Quantum Computing

Quantum Supremacy: Nearing Reality?


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John Martinis credit Project QQuantum physicist John Martinis with a quantum computer at Google Labs. Image Credit: Project Q

 

Alexander Vipond

This month MIT’s Technology Review gave notice of a Space Act Agreement between Google and NASA with potentially profound terrestrial implications: Google has enlisted the space agency’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to prove the quantum supremacy of its new gate-based 72 qubit Bristlecone quantum computer.

‘Quantum supremacy’, a term coined by renowned physics professor John Preskill, is the idea that quantum computers should be able to perform tasks that classical computers cannot achieve in a practical timeframe. Preskill theorised that Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum technologies of 50-100 qubits (aka a small quantum computer) may be able to achieve this goal. This would represent a significant milestone in the progress of the field towards scalable, fault tolerant quantum computers.

These are the sort of computers that could break the cryptographic standards of the internet, improve our understanding of the earth’s weather and provide AI agents with a computational boost, realising the potential of quantum computing.

Google have given NASA a mandate to evaluate the results of their quantum chips in “comparison to classical simulation to both support Google in validating its hardware and establish a baseline for quantum supremacy” – the expectation being that their gate-based qubit chips will be able to “perform specialised tasks beyond the power of conventional supercomputers”. To do this NASA researchers will access Google’s Bristlecone chips from the Google cloud and develop new ways to simulate and test them on their Pleiades supercomputer. The first results of this assessment are set for July next year.

This potentially puts the achievement of quantum supremacy mere months away. John Martinis, who runs the research group at Google Labs believes quantum supremacy is within the field’s grasp.  In an interview for Project Q’s forthcoming documentary on the future of quantum technologies (see the teaser below), Martinis discusses why his team wants to reach quantum supremacy, what it means for the field and how they plan to do it. Essentially by demonstrating a quantum computer’s ability to compute beyond the power of a classical machine it proves that the theoretical power of quantum computers can be a reality.

While at NASA-Ames, the Project Q team also interviewed Rajiv Biswas, the Director of Exploration Technology, who noted that quantum computing has come a long way, but is still in its experimental stage. Numerous engineering challenges are posed by quantum mechanics, one of the most exotic of the sciences; but for Google and NASA the ability to solve large scale complex problems make developing the technology highly appealing.

 

The test is prompted by lingering doubts about the capabilities of the Bristlecone chips. Daniel Lidar, Director of the Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology at the University of Southern California told the review that the goalposts for supremacy are not static. Advances in classical supercomputers are pushing the boundaries for quantum supremacy further away, as quantum physicists race to make improvements in their own field. Still, Lidar doesn’t rule out the possibility of a quantum supremacy demonstration in the coming months.

The Google-NASA space agreement has set a timeline for supremacy: another milestone in the race to a scalable quantum computer and one that puts other quantum powers on notice. Whether successful or not the Google-NASA space agreement will establish a new practical standard for measuring quantum supremacy which could be universally adopted. This is important as the transformation of quantum theory into real products with user friendly software will require the development of common standards that are both scientifically rigorous and commercially applicable.  Stay tuned for the results – and the Project Q documentary.

 

 

 

 

Artificial Intelligence

The Making of Ethical Machines


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BLADE RUNNER 2049Niander Wallace pondering the creation of life altering new technologies in Blade Runner 2049. Image credit: Sony Pictures/Warner Brothers.

Alexander Vipond

Researchers at MIT have undertaken the world’s largest survey on the moral preferences of people to different variations of the trolley problem. The trolley problem’s basic premise is this: a vehicle is about to have an unavoidable accident and the driver must make a choice as to who or what the vehicle hits e.g. swerve right and hit a young man or swerve left and hit two old people?

Edmond Awad and his team collected over 39.6 million decisions from 233 countries through a specially designed mobile game and website. The game and website asked participants to weigh the ethical issues of different versions of the trolley problem according to 9 life indicators (which can be seen in infographic b below). Previously, most studies have relied on single indicators such as a preference for saving many lives over one rather than attempting to look at the complex interrelationships of multiple indicators. From the responses, the researchers were able to discern large scale patterns and trends from 130 of the countries to identify peoples’ key ethical preferences for the preservation of human life.

Moral Machine infographic

Hierarchical clusters of countries based on average marginal causal effect. One hundred and thirty countries with at least 100 respondents were selected. The three colours of the dendrogram branches represent three large clusters—Western, Eastern, and Southern. Country names are coloured according to the Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map 2010–2014. Image Credit: Awad et al in Nature, ISSN 1476-4687.

They discovered three different ethical worldviews: The Eastern, the Southern and the Western (as displayed in infographic A). These groups agreed on some basic principles and diverged on others. They shared three major preferences. That young people should be spared over others, that many people should be spared over a few and that humans should be spared over other species. These preferences traversed different cultural, economic, political and religious boundaries.

However, as you can see in the radar plots of infographic b, Eastern, Southern and Western views also express sharply different preferences across the spectrum of the nine life indicators. The Western view skews towards saving the young, the many and taking no action at all, giving the choice to chance. The Eastern view skews towards saving the lawful, humans and pedestrians whilst the Southern view prioritises women, the young and high-status individuals.

Machines are on the verge of being programmed to make life-altering choices, a turning point in history. The questions Awad’s team raise over whether universal machine ethics are possible and whether societies can reach consensus over the use of intelligent technologies are a crucial step in discussing what sort of world we want to live in as we undergo the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

While the world is focused on the threat of killer machines on the battlefield, machine decision-making will pose challenges in times of war and peace. This research tests the limits of universal standards as country specific preferences emerge from the complexity of weighing multiple factors. The scalability of new intelligent technologies may be limited by their adaptability to different cultural environments with varying ethical standards. Geo-strategic tensions and ethical dilemmas over who has the power to control these choices, the diversity of datasets used to make technology and the research used to justify life altering choices will affect company, consumer and government.

For example, moving to a different country in the future may mean moving to a set of new technological moral compasses which will have different criteria, levels of access and personalisation, dependent on the rules of the society.

The Moral Machine experiment is only a snapshot in time; a poll of preferences that remains fluid. Ethical standards will require sensible discussion and update periods to reflect changes in the community. Awad notes that the situations presented rely on 100 per cent certainty of the events occurring and 100 per cent certainty of recognising the targets. In the real world there is a much greater level of uncertainty in these processes.

Beyond this lies the extreme technological challenge for engineers and scientists of how to weigh the vast array of preferences with any semblance of granularity. Can your car accurately evaluate someone’s societal status in the 3.2 seconds before a crash? That technology has yet to arrive. However, in some countries the autonomous car might link with the mobile phones of surrounding pedestrians and choose the person with the lowest social credit score by proxy.

As intelligent and networked technologies continue to develop and impact our lives they will increasingly become imbued with formalised versions of the rules that govern our societies. The collective may gain power over the individual. What we have previously left to chance and split-second decision making, we will now expect to be pre-programmed with precision into machines. As Awad’s research shows countries and communities need to start national and regional conversations about what should be delegable to an autonomous machine and how it is operated, before it is decided for them.

 

 

 

Uncategorized

The Politics of Electoral Security


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Children hack voting machines in the DEF CON voting village. Image via PBS

Dr Aim Sinpeng

“You see I am changing who the winner is in this election” an 8-year-old boy tells me while he is typing away in what looks like some alien language. Then I see the screen. Bob da Builder has suddenly won the Florida state election.

My jaw dropped. This is scary. The boy is only a few years older than my son and he can hack into a US election website to change the winner and the results. Things got scarier as I learned that some of the vulnerabilities in today’s voting machines were identified over a decade ago and are still left unchanged.

“It’s really easy [to hack the election]. I bet the Russians could do it in their sleep… It’s not that secure. I think America should work on its computer security,” says another 11-year-old girl who hacked into the mock voting website in 10 minutes.

The organizers of DefCon’s Voting Machine Village felt terrified but unsurprised by how insecure America’s election infrastructure is.

Some of the vulnerabilities found by participants of the Voting Village were embarrassingly basic. As reported by the Wire, one machine had a root password of “password” and the admin password as “pasta.”

Praise and criticism swirled around the hacking of voting machines at DefCon. Supporters appreciated the lengths to which organizers had gone to expose computer vulnerabilities at the heart of America’s democracy – the voting machines. More than a hundred election officials have attended DefCon to learn, but others have condemned the white-hat hacking. They claim the environment is nothing like the real one on election day. To make matters worse, officials worry that DefCon’s hacking will discourage voters from showing up at the polls.

It’s undeniable however that the actions of DefCon’s Voting Machine Village have had a real impact on people with the power to bring about change. For a time, there was bipartisan support to fix the broken election system. The Secure Election Act was introduced in 2017, requiring election officials to have back-up ballot papers and to conduct a post-election audit. The new bill seemed reasonable, at first, to both Republican and Democrat senators. However it has now been put on ice due to fierce opposition from election officials who bitterly complained about the lack of the funds that would be required to carry out this new mandate. Worse, some early advocates of the election security bill have now backed up – believing the bill will not go far enough in improving the security and integrity of America’s elections. In essence, it’s now dead in the water.

The American public is concerned about the security of their elections. A recent poll by the Pew Research Centre showed that fewer than 50% of Americans feel confident in their election security. Nearly 70% of Americans think it’s likely the Russians and other foreign governments will try to interfere in the mid term elections happening next week.

So there seems to be public support but no political will to change when it comes to the security of American elections. But as the organizers of the Voting Village at DefCon emphasize: money talks. Resources need to be spent to improve electoral security otherwise the Secure Election Act, if given another life, would be an unfunded mandate.

Project Q

Quantum Philanthropy: The vital role of social science research in quantum futures


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Many Silicon Valley philanthropists see poverty and inequality as an engineering problem, and their own brain power as the solution.

Image via The OCR

Gabriella Skoff

As Stephen Del Rosso argues in his recent article for the Carnegie Corporation, The Quantum Revolution Rolls On, and Philanthropy Is Falling Behind, more funding is needed to support quantum research in the social sciences in order to foster “appreciation for its impact and its potential for both good and ill”. Del Rosso explains that while funding from government and from the private sector are at pace to support the rapid developments in quantum technologies, advances in the social sciences are not keeping up due to a lack of investment. Del Rosso argues that philanthropy is the answer to this quandary and writes with urgency, cautioning that this is not a technological transformation that we can afford to overlook at this critical stage in research and development.

In the U.S., where a culture of philanthropy is very much a part of the social and scientific fabric, enabling research in both of these domains, quantum philanthropy seems to be lagging behind. Del Rosso points to the rather amorphous and hard-to-pin-down nature of quantum. Unlike AI or cybersecurity, quantum does not manifest a particularly threatening image because it is difficult to visualise its ultimate applications. As such, even though gaining the lead on quantum technologies is a pressing security concern for the competing superpowers, it has not been a funding priority for social impact research and foundations. Herein lies the problem that Del Rosso presents to us: “How can a grant proposal be written to persuade a foundation that the implications of this fuzzy phenomenon warrant study and support, given the myriad other security challenges facing the world?”.

The funding of multi-disciplinary research into emerging technologies is not a novel suggestion. In fact, social science research into cybersecurity and nuclear issues are markedly well-funded and the debate around artificial intelligence turns up a host of dedicated research foundations. What stands out, says Del Rosso,  is that this financial fervor is not being carried across to quantum research.

While some may assume that social research into the area of science and technology can hamper progress in those fields, this argument is unfounded. In fact, social impact research has the potential to make systems run smoother, more ethically and sustainably, giving an advantage to a science and technology environment that takes a long view rather than a short-term perspective.  Furthermore, in America, the development of quantum technologies (and also artificial intelligence along with other emerging technologies) for military and security applications is heavily reliant on the brain power of the tech community. This dependency may very well turn out to be a weakness for the U.S. DoD, should these developments prove to be applied in unethical or harmful ways.

If Del Rosso’s call to action is answered, then philanthropy can help fill the ‘ethics gap’ and help direct quantum applications toward beneficial ends.  As the only major research project focused on the  social and strategic impact of quantum innovation, Project Q, with the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, will dive into the topic at the its annual Q Symposium, “The Quantum Race: Parallels, Promises, Perils” February 21-24, Project Q will bring together quantum physicists, social scientists, philosophers, government officials and industry experts to debate the potential risks and benefits of quantum innovation for the future of humanity.

 

 

Quantum International Relations

Visions of a Quantum Future: US takes the long view.


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Alexander Vipond

Unbeknownst to most, the White House held a summit on Quantum Information Science last week. It brought together 13 different government agencies from NASA and NIST, to the Departments of Defense and Energy, as well as major industry players such Microsoft and Intel. The summit addressed calls by academia and industry for a coordinated, national approach to the research and development of quantum technologies.

The results of the summit were positive. The US National Science and Technology Council released a National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science (QIS) accompanied by announcements of $249 million in funding for 118 quantum information science projects through the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation. US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry stated that QIS represented the “the next frontier of the Information Age”.

The key focal points of progress that emerged from the summit were the promise to establish a formal national coordination body, possibly as an extension of the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science, and a national strategy. The Whitehouse also made clear its intent to unite disparate quantum projects and researchers under a US quantum brand.

The summit emphasised taking a science first approach to a national strategy by connecting and investing in organisations that are seeking to solve grand scientific quantum challenges over the next ten years. To realise this, the government will provide the support to develop greater manufacturing facilities and infrastructure for scientists to conduct quantum research. They will also invest in educating a new quantum workforce with the introduction of quantum mechanics into primary and high school education and funding boosts for university programs.

The strategic effect of all this, is to scale up and sustain the rise of a larger QIS research industry which can discover new quantum applications and technologies. Not to mention compete against quantum rivals like China and Europe. While the announced funding is a step in the right direction, concrete policy plans built from the strategy are not scheduled for delivery until February next year.

Due to the continuing FBI investigations and political turmoil engulfing the current US administration (which is heading into US midterm elections this November) the final size and scope of a national strategy, its policies and levels of funding could be subject to a high degree of variability. This could even be positive given the Trump administration’s chaotic approach to funding science.

However, it is important that the national strategy is not delayed. The EU, China, UK and many other countries have already launched long-term national strategies with greater levels of government investment. For the US to remain a leader in the field and transfer that knowledge to the next generation visions of a quantum future must turn into actionable plans for leadership.

 

Uncategorized

Quantum War: Recent lectures by Project Q’s James Der Derian


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SDU presoThis past week, James Der Derian, Director of the Centre for International Security Studies (CISS) and Project Q, gave a series of presentations at the Danish War Museum, Copenhagen University (KU) and the Swedish Defence University (SDU).

In Copenhagen, Der Derian presented alongside four other international experts at the first event of a year-long series, Futures of War, hosted by the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and supported by the Carlsberg Foundation and the Velux Foundation. Speaking in the historic Danish War Museum, formerly the national arsenal of Denmark, Der Derian reflected on the emergence of ‘quantum wars’, in which diffused post-Einsteinian states of violence co-exist with Newtonian state-on-state classical wars.

Der Derian’s presentation investigated quantum wars in metaphorical and potential as well as actual and operational contexts, in which quantum computing, communications, control and AI eventually converge on the battlefield of tomorrow.

Starting with Clausewitz’ classical definitions of war – as “a duel on a larger scale”, “a forceful act to compel others to do our will”, and “a continuation of politics by other means” – Der Derian suggested that future quantum wars are already showing their face: “What if the essence of war, diffused and networked by ubiquitous realtime media, now lies firmly in an electro-magnetic, spectral phenomenology”?

Der Derian’s presentation linked the power of local and mass-global media to the emergence of quantum effects. He posited a new networked dynamic in which quantum technologies will have the capacity to oversee, foresee and if necessary pre-empt any potential threat in order to dominate a hybrid media and battle-space. Global supremacy, albeit of a temporary nature, might result from asymmetries in the development of quantum technologies. As such, quantum war takes on an “amorphous, spectral and highly volatile quality”, writes Der Derian, in which war that is “no longer delimited by national borders or justified by imminent threats.”

Noting the power of “networked modes of observation…to actually ‘produce’ new global conflicts”, Der Derian cautions that our own attempt to understand and anticipate wars through scenarios, simulations and exercises directly impact and even help to create the futures we predict.

Within this context, the phenomenon Der Derian refers to as quantum war “is defined by acts of observing highly affective images that enable as well as delimit new conditions of violence”; this, he argues, “becomes the continuation of politics by means of a networked global media”. As such, while classical war seems to be on the decline and quantum war on the rise, both forms exist in a kind of superpositional state. War is morphing, diffusing, and quantizing through its networked planning, execution and representation.  Violence produced through this mode of war will continue to become increasingly entangled in a variety of platforms and screens at the hands of individuals and groups rather than states.

Given Der Derian’s interpretation, it is clear that our readiness for the future of war will necessitate a deeper understanding of the quantum potential. Ultimately, quantum technology will dually disrupt and interact with the mechanisms of war today to affect quantum wars tomorrow. While the face of war is shifting, Der Derian predicts that the global media will continue as a constant force in warfare. This he argues, will act as a vehicle to carry quantum war into our future.

james in war museumJames Der Derian at the Danish War Museum, Copenhagen


Der Derian gave two other presentations while in Denmark:  the first, a workshop on SDU’s new research project, “The Aesthetics of Late Modern War”;  and the second, a seminar, “Visual Diplomacy:  Then and Now”, for KU’s ERC-funded project, Diploface, which explores the relationship between diplomacy, images and digital disinformation.

From Copenhagen Der Derian travelled to Stockholm, to present a research seminar at the Swedish Defence University on “International Security: The Case for a Quantum Approach”.  He also screened a short film from his Carnegie research project, “Project Q: The Question of Quantum’.

 

 

 

Uncategorized

In memory of Paul Virilio (1932-2018): Post-Einsteinian analyst of war and peace


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James Der Derian

‘Is the author dead?’  To this day I am not sure why I chose this as my first question to ask of Paul Virilio.  Back in 1995 I persuaded Wired Magazine to front me funds to interview Paul Virilio in Paris.  The interview took place in what was clearly his booth at La Coupole, the art deco restaurant at the intersection of Montparnasse and Raspail where Rodin’s corpuscular sculpture of Balzac served as good company for our three-hour, four-course, two-bottle, five-question lunch.

I only managed to get in five questions because Virilio responded to each one with sentences full of concatenated clauses; paragraphs that unfolded like Eisenstein montages; and verbal essays that could not possibly be reduced to the contracted thousand-word limit.  From one course to the next he worked his best hits: the ascendance of pace over space; the logistics of perception; the aesthetics of disappearance; the technological colonization of the body; and the importance of post-Einsteinian science for the social critic; stuff then that seemed outlandish, and now all too normal.  Between bites he grilled me on the Gulf War, electoral data polling and the decline of democracy in America.

I think it was over dessert that we plunged into his idée fixe of the accident, as both disaster and diagnostic of the human condition.  I told him how an accident had first introduced me to his work, when, working as a photographer’s assistant in Paris I had ran into a friend from Montreal at the Montparnasse post office, who insisted that I go see a great photography exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts – Virilio’s Bunker Archeology.  As it turns out one accident followed on another and that same year, 1976, we both were beaten up during a manifs by a group of right-wing extremists.  His arm, my nose had been broken.  In that comparison of scars at La Coupole, lifting shirt sleeves and tilting heads, I am reminded, after all our talk of war machines, prosthetic humans, and virtual technologies, that bones break, the flesh weakens but the author lives on.

 

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.