A group of quantum computing experts joined forces to bring awareness and engagement around the ethical decisions the quantum era has brought to the fore. Quantum cryptography will likely spur lengthy debates about privacy—much like those that surround current encryption of messaging services. But those discussions may pale in comparison the much larger global implications of quantum computing. With the potential to create new war materials and accelerated DNA manipulation, it is more important than ever to consider not only what quantum computing could do, but also what it should do. This will be something for global leaders to seriously consider as quantum computing moves into new arenas, not the least of which is outer space!
Looks like the sky is not the limit for quantum cryptography. Thanks to the hard work of researchers at University of Science and Technology in China (USTC), quantum keys can be covertly shared between ground stations and orbiting satellites. After some initial issues that required continued development of the quantum key distribution, a major breakthrough has made wireless MDI-QKD possible! Read on as we look at the latest advancements in quantum computing and explore the proper understanding of how to navigate the complexity involved in this new technology.
The Quantum Daily, a free online source of quantum computing news, released a video titled Quantum Ethics: A Call to Action. It offers an in-depth overview of quantum technology, diving into both its power to improve our lives and the potential pitfalls. In the video, U.C. Santa Barbara physics professor John Martinis says, “Whenever we have a new computing power, there is potential for benefit of humanity, [but] you can imagine ways that it would also hurt people.” The goal of this conversation is to find community-driven solutions to these complex questions. Issues surrounding quantum encryption and its implications for the security of both civilians and governments should certainly be on that list.
It’s vital to start discussing these questions because the technology is still in relatively early stages, and now is the time to find the balance between the benefits and the drawbacks. It will likely take years to nail down ethical guidelines for quantum computers. Ilyas Khan, Founder and Chief of Cambridge Quantum Computing, has already begun these conversations with officials in the U.K. government. He states in the video, “This is the equivalent of a whole new industrial revolution. That power, in the wrong hands, could also be used to create harmful materials or to manipulate the human genome in a harmful way.”
Quantum computers have the incredible capability of sorting through vast numbers of possibilities in real time and producing a likely solution. Rather than storing information as either ones and zeros like traditional computers, quantum computers use quantum bits, or quibits. This represents and stores information as both zeros and ones. While commercial-grade quantum computers have not yet been built, tech giants such as Google and Microsoft are all racing to be the first build and sell the technology.
The video was produced in part by Matt Swayne, Quantum Dailey Editor. He explains that it is only the first step is what must be a larger conversation, and that the next phase will include an advisory group of experts. “We want to raise concern but we don’t want to cause fear.”
As of 2018, the largest quantum network in the world was between the Chinese Micius satellite and three ground stations in Europe and Asia. While this was a major accomplishment, there were a few weaknesses in the system. This led scientists to develop measurement-device-independent quantum key distribution (MDI-QKD), a far more advanced method of quantum encryption. This solution has now been achieved wirelessly by the researchers who created it and will be sent across a Chinese city with no fiber optics to the Micius satellite.
“The results by the Chinese group [are] very interesting for the quantum communication community,” said Daniel Oblak, a quantum communications researcher at the University of Calgary. “It opens the door to practical quantum-encrypted networks relying on both satellites and fiber-optic cables working in tandem, something not possible with current technology.”
If done correctly, this innovation will be a quantum network that is entirely uncrackable by all known codebreaking techniques, making it the secure long-distance communication network in the world.
So long as teams such as Quantum Daily and other quantum experts continue the conversation and active work with the community, it will be possible to harness the power of technologies, such as quantum cryptography, to benefit the highest number of people while limiting the most damage.