Quantum Applications, Quantum International Relations

Keeping up with quantum: The Pentagon’s JEDI contract


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DODJEDIImage via ZDNet

Gabriella Skoff

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) approach to the technology industry (namely, playing competing tech providers off against one other in order to procure the highest quality technology) has recently focused in on cloud technology. Early this year, the DoD announced plans to open bidding for a $10 billion contract for the single-award procurement of a new cloud strategy called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, or JEDI. This decision has received bountiful industry criticism. Arguments have focused largely on whether the contract’s single-award system and its precise requirements allow for competition between cloud technology providers or if it has been created to favor certain companies. But a potentially tragic flaw that few are hitting on is the fallibility of a cloud storage program being widely used for defense purposes in the context of other rapidly developing emerging technologies, namely quantum computing.

The decision to transition DoD IT infrastructure to a cloud-based system has indeed been made with emerging technologies in mind. Ellen Lord, Defense Undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, acknowledged that technologies “such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are fundamentally changing the character of war”, and that the use of these technologies “at scale and at a tempo relevant to warfighters requires significant computing and data storage in a common environment”. The updated cloud technology would store the government’s top defense secrets and enable military personnel working in remote locations to access critical information. These improvements are vital updates to the current defense IT infrastructure that will help the U.S. military to maintain a technological advantage, as per the Obama-era Third Offset Strategy.

However, between all the unfolding “races” to technological supremacy this IT transformation is set to accommodate, the predicted capabilities of quantum computing seem to have been critically overlooked.

It is well known that quantum computing will transform the security of cyberspace within the coming decades, but an approach to countering this threat is not noted anywhere in the JEDI contract. There are certainly companies and researchers working on quantum-secure cryptography through applications such as quantum key distribution, and even some research into the creation of a quantum blockchain—potential solutions to the quantum computing security threat. Surprisingly, however, these are not areas toward which the DoD seems to be looking.

Further concern stems from a lack of clarity around how much the DoD will come to rely on the single-source provider across all defense systems—will this be the first step towards an ultimate systems consolidation, centralizing cloud storage across the U.S. defense sector? If this is to be the case, it is even more critical that the utmost caution be taken now to ensure that the new system will be as secure as possible in the future.

Tech companies have been outspoken on this front, claiming that the use of multi-cloud technology would help to prevent security breaches and major outages. As IBM’s General Manager of the company’s federal business said: “No major commercial enterprise in the world would risk a single cloud solution, and neither should the Pentagon”.

The US DoD should be looking not one step ahead in its IT solutions, but five, even ten steps ahead. With the rapid pace at which technologies are being developed, there is a real need for foresight in this space. As Thomas Keelan of the Hudson Institute argues, in this cloud technology venture, the DoD is both missing a holistic approach to emerging technologies as well as limiting its own “crypto-agility”. The replacement of old systems is cumbersome and logistically challenging. But failing to roll out a new, quantum-secure system across such a large organization before the age of quantum computing dawns on us is both inefficient and leaves systems vulnerable to the threat of quantum capabilities. Capabilities which may very well not fall into the hands of the U.S. DoD first.

Quantum Applications

A quantum blockchain revolution?


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quantumcomp.originalImage via Bitcoin Magazine

Gabriella Skoff

Blockchain has been a buzzword in the tech community for some time now. But while you may have heard of it in reference to Bitcoin, the first application of this technology, blockchain has the potential to revolutionize a diversity of sectors and disrupt current power structures world-wide. In applications ranging from banking to the diamond trade, electronic voting to health records, blockchain could be used as a digital ledger for a wide range of “transactions, agreements, contracts”. By securely recording and storing data that is accessible to anyone in the blockchain network and impossible to hack given the current capabilities of computing, this technology promises to enhance security and transparency on a global scale.

The problem is that the coming of age of quantum computing will most certainly pose an existential crisis to the security of blockchain encryption. While blockchain cryptography is currently secure enough to prevent hacking, it will not stand a chance against the powers of quantum computing once this has been fully developed. But while quantum may present the biggest threat to blockchain, it may also be its greatest hope.

Recent research by theoretical physicists Del Rajan and Matt Visser of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, suggests that quantum-izing the entire blockchain could solve this issue. While quantum cryptography has been suggested as a workaround for this issue before, Rajan and Visser’s research is novel. They argue that the solution lies in creating a blockchain that relies on quantum particles entangled in time, rather than space.

With this new structure, any attempt to hack or manipulate the blockchain would result in the link being destroyed, as entanglement is extremely delicate. In their paper, Rajan and Visser explain that by encoding transactions on a quantum particle, or photon, it would be possible to entangle the previous information, allowing the chronologically older blocks to disappear once they have been absorbed into the more recent addition.

According to the research, quantum entanglement in blockchain would actually create what the authors refer to as a ‘quantum networked time machine’ effect:

“…with entanglement in time, measuring the last photon in a block influences the first photon of that block in the past before it got measured. Essentially, current records in a quantum blockchain are not merely linked to a record of the past but rather a record in the past, one that does not exist anymore.”

Importantly, this would produce a dual security benefit. Any attempt to tamper with the quantum blockchain would have to be done only to the available record, the most recent block, as all previously entangled blocks no longer exist, giving these earlier blocks complete immunity to hacking. Further, anyone attempting to tamper with the quantum blockchain will render the entire link invalid, informing the network of the attempted hack.

Perhaps the most enticing element of Rajan and Visser’s work is their claim that: “…all the subsystems of this design have already been shown to be experimentally realized”. However, this does not mean that the technology is going to being available for large-scale application in the coming months or even years. Quantum computing and certainly quantum blockchain is still mostly confined to the realm of theoretical physics. The same argument goes for blockchain, which many have cautioned is still decades away from reaching its potential.

Nevertheless, it clear that there is exciting promise for these two disruptive technologies to work in tandem in the future. And while our enthusiasm for this future should be couched with a certain level of cautious realism, it is exciting to imagine the global impacts of a quantum blockchain revolution in business, politics and beyond.

It is no mistake that the conversation around these new technologies can eerily echo that of the early era of the Internet in creating a previously unimaginable, egalitarian and decentralized space. Given this, it is certainly of value to think ahead in order to ensure that the ways in which these emerging technologies will be used is consciously targeted to benefit society. In doing so, perhaps we can better ensure their potential power is not co-opted to serve only the few, but the many.

Quantum International Relations

The role of tech companies in achieving quantum supremacy


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These-Former-Obama-Officials-Are-Helping-Silicon-Valley-Pitch-the-Pentagon-article-header-1532026495Image via The Intercept

Gabriella Skoff

In anticipation of the fifth annual Q Symposium, ‘The Quantum Race:  Parallels, Promises, Perils’, Gabriella Skoff considers the drivers and obstacles to ‘quantum supremacy’.

Quantum supremacy is the point at which quantum computers will surpass the capabilities of classical computers, outperforming them at any given task. While quantum supremacy refers to a technological phenomenon, it can be argued that this is a race that is also being run on a political playing field, with the United States and China battling for an advantage. However, the biggest names in quantum technology today– IBM, Microsoft, Google– are not the names of governments but of technology companies, one of which will likely be the first to succeed, at least in the United States, in creating a fully functioning quantum computer. The race is not only profit-driven:  Quantum, like many other technologies (think: AI and facial recognition) is both a consumer and a defence-coveted goal. In the United States, the Department of Defence (DoD) relies heavily on the momentum of Silicon Valley’s booming venture capitalist culture to achieve quantum supremacy before its competitors do. But will this relationship of dependence be a disadvantage in the long run?

While the relationship between the United States DoD and Silicon Valley reaches back to the Second World War, the DoD has only recently come to fully entrust the private sector as its technological powerhouse. Since the early 2000’s, as Ash Carter’s predictions about technology and commercialization espoused in his paper entitled ‘Keeping the technological edge’ have been realized, the DoD has focused on maintaining close ties with the commercial sector. Carter argued that by using an approach that “works with rather than against market forces, leveraging commercialization to secure the needs of defence”, the growing, independent, “industrial and technology base” would be able to act as a vehicle, enabling the U.S. military to “be the world’s fastest adapter and adopter of commercial technology into defence systems”. When Carter became the U.S. Secretary of Defence in 2015, he was able to put these ideas into action, eventually with great success.

While Carter’s system has so far allowed the DoD unprecedented access to the newest and best technologies, lending itself to a definitive strategic advantage over competing world powers, there are several issues with regard to its application in the quantum race that should be explored.

One salient issue is the prevalence of “technological entanglement”. Carter argues that integral to maintaining technological supremacy is the U.S. military’s ability to deny access to and information about new technologies to competing powers. However, the technology community now largely responsible for innovation in quantum is highly collaborative and mobile, functioning in a globalized economy.

China, the United State’s main competitor in the quantum race, has taken full advantage of this weakness in the American system by pursuing strategic partnerships between Chinese firms with military connections and U.S. tech companies. This poses a unique problem to a system where those creating military technologies traditionally did so in the service of the U.S. national interest as DoD employees. Today, the intellectual capital associated with the creation of quantum technology is dangerously fungible.

Unlike the United States, China has taken the responsibility of achieving quantum supremacy unto itself, investing US$10 billion in building a new National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences, set to open in 2020. Comparatively, U.S. government spending for quantum research is now set at US$1.275 billion from 2019 to 2023.

Another cause for concern is the recent stirrings of protest in the tech community, with regard to large defence contracts. Earlier this year, Google made headlines when about a dozen of its employees resigned in protest to the company’s involvement in Project Maven, a DoD funded project developing AI surveillance for drone footage. Over 3,000 Google employees took a moral stance on the issue, signing a letter addressed to Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, which eventuated in the company’s decision to not renew the contract.

More recently, Microsoft employees had their own moment of revolt over Azure Government, the facial recognition software used by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) in the forced separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border. This also resulted in an open letter, signed by over 100 employees, which stated: “We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”

While the number of vocal protestors within these tech giants may be just a drop in the pond, these examples should cause the DoD pause for thought about the loyalty required of its industrial and technology base to win the quantum race. Lest we forget that the booming creative, entrepreneurial tech culture we see today is a product of the anti-war counter-culture of the 1960’s.

Defence contracts are inherently political, and above all else, it is critical for the DoD to keep in mind that tech companies are not pursuing quantum computing for reasons of patriotic allegiance. Ultimately, the success of the current system of reliance on this community hinges on the operationalising of defence projects as a viable business model for tech companies, whilst ensuring there are systems in place to assure that the technology created will be responsibly regulated.

Quantum International Relations

Space Force and quantum: the next chapter of the space race


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space force

Six potential logos for the US Space Force, created by the Trump-Pence 2020 Campaign PAC.

Gabriella Skoff

“When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space…” proclaimed Donald Trump, “We must have American dominance in space”. Trump’s recent announcement of the establishment of Space Force, a sixth branch of the US armed forces dedicated to US defence operations in space, has both captured the imagination of the general public and left many scratching their heads. Although the Trump administration’s recent declaration leaves little doubt as to the objective of US military dominance in space, many questions were left unanswered: Is this really necessary? Who will pay for it? How will dominance be measured? And as has been said of generals and war, is the US seeking to win the wrong, meaning the last, race?

Of course, this announcement remains confined to rhetorical space, having no real impact on policy until the plan receives congressional approval. In fact, recent policy proposals toward establishing a dedicated space corps have successively been knocked back by Congress (the last one as recently as last year). Regardless of whether Space Force is set to become a legitimate policy item on the 2020 agenda, it warrants a closer look at the current international space-security dynamic and begs the question of what international legal frameworks are in place to protect the final frontier from military domination.

While many are concerned about the militarisation of space, it is important to note that this has long been a process in which the US and other global powers have been engaged. In fact, “space” is one of the five dimensions of military operations, defining it as a domain of warfare in the core US military doctrine. Space Force, far from being a novel concept in US military policy, has actually existed as a dedicated space command within the US Air Force since 1982. The Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) currently employs over 35,000 people and is responsible for supporting vital satellite, missile and cyber operations worldwide. As such, rather than setting a bold historical precedent, the Trump Administration’s Space Force announcement fits squarely in line with the history of the space race, a marathon that has always been run with military ambitions.

In his speech declaring the creation of Space Force at the Pentagon in June, Mike Pence claimed, “Our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already”. This speech positioned Space Force as a US response to the rapidly developing military threats of China and Russia, especially with regard to the destruction and jamming of satellites. Anti-satellite weapons are a critical component of the Space Force plan, as satellites are not only the backbone of the US military complex, critical for logistics of ballistics and drone navigation, but also a technology we rely on daily for civilian matters such as telecommunications and weather reporting. The jamming, destroying, or hacking of US satellites would have widespread and crushing ramification for US infrastructure and defence capabilities.

But the use quantum computing, communication and control could profoundly tip the scales in this next chapter of the space race. Quantum encryption presents the most enticing hope of a massive security advantage with regard to satellites in space, allowing for the highest level of security possible. The use of quantum encryption would theoretically prevent hackers from cracking codes and other forms of espionage, military or otherwise. Quantum computing could allow for an exponential military advantage in space. Satellites equipped with quantum capabilities would enable offensive tactics like surveillance and reconnaissance to be done with greater speed, accuracy and security than ever before.

It would obviously be in the interest of Space Force to lead the way in quantum-satellite technology; however, China has been steadily gaining the lead on the US for some time. In 2016, China successfully launched the Micius satellite, the first quantum satellite in space. Earlier this year, Micius set up the first ‘intercontinental cryptology service’ using quantum cryptology.

So, if the world’s strongest powers are actively developing space forces with satellite striking and quantum encryption capabilities, what international legal protections prevent an all-out battle for space dominance from developing?

Notably, the US and the Soviet Union are both signatories to The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the most comprehensive legal framework enforcing non-armament and guiding the collaborative, peaceful and scientific exploration of space. While this treaty does not explicitly concern the militarization of space, Articles I and IV are of particular interest.

Article I states: “The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.” This article exists to counteract claims exactly like Trump’s, to settle for nothing less than establishing US “dominance” in space.

It is worth noting that even prior to the Trump Administration the position of dominance in space has been a cornerstone of US policy. In contrast to Pence’s assertion of adversarial aggression in space, Russia and China actually made a joint effort over a decade ago to prevent the proliferation of military arms in space. The Russia-China working paper— “a draft document containing possible elements of an international legal agreement on the prevention of the deployment of weapons in outer space, the threat or use of force against outer space objects”— was presented to the UN Conference on Disarmament in June 2002. The treaty outline did not progress in large part due to the US’ staunch opposition.

According to Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty:

“States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.

The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden…”

Article IV is the only article specifically concerning the use and orbit of arms in space but only prohibits weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This WMD-specific language is a major loophole in the treaty that will ultimately aid US interests in creating Space Force, allowing (or rather, not legally disallowing) the use of air or ground weapons, including the use of anti-satellite or anti-missile weapons in space.

There exist a handful of other treaties guiding space issues, but these mostly concern the temporal matters of nuclear testing and explosions in space, damages to space objects, and natural resources on the moon. While these treaties were and remain important, they do not provide a thorough legal framework to prevent military dominance and armament in space. The most relevant treaty concerning this issue, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty between the Soviets and the US, is no longer in effect after the US withdrew in 2002.

Clearly, the US has long since decided to dominate the domain of space. This position is much more pervasive than Trump’s claim that the idea came to him recently. US leaders have historically fought to ensure that the US military-space advantage would not be subject to legal oversight, despite the risk of adversarial challenge from competing world powers.

While international conventions strive to position space exploration as a cooperative venture for scientific purposes, the reality is that the space race has always been largely focused on military advantage and political economics. Given this perspective, there is little doubt that quantum capabilities will be at the heart of this next chapter in the space race.

 

 

Artificial Intelligence

Facial Recognition in Democracy


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Smart contact lens based facial recognition, one possible future. Glasses based technology is already in use. Image Credit: Mission Impossible 4, Paramount Pictures.

Alexander Vipond

Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith has called for the United States government to appoint a bipartisan expert commission on how to regulate facial recognition technology. In a blog post on the company’s website, Smith responded to allegations that Microsoft had provided the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with facial recognition technology earlier in January this year. The recent of role of ICE in the deportation and separation of immigrant families in the US has drawn large scale protests and widespread backlash across the country.

The possibility that this technology could have been used for such purposes saw Microsoft in the firing line, frantically seeking to explain the nature of their contract. Smith clarified that the contract is limited to “supporting legacy email, calendar, messaging and document management workloads” and reiterated that Microsoft does not support the policy.

This became the catalyst for Smith to call for the regulation of facial recognition technology. He posed two scenarios for the future use of the technology one positive, one negative.

Imagine finding a young missing child by recognizing her as she is being walked down the street. Imagine helping the police to identify a terrorist bent on destruction as he walks into the arena where you’re attending a sporting event. Imagine a smartphone camera and app that tells a person who is blind the name of the individual who has just walked into a room to join a meeting.

Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge. Imagine a database of everyone who attended a political rally that constitutes the very essence of free speech. Imagine the stores of a shopping mall using facial recognition to share information with each other about each shelf that you browse and product you buy, without asking you first.

The problem is those futures have already arrived.

In June, Jarrod Ramos murdered five journalists at the Capital Gazette in Anne Arundel County, Maryland over reporting of his criminal past. As he attempted to exit the scene by blending in with people fleeing, he refused to provide identification to local officers and fingerprinting failed. He was identified with facial recognition technology from a collection of state databases.

In non-democratic countries, governments are already rolling out persistent large scale surveillance of citizens using big data and facial recognition. And while the stores at the shopping mall aren’t sharing with each other yet, they have been deploying dual use facial recognition technology to prevent shoplifting and monitor customers’ in-store browsing habits to increase sales.

So, the future is already here. What do we do about it?

Behind the facial match is the data. Who has access to it? How and why is it used? In what situations can different levels of government employ the technology and what restrictions are there on private sector use? How long is biometric data kept for and can it be kept safe?

These are basic questions currently left unanswered by US law and that of many countries around the world. Smith himself raises a series of ethical issues about the legal standards of facial recognition algorithms. The spectrum ranges from persistent passive collection of everyone’s data, to data which is only used in a ticking time bomb situation. This variance reveals both the scale of the technology and the governance space democracies must define.

As Smith notes, this does not absolve technology companies of responsibility. Microsoft has appointed an AI ethics board to help navigate new technologies and vet potential customers. This intrinsic method of fostering good governance is equally important to regulation (although it cannot replace it) in helping create a culture of ethical technology development. This is because companies can resist regulatory frameworks and view them as a series of loopholes to exploit and costs to be avoided. Both are necessary to create an environment in which the potential benefits of facial recognition technology can be reached without its abuse damaging democratic freedom.

However, the distinct problem of dual use applications of AI poses questions that should be answered before the final sign off. The Intelligence Advanced Projects Research Agency (IARPA) in the US has a set of questions it asks of proposed technologies. Questions such as if the technology is leaked, stolen, or copied, would we regret having developed it? Can the technology be made less prone to theft, replication and mass production? What is your estimate for how long it would take a major nation competitor to weaponize this technology after they learn about it? In light of the geo-strategic implications of AI products, major technology companies should consider these questions and add to them.

This addition should be a set of civil questions focused on how a proposed AI technology operates within a democracy. Questions on how the risk of discrimination could be mitigated. How will this technology anonymise and delete data it collects? Can this technology scale to affect democracy, in what ways? Questions like these could help tech companies balance their responsibility to civil society and the international community. This requires wider societal discussions on what rights citizens need in the digital age. This discussion must occur now, for as we have seen the future is already here. It is from this base of regulation and corporate governance that democracies can refine ideas on how to positively contribute to the global debate on AI ethics.

 

 

Project Q, Quantum International Relations

Quantum Computing and the New Space Race


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As the race for quantum supremacy heats up, the question of whether this technology will prompt international powers to prioritise cooperation over competition remains unanswered.

While the USA has several experts in quantum technologies working in elite research institutions, public investment in the field has thus far been limited. In contrast, concerted effort and investment in Asia has positioned China as the current global leader in the development of quantum technologies.

In this article featured in The National Interest online, philosopher, neuroscientist and geo-strategist Nayef Al-Rodhan explores China’s quest for supremacy in the development of quantum technology and its application in outer space.

Great powers need to think more seriously of the challenges that the final frontier will pose.

Artificial Intelligence

Collective Intelligence: DeepMind’s AI plays Quake 3


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Alexander Vipond

British AI firm DeepMind has a penchant for playing games. From Atari to Go, DeepMind researchers have been training AI agents to compete against themselves and beat human competitors.

The latest challenge was a specially modified version of a gaming classic Quake III A multiplayer, first-person shooter video game from the turn of the millennium, Quake III sees teams of aliens and humans vie for supremacy. Deep Mind have taken this premise to the next level: now it is AI agents versus humans.

Through reinforcement learning, AI agents were tasked with learning to capture the enemy flag from their opponents’ base over a series of procedurally generated environments in which no two games were the same. The aim was to see if AI agents could learn strategies and cooperate together in complex three-dimensional environments with imperfect information, that is, without knowing where the other team’s players are. To do this, Deep Mind created a new type of agent dubbed FTW (For the Win) that could successfully rise above traditional methods of AI competition and exceed human standards.

By training a whole population of FTW agents in two timescales (fast and slow), thereby increasing agents’ consistency, and using a two-tiered rewards scheme to incentivise action regardless of a win or loss, FTW agents were able to learn a higher standard of gameplay. Training a population in parallel not only proved to be more efficient but revealed a diversity of approaches, as agents optimised their own unique internal reward signals.

 

Credit: DeepMind

After an average of 450,000 training games, the FTW agents were placed in a tournament with forty human players who they could play with as teammates or adversaries. In order to ensure a fair fight, researchers engineered balance into the game to counter the AI agents’ reaction time advantage over the human eye’s natural frame rate processing limit (lower than the game’s 60 frames per second).

On average, FTW agents achieved a higher win-rate than human players with strong skill scores. The agents learnt how to follow teammates, defend their base and “camp” at the enemies’ base, picking off players as they spawned. They achieved the greatest collaboration in teams of four, although struggled to maintain this as the number of players expanded.

 

Credit: DeepMind

As usual, it’s not the game itself that represents progress here but the evolving capacity for AI agents to develop cooperative behaviour. DeepMind has demonstrated the capability of AI agents to work in small teams, alongside humans and other AI agents, towards a shared goal. The more AI agents can work together to manage uncertain environments and imperfect knowledge the better they will perform when faced with the chaos of the real world.

 

Artificial Intelligence

Google and the Ethics of AI Development


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Dr Robert Ford Source John P Johnson HBOIn Westworld, Dr Robert Ford ponders the artificial intelligence products he has created. Credit Johnson/HBO

Alexander Vipond

In recent months, Google has faced an internal revolt from its staff. Resignations, internal petitions and protests have been part of a heated debate over a US $9 million contract with the Pentagon to interpret drone footage and improve targeting systems. The contract, part of the Pentagon’s artificial intelligence initiative Project Maven was expected to grow into a $250 million venture.

However within days of the New York Times breaking the story that senior staff and executives were anticipating the fallout and trying to remove the words AI from the discussion, Google Cloud CEO Diane Green announced that the company would not be renewing the contract in 2019.

As Fei-Fei Li, Chief scientist at Google Cloud wrote in one of those emails, “Weaponized AI is probably one of the most sensitized topics of AI — if not THE most. This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google”.

The saga raises important questions about AI development. For Google, the company whose motto has evolved from “Don’t be Evil” to “Do the Right Thing”, the contract represented a cultural crisis about the direction of the company.  It also represented a business crisis: face losing extremely talented staff or highly lucrative defense contracts. One of Alphabet Inc’s most important AI subsidiary companies, DeepMind has refused to work on military and intelligence weapons. Against this backdrop, Google is updating its ethics and guidelines to provide a new framework for its AI product development. The outcome remains to be seen but Google has said it will make the document publicly available.

Amazon, IBM and Microsoft have also competed for Pentagon contracts in this field with far less scrutiny. Project Maven will move forward with or without Google. In response to questions at a Google wide meeting, co-founder Sergey Brin stated he feels it will be better for peace if global militaries work with international organisations such as Google, rather than with nationalistic defence contractors.

Herein lies the complexity. The concept of powerful AI is a controversial topic, not only in the US but worldwide, with major industry figures divided on the issue of what could arise from it. Weaponised AI has been at the forefront of the debate. Given the state of US politics right now, it is understandable why Google employees might feel apprehensive about how their algorithms are used.

If we zoom out to the global context, the world is clearly in the midst of a long-term arms race in AI.  Military powers across the world are pursuing a multitude of intelligence and weapons applications for AI.  Vladimir Putin has said whoever masters AI will be ruler of the world; whilst in China, AI is a core component of their national strategy to become the world’s dominant science and technology power.  In both market and military terms, the United States stays out of the competition at its own peril.

Whether you are an employee sitting at your desk in one of the worlds’ biggest tech companies, a president or a dictator, the rules of the game are fluid. Most scientists and programmers share their AI research and code across international boundaries to develop technologies that will assist humanity and for commercial gain through shared knowledge platforms. But without commonly agreed ethical rules and guidelines, the exploitation of AI knowledge by individual countries acting in their own self-interest is likely to lead to a race to the bottom and a tragedy of the commons. Efforts like the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots face the allure of the cheap asymmetric power that AI technologies can offer; and the range of AI’s dual-use applications means it is unlikely that a global ban would be effective.

As the race spreads and gathers pace, so too must the tenor and tempo of the AI debate.  Controversies within multi-national companies can be usefully redirected into an open discussion on how best to bridge private and public, national and international interests.  At the top of the agenda should be clear operating guidelines to mitigate accidents, prevent atrocities and safeguard basic human rights. International politics in an era of heteropolarity is difficult but as the inner turmoil at Google reveals, creative leadership, public accountability and a modicum of global governance are vital if human and artificial intelligence are to coevolve ethically and peacefully.

 

 

 

 

 

Quantum International Relations

The United States in the Quantum Race?


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Credit IBM (50 Qubit Quantum Computer)
 Credit: IBM

Alexander Vipond

Chrysostomos Loizos Nikias, President of the University of Southern California has called it. There’s a new space race and it’s for quantum technology. The trouble, he says in a recent Washington Post opinion piece; America’s losing.

To whom? To China. As the Chinese government invests upwards of (US) $10 billion in a new National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences, The US has been lagging behind with total government funding for quantum science at $300 million in 2016.

Countries around the world including Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands have also invested heavily in academia and business to make breakthroughs in quantum computing, cryptography, sensors, information science and more. The investments the US made across academia and government in 1990’s such as the National Nanotechnology Initiative turned the country into a world leader in quantum science. Yet that comparative advantage, a foundation to build upon, is being lost.

During Congressional testimony last year on American leadership in quantum technology a cross section of the country’s brightest scientific minds came together to announce that the science was reaching an inflection point. As Dr. Jim Kurose of the National Science Foundation testified, the US must “continue to invest in long-term, fundamental, and game-changing research –and education – if we are to maintain US leadership in an emerging quantum world”. Academia and business came together to highlight the need for funding to train a new generation of computer scientists, engineers and physicists to advance into a new phase of the quantum revolution.

This same question applies to Australia. With substantial investment in the Quantum race and world class talent such as Australian of the year Michelle Simmons, are we doing enough to raise a new generation of talent and build a new quantum sector? The long lead times in training experts and providing the tools necessary requires forward strategic planning and investment to bridge the science to commerce gap and forge the critical partnerships that create a functioning quantum industry.

As Nikias points out the space race analogy is dwarfed by the new era of strategic competition where the quest for technological superiority reigns supreme. Technologies of the Cold War period are being surpassed by a broader set of innovations. Designated the 4th industrial revolution by the World Economic Forum, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, synthetic biology and quantum technology are among the new forces that will reshape our world and change global power relations. This a race that the US cannot afford to lose.

This is because this isn’t a race to the moon, it is a race to understand the sub atomic origins of life itself. Quantum technologies focus on the control and manipulation of sub-atomic particles that defy conventional physics. In communications, materials science and medicine, quantum technologies are displaying enormous potential at delivering qualitative leaps in our understanding how information, energy and matter work.

This also has national security implications. The ability for quantum computation to defeat the cryptographic safeguards designed to withstand attack from regular computers is serious. As the internet of things and countries critical infrastructure become dependent on strong cybersecurity, understanding quantum information science will become a vital asset. The same holds true for commerce where securing info data against hacking and espionage has become a new normal.

At the end of his proclamation, Nikias calls for a US national quantum strategy. This is a crucial step to funding a push in quantum technologies and of organising a cohesive framework for business, institutions and policymakers to unite under. It will take time for the notoriously complex science behind quantum to be translated into optimal policy settings and harnessed effectively by business. By creating goals and linkages between communities that process can begin to form the bedrock of a new industry. This foundation matters because it gives entrepreneurs, investors and aspiring students the knowledge that there is a long-term quantum future they can be part of. A national strategy will require foresight and commitment from a Trump Whitehouse big on words and short on policy. However, it is essential that the administration take the race seriously as the lasting impacts of the quantum race will be felt for decades.

Nikias’ call mirrors efforts of tech leaders in other fields with the first Whitehouse Summit on Artificial Intelligence occurring last week. Tech leaders from the Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft echoed calls for greater investment in basic research and training as they too seek to capitalise on the early lead they have established as they face competition from China and Europe. It is important to note that funding for one  technology or the other will not be enough for the US to maintain global power relative to its competitors. It will be states that can take advantage of the inter-disciplinary synergies between these fundamental technologies that will succeed.

 

 

Quantum International Relations

A Bright Quantum Future: France and Australia join forces


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Alexander Vipond

Australia and France will come together to develop the worlds first commercial silicon quantum integrated circuit.

Both countries signed a memorandum of understanding on quantum computing as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s whirlwind visit to Australia.

The memorandum will be the basis for a joint venture between Silicon Quantum Computing in Sydney (SQC) and Frances Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives (CEA) in Paris. SQC is a public company backed by investment from the Australian government, Telstra, Commonwealth Bank and UNSW. CEA is the publicly funded research and development arm of the French government and will bring considerable resources and talent to the effort.

They will join SQC’s efforts to build silicon-based quantum complementary oxide semi-conductors (CMOS), which are the core technology in several key components of computers. Led by Australian of the Year Michelle Simmons, the SQC team unveiled a blueprint for such a CMOS chip late last year.

Christophe Gegout, the CEA Investissement chairman said “SQC’s scientific capability in Australia and the CEA’s research and development capability in France provide an excellent basis for a collaboration to develop and commercialise a quantum silicon integrated circuit based on Silicon-CMOS”.

Prime minister Turnbull stated that CEA had recently demonstrated a 300mm industrial-scale R&D facility, silicon CMOS technology that can be leveraged to create qubits and had fabricated isotopically 28Si substrates to further benefit from the intrinsic coherence properties of silicon.

Both organisations are keen to win the global race to build a silicon quantum CMOS and the first quantum computer. As they look to the future, they will examine how to develop Industrial scale quantum manufacturing capabilities. This is crucial to building a sustainable quantum industry sector in Australia.

The joint venture is part of a larger framework to nurture greater Franco-Australian ties and achieve strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific region. The two governments also signed agreements to deepen cooperation on cybersecurity, prevent terrorism financing and co-develop hyperspectral remote sensing satellites.