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The time is right for an ethical quantum computing code

The leading minds of today are focused on quantum computing. It may not be long, so ethical and environmental issues need to be considered with some urgency.

A programmable photonic circuit has been developed that can execute various quantum algorithms and is potentially highly scalable. This device could pave the way for large-scale quantum computers based on photonic hardware. Image by 彭家杰. CC BY 2.5
A programmable photonic circuit has been developed that can execute various quantum algorithms and is potentially highly scalable. This device could pave the way for large-scale quantum computers based on photonic hardware. Image by 彭家杰. CC BY 2.5

As quantum computing becomes closer to reality it is not only the technology that society needs to contend with. Other issues of societal concern that need to be though through include environmental protection and ethics.

With ethics, quantum computing has the possibility of being used as a force to a good or a force for wrongdoing. If humanity acquires a technology, which can do whatever has been possible with the previous tech for 10 000 years in minutes (which is the case with quantum technology), it will be difficult to anticipate all the outcomes and each of the paths that the technology will take. An ethical framework will at least help to steer the technology in its early days across the right path.

Across the spectrum, from national security to medicine, from communications to finance, the potential for quantum technology to change the world is unprecedented. Quantum computers use quantum phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform computations that can vastly outperform classical computers at many tasks. This will present new opportunities for innovation, such as in chemistry and in solving new materials problems.

With the environmental aspects, there is, at the moment, a general acceptance of the need to develop an agreed framework to address and define these values. In a rare show of unity, scientists from top tech giants such as Google, IBM, Intel and startups alike have set out what the quantum technology industry needs to prioritize to address global sustainability issues.

These concerns have been presented in  recent documentary titled Quantum Technology | Our Sustainable Future. The broadcast includes many leading experts on quantum technology.

Looking at the new documentary, there are insights from leading quantum computing experts considering how quantum technologies could reduce the energy required for complex computations even as demand continues to rise.

The documentary also looks at the challenge of minimizing quantum computing’s own potential environmental impact whilst ensuring the development of applications to address global sustainability issues is prioritized. 

Featuring in the short movie are Alan Ho: Head of Product, Google Quantum AI, Carl Williams: Deputy Director, Physical Measurement Laboratory at NIST, and Flaviu Cipcigan: Research Staff Member, IBM Research.

While the prospects for quantum computing to enter our everyday lives remains a little further away, the documentary lays out the boundaries for green quantum technology and it raises awareness about the ethical decisions that face society in the quantum era.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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