By Prachi Mishra
Quantum science is important for studying the smallest details of physical matter, and technologies derived from it have immense disruptive power. The atomic bomb, lasers and semiconductors are some of the first results of quantum mechanics. These technology translations made up the “first generation” of quantum applications. While lasers and the atomic bomb were breakthroughs in the mid-20’sth In the 20th century, the “second generation” is designing materials that were previously taken from nature to be manipulated with quantum computers.
The novelty of quantum technology sets it apart from other emerging technologies. It will boost computing power, drastically reduce processing time, and easily break into modern encryption. However, unlike other emerging technologies, quantum capabilities can also increase threats to national security, drastically increase the number of cyberattacks and pose a challenge to secure data transmission.
From probing the dangers of using the atomic bomb over the past century to regulating modern cyberspace to curb cybercrime, the social, economic, legal, and ethical implications of technology have become synonymous with global peace, security, and stability. and sustainable development.
Cooperation or conflict?: What the atomic bomb taught the world
The aftermath of the use of the atomic bomb remains central to contemporary understanding of the ethics of science and technology. As the most important practical application of quantum science, the lessons from the use of the atomic bomb may indeed be a springboard for developing the ethics of 21st century quantum technologiesSt Century. Central to this learning is the question of whether nation states develop technologies for conflict or cooperation. For those spearheading the second generation of quantum computing, it becomes a matter of morality whether to help the have-nots or exert technological, economic, political, and psychological dominance over them. Technology leaders in this field need to understand whether they are building on quantum science to improve humanity as a whole, or to undermine the freedom and sovereignty of others.
While many multilateral organizations, conventions, treaties, and pacts were created after the world wars to curb the use of technology that can lead to catastrophic events, the world has also seen many aberrations. With these insights, shaping the ethics of quantum technologies becomes the responsibility not only of the scientific community, but also of nation states, academia, civil society and thought leaders.
Some ethical concerns of today
As a handful of global technology companies like Google, IBM, and Intel make immense strides in quantum technology, it’s highly likely that they will assert even greater dominance in global technology decisions, key technology trends, and rules that will govern their use. This could lead to tighter surveillance by these tech giants, and together with other technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), they can easily expand their oligopolistic behavior. The same could be applied to nation states. With the development of quantum computing, the ability of certain nations to massively scale up surveillance of their own populations and employ a variety of technical measures to monitor them will also increase exponentially.
Another important ethical issue that comes with using quantum technology is its ability to easily hack into classical cryptography. Countries like China and the United States (US), which have made significant strides in building a quantum computer and testing multiple applications, have an advantage over other nations. A traditional desktop PC or other portable device will not be able to withstand cyberattacks launched from a quantum computer. This is putting billions of people’s data at risk, undermining the technological sovereignty of hundreds of countries and leaving national secrets vulnerable. As quantum-resistant algorithms are underway, a major concern arises regarding the information already residing in the cloud, thousands of internet-enabled devices, storage devices, and millions of servers storing a colossal amount of data. What adversaries with quantum computing capabilities will do on this dataset is a question that falls within the realm of global discourses on quantum ethics. With deepfake cases on the rise, quantum technologies will only exacerbate the problem.
Challenges of a similar nature plague scientists in all other fields as well. For example, if quantum computers are mature enough to manipulate genetic sequences, how must the fairness and morality of these experiments be ensured for biologists? And for a social scientist, quantum applications should not be elusive and must never drive societies into a wider economic divide. Likewise, concerns about equitable access to the quantum internet and preventing the monopolization of quantum computing while ensuring sustainable technological progress need to be addressed. As most of you would argue, these discussions should grow as technology evolves.
Cardinal rules for designing quantum metaethics
Against this background, rules, agreements, frameworks and guidelines for the ethical, legitimate and moral use of quantum technology must be established. At the most widely accepted level, the normative principles of ethics can also be extended to quantum technologies. These include equitable and fair use, goodwill and benign translations of technology, and sustainability. Some principles are listed in Table 1.
In addition to these general ethical principles, the metaethics of quantum technologies must be aligned with the underlying laws that govern quantum science, such as superposition, tunneling, and entanglement. For example, if quantum computers with machine learning algorithms are used on quantum datasets, the nature of the results will differ from the classical results, raising ethical concerns. Therefore, frameworks must be created that are consistent with the nature of quantum science.
Who will shape the ethical agreements?
When drafting ethical agreements for the use of quantum technologies, physicists, scientists and academics who are experts in this field should be given the decision-making role. Quantum technologies should abide by the usual rules of ethics and legality, and the conventions of the scientific community should also be held in high esteem. As quantum applications and quantum data will differ from traditional applications and data, ethical frameworks specific to these application areas could also be developed. For example, the guidelines for healthcare could differ from those for financial markets. Quantum technology regulation requires nation-states to adopt an interdisciplinary approach, using evidence-based technology policy together with social and natural sciences.
Nation-states can use global platforms (like the G20 and regional multilateral groupings like the QUAD) to initiate and mature discussions about the ethics of quantum technologies similar to existing technologies like AI and machine learning. Similarly, coalitions and task forces formed by multi-stakeholder ecosystems of governments, industry associations and intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations for emerging technologies can also be modeled for quantum technologies. These will function as holistic systems that can provide standard ethical guidelines as well as context-specific ones.
Furthermore, focused projects and initiatives in academia and civil society organizations can play a significant role in shaping global and contextualized discourses on quantum technologies. For example, the Quantum Ethical, Legal, Social, and Policy Implications (ELSPI) project, which is a joint initiative of Stanford University and Oxford University, or the Quantum Meta-Ethics Project, which is a joint effort between the University of Sydney and the Observer Research Foundation, have produced literature and other intellectual resources to examine the impact of quantum technologies on society at large. They also facilitate knowledge sharing between different communities and ensure civil society participation.
Quantum metaethics and agreements should not be seen as an obstacle to new technological developments and innovations. Rather, they should pave the way for inclusive technology translations for the benefit of humanity. This framework should be adopted by all factions of the quantum multi-stakeholder ecosystem, including the quantum science community. Designing rules and guidelines for this purpose will indeed be tedious as it will require bringing together social science, philosophy and pure science.