be done with future systems that merge a classical supercomputer with a quantum computer, either in the cloud or on-premises. We must not let these systems fall into the wrong hands. Access to these powerful tools must be regulated to avoid nightmares.

This is why it is crucial not to repeat the mistakes we have made with AI – in particular, the inadequate regulation that has led to algorithmic biases, conspiracy theories, attacks on democratic institutions and the Surveillance state that China created. In fact, the quantum community itself has issued a call to action to address these issues as a matter of urgency.

This is necessary because while quantum computing can be used for good, it can also be used for evil. This is a classic dual-use technology. AI alone is a dictator’s dream; the quantum aspect has a multiplier effect. The synergies of AI, quantum and nuclear fusion could do a lot of good in logistics planning, energy or the medical industry – but a lot of harm as battlefield weapons or instruments of totalitarianism that would make Big Brother’s eyes turn white.

The eyes of a quantum sensor, for example, can actually look through a wall and see what’s behind it. In the construction industry, such tools could be truly useful in reducing costs and increasing worker safety. In unseen hands, they would destroy privacy and freedom. This is why we must manage quantum technologies like we manage something as powerful and dangerous as fissile materials: medical isotopes can save lives, but atomic bombs can destroy cities.

The first nation to develop an allied-relevant cryptanalytic quantum computer (CRQC) will be able to crack much of the public-key cryptography used by digital systems in the United States and around the world, and break the blockchain. China is currently leading in various quantum fields and it could be the first to possess these capabilities. It would put the United States, India and the rest of the free world in danger.

The foreseeable dangers demonstrate that targeted controls on developers, users and exports must be put in place without delay and that we must be careful about the protection of patents, trade secrets and related intellectual property rights on creations. and the inventions in which we have invested so much for generations. To preserve life as we know it, including the freedoms we cherish, we want to avoid at all costs the theft and abuse of intellectual property by China and other countries with incompatible ideologies.

We must institute strategic controls that both match the power of technology and respect democratic values, human rights and fundamental freedoms. These strategies can include migrating hardware, software, and data from classical encryption to a state of quantum-safe encryption.

Moreover, the democratic world should unite its AI and quantum computing talents, agenda and capacity to set the rules of the road for quantum technologies, integrating its ideals, norms, principles, standards and values. (culturally sensitive) in various quantum technologies. -technological fields, as a whole. The free world must prepare today for the quantum era of tomorrow.

Vivek Wadhwa is an academic, entrepreneur and author. His latest book “From Incremental to Exponential” explains how great companies can see the future and rethink innovation. Mauritz Kop is a Stanford Law School TTLF Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, lawyer and entrepreneur

Opinions expressed are personal

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