Quantum computing: Increased investment is both timely and potentially urgent

Our current technology tools are insufficient to deal with the big problems of our age. And so it is through technologies like quantum computing that we may accelerate our ability to develop solutions to these pressing problems. The increasing threat of climate change and challenges to both our lives and livelihoods presented by the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the need for new innovative technologies.

Increased investment and focus on quantum are both timely and potentially urgent.

A lot has happened in the last few years in the development of quantum technologies. Quantum sensing, computing and signalling all show promise across a range of industries and applications. Quantum sensing and signalling have potential to revolutionise industries such as mining, defence, aerospace, and telecommunications. But quantum computing has broader potential applications including financial services, logistics and transport with increased investment happening both locally and globally.

Australia has, for some time, been a world leader in quantum related research that has given birth to quantum focused businesses such as Q-CTRL and Quantum Brilliance. Global tech players, IBM, Microsoft and Google are also investing heavily in building out cloud-based quantum-as-a-service offerings alongside new entrants such as D-Wave.

All of which signals something special is happening in quantum right now.

In parallel to these developments the tech community and society more broadly has become increasingly aware of the potential for technology to create harm. The poster child for this discussion has been artificial intelligence (AI) and the risk of unintentionally entrenching biases into core systems. There have been and continue to be numerous examples of AI applications being used without fully understanding the risks. For example, employment algorithms that favour men over women, or, facial recognition software that only works for white Caucasian faces, or, vulnerable members of our community being served through automated channels with little to no access to remediation when things go wrong. This does not mean the technology itself is inherently bad but that our approach to the development, testing and ongoing maintenance has been left wanting. This in turn has seen a lack of trust in relation to the use of these technologies both in business and the wider community.

There are parallels here for quantum technologies and why we have worked closely with the Sydney Quantum Academy to jointly develop a discussion paper on responsible quantum. The aim of this paper is to highlight the potential risks early and begin to explore the strategies needed to solve them. It is also intended to try and make the issues transparent to be inclusive and attract diverse perspectives and input. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect those with the technical expertise to also be solely responsible for identifying and solving ethical challenges. Doing right is an obligation we all share.

The discussion paper identifies three key areas for helping to drive responsible quantum:

  • Understanding risks and minimising harm
  • Public engagement
  • Diversity and inclusion

The reason for starting here is that if we want to accelerate into a quantum age we need to do so with a good understanding of the risks and controls needed to minimise harm. We need to be transparent to the wider community and help build both awareness and understanding of the potential for these technologies to solve some of our biggest challenges. And if we are truly genuine about our desire to be responsible we need to ensure the industry and applications developed involve teams that are both diverse and inclusive. Through taking these steps we will put our quantum industry in a position to truly excel and deliver on the promise of quantum for the good of society as a whole.

Read the full report. Responsible Quantum: Starting the Conversation

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