A Quantum Quandary
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
May 20, 2021
In the past couple of decades, technological advancement has soared — but the next big step, quantum computers, has the potential to completely revolutionize the computational capacities of humankind. Some of the many hypothesized abilities of quantum computers include: cracking all current forms of internet code, modeling quantum systems, searching large amounts of data at incredible speeds, and synthesizing new materials by predicting chemical reactions. If two computers, a classical one and a quantum one, were tasked with calculating all of the possible values in a thirty-digit sequence of ones and zeros, the classical one would have to process each value individually, whereas the quantum one could process all one billion values simultaneously.
There have been disagreements about whether or not this power is a good thing. While it’s true that the abilities of quantum computers would completely change life as we know it, helping pave the way for renewable energy and space exploration, there are just as many potential downsides. As Stan Lee once penned, “With great power comes great responsibility.” If we are unable to rise to the challenge of using quantum computers responsibly, the quantum age will surely spell the downfall of many of the societal privileges we take for granted today.
So what’s at risk? For starters: privacy. The government already tracks everything we do online, and imagine how much more effective they could be with computers that could crack any code and search through data faster than you can press ‘Clear History.’ Secondly, if quantum computers are kept solely in the hands of the elite, the knowledge gap — and therefore, power gap — will widen, completely destroying the middle class. Finally, with the improvement of face and thumbprint recognition technology, anonymity will be harder to come by, potentially putting even free speech at risk. All of these outcomes would have disastrous effects on society, the economy, and, more importantly, every single person unlucky enough to not be in the top 1%. Racial and class disparities would widen, and low-income households would depend on the benevolence of billionaires. It sounds like something straight out of a dystopia, and may very well become reality. However, just because there’s a potential downside to quantum computing doesn’t mean we ought to forgo technological advancement for a chance at unchanging safety. Instead, we need to keep quantum computers, and the people developing them, in check.
If quantum computers can crack any current code, the first step to ensuring the continuation of privacy is to develop codes that they can’t break. Already, the world’s top cryptographers are researching how to harness quantum entanglement to create (actually) unbreakable ciphers. Fight quantum with quantum, as the saying goes.
While that’s a step in the right direction, it still isn’t enough. These quantum codes will need to be widely available to the public when they are eventually developed, not just put to use in government bases. Research into quantum computing needs to become more diverse and available to more than just the group of affluent white men working on it in Silicon valley. Lastly, quantum technology needs to be available to everybody, regardless of wealth or location.
This is a momentous task, a challenge that would be much easier to turn away from entirely. Precautions were never put into place with the rise of social media in the 90’s and 00’s, and we’re starting to see the malignant effects of that today. Quantum computers will be an even bigger change, and we cannot let the same thing happen again. Hard work or a dystopia; that’s our choice.
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Wall Street Journal. Feb. 1, 2021. Accessed: May 11, 2021. https://www.wsj.com/articles/quantum-computing-scientists-call-for-ethical-guidelines-1 1612155660
“Quantum Ethics: A Call To Action.” The Quantum Daily. Feb. 1, 2021.
Accessed: May 11, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qc7gpabEhQ