Quantum Computing Experts Call for Conversation on Ethics

Quantum computing experts, including executives and scientists, are calling for ethical guidelines, since the technology can advance human DNA manipulation and create new materials for use in war. “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,” said UC Santa Barbara physics professor John Martinis, a former Google chief scientist of quantum hardware. Quantum computing is moving to the forefront; Microsoft, for example, recently debuted a public preview of its Azure Quantum cloud-based platform.

The Wall Street Journal reports that six quantum experts “kicked off the conversation” about ethical issues in a 13-minute mini-documentary, “Quantum Ethics: A Call to Action,” which will go live on YouTube and the Quantum Daily free online source for quantum computing news. Martinis is featured in the video as well as Oxford Quantum Circuits chief executive Ilana Wisby, EeroQ founder and chief executive Nick Farina, and others.

Visa, JPMorgan Chase, Roche Holding and Volkswagen are all “experimenting with early-stage quantum technology … [which has] the potential to sort through a vast number of possibilities in nearly real time and come up with a probable solution.”

Google, IBM and Microsoft are among the companies in a race to build a commercial-grade quantum computer. Cambridge Quantum Computing founder and chief executive Ilyas Khan, who is also featured in the video, noted, “this is the equivalent of a whole new industrial revolution.”

Khan revealed that he is beginning to talk about ethical issues with UK government officials. He pointed out how different things might be if ethical controls on social media and data privacy had been discussed in the mid-1990s. “We were asleep at the wheel,” he said. For example, quantum computing will eventually be able to “break some of the most widespread cryptographic methods currently used in cybersecurity” and top cryptographers are competing to develop new standards.

Quantum Daily editor Matt Swayne, who co-produced the video with publisher and co-founder Evan Kubes, stated that the aim is to “create an advisory group of experts to discuss the topic of quantum ethics.”

TechCrunch reports that Microsoft’s Azure Quantum platform can use “quantum hardware and software tools from partners like Honeywell Quantum Solutions, IonQ, 1QBit and others.” After going into limited preview in May, the company has now brought it out in public preview, meaning that “anyone with an interest in quantum computing can start experimenting with the service.”

After a “small free allowance to get started,” the service costs “about $10 per compute hour.” The platform is based on Microsoft’s open-source “Quantum Development Kit and its Q# language, as well as its recently announced hardware-agnostic Quantum Intermediate Representation (QIR) intermediate language based on LLVM.”