Quantum technology arena urged to avoid ethical pitfalls of “move fast and break it” mentality
(WSJ) Quantum computing promises to be extremely powerful. Scott Buchholz, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP; and Beena Ammanath, executive director, Deloitte AI Institute; jointly authored a Wall Street Journal article advising quantum technology avoid the kinds of ethical pitfalls that the “move fast and break things” era of machine learning left behind. They warn that without a top-down mandate for ethical development of quantum computing, technologists might meet business objectives but their creations could lead to unintended, ethically fraught consequences. The detailed discussion is worth the time to read Buchholz and Ammanath cite seven arenas needing attention and discuss each at length. IQT-News lists and summarizes.
Quantum Could Potentially Threaten Existing Protections
Cybersecurity: Some experts have predicted that within a decade, quantum computers could be used by hackers and hostile nation-states to break existing encryption protocols. This would represent a major blow to a wide array of internet services, including e-commerce and other virtual financial transactions, that rely on encryption.
It’s unlikely a typical person or smaller company will ever own a quantum computer due to their physical and technical complexity, but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit. Governments and organizations that want to move everyone along the technology adoption curve in an equitable way should think about how to share knowledge gleaned from quantum computers.
Start Preparing Today for Tomorrow’s Quantum Ethics
Stakeholders should start thinking through the potential challenges and understand how quantum computing may create ethical risks in the future. There are existing ethical frameworks for understanding the impact of technology, and many of the key considerations are generalizable to quantum computing and strategy.
Quantum Could Exacerbate Existing Risks
AI, data harvesting, and privacy: In the past several years, there have been major pushes to protect data privacy and ensure AI technologies are being used fairly and in ways that benefit the public. Despite these efforts, rampant data collection still takes place. Since future quantum computers will be able to process large volumes of data more rapidly than today’s most sophisticated servers, the availability of quantum computing could further incentivize organizations to collect even more consumer data, thus supercharging the data harvesting that already takes place.
Quantum computers, and especially quantum machine learning, presents the ultimate black box problem. Machine learning developers are familiar with this issue, and deep learning neural networks are notoriously opaque. With quantum computers, explainability is more of a physics problem than a programming problem. It will be difficult to evaluate and judge the decision-making process of quantum algorithms because they will recognize even more complex patterns across even more data points than today’s machine learning models.
Global tensions and the quantum “arms race”
Most industrialized countries today are investing heavily in the development of quantum technologies. China, India, Japan, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, and the United States are expected to spend a combined $5 billion on quantum technologies in 2022. The situation is sometimes referred to as a new global “arms race” as quantum computing is seen as critical to future defense technologies;
Quantum Could Create New Risks
Health care and life sciences: Quantum computers are expected to play a significant role in gene editing by helping biomedical researchers understand the effects of subtle genetic changes. Gene editing on its own is controversial, but quantum computing could ramp up concerns by enabling new, faster forms of research.
Quantum computers are expected to supercharge research and development of new materials. They will likely perform sophisticated simulations of how small, molecular-level changes alter a material’s properties, leading to a major boon in areas like drug discovery, carbon capture, chemical production, and much more. However, the history of new materials shows how often seemingly beneficial things can end up causing harm.
Sandra K. Helsel, Ph.D. has been researching and reporting on frontier technologies since 1990. She has her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.