The 21st century is the Quantum Age. Although it will be several years before general-purpose quantum computers become a reality. Hybrid emulations harnessing quantum phenomena on classical hardware are already entering the market, both domestically and internationally.
The liberal democratic values we must adhere to as we develop quantum technology (QT) responsibly while maintaining freedom as we know it in the free world contrast with the technology’s likely uses by regimes with far less regard for fundamental human rights.
In addition to the existential importance of collaborating on broad items such as climate change, equality of opportunity, and preventing A.I. from taking over, the free world must support democratic values in any race for technological dominance.
As quantum–A.I. hybrids become more prevalent, business and government leaders must seize the moment to connect with experts in research and innovation as well as the general public, in an effort to establish ethical standards, accountability, and responsible technology frameworks for quantum-powered solutions, including quantum-classical synergies.
From any major technological advance arise important considerations of justice, benefit, and risk. The enormity and rapid pace of QT-enabled advances, and their extraordinarily counterintuitive nature, make some such concerns especially important and urgent.
Real-world interactions between quantum and classical computing are enabling remarkable advances in a variety of fields, including quantum chemistry and spectroscopy, quantum biology, novel drug design, quantum minerals and mining, novel materials for aerospace engineering, logistical optimization problems, clean energy, and weather forecasting. Important business opportunities lie ahead in these domains.
However, quantum computing equally poses imminent threats, the most widely understood of which may be its threat to cybersecurity and data privacy as presently implemented.
Stakeholders worldwide are currently considering how to balance the expected benefits of QT against its risks and threats. Many are taking account of existing Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) principles, whose four main pillars are responsiveness, inclusivity, reflexivity, and anticipation. RRI holds that scientific and technological breakthroughs should emphasize social norms and ethical values, environmental sustainability, and public involvement as much as they do scientific brilliance and economic rewards. It encourages the integration of societal concerns into the entire research–development–innovation–adoption process, from initial explorations to distribution and use of findings.
In this context, a Stanford-led interdisciplinary research group–comprising scholars in law, data science, theoretical physics, philosophy and ethics, social sciences, materials science and engineering, and innovation policy–has proposed a novel guide to research and development.
The guide, Responsible Quantum Technology (RQT), seeks to actively steward QT toward equitable outcomes, mitigate risks, and encourage an interdisciplinary approach to quantum R&D. It embeds the key principles of responsiveness, inclusivity, reflexivity, and anticipation alongside ethical, legal, socioeconomic, and policy implications. Its aim is to ensure that research and innovation efforts meet societal expectations and enhance planetary welfare.
The RQT framework may provide policymakers with a basis for designing timely regulatory interventions that will promote responsible quantum innovation in order to protect citizens’ rights and safety–an opportunity we missed in the fields of A.I. and nanotechnology. Such norms, standards, and regulations must accord with a liberal-democratic vision of a free world, with a basis in civil liberties, human rights, and the rule of law.
In a second paper, the same research group reached 10 Principles for Responsible Quantum Innovation, with the ultimate goal of safeguarding, engaging, and advancing quantum technologies, society, and humankind. With their guidance, tools of technology-impact assessment, using appropriate RQT benchmarking metrics to monitor, validate, and audit quantum applications throughout their life cycle, can complement hard laws, including certification, and help anticipate problems.
The timing of interventions in novel general-purpose technologies is tricky. It’s called the Collingridge dilemma: the near-impossibility of striking the right kind of regulatory intervention at the right moment, between a technology’s ideation and its adoption. Ideally, we would create a system that encourages rapid advances all while meeting the concerns underlying the precautionary principle.
The key to safeguarding society in advancing quantum technology is to stay ahead of the game. In a thriving, values-based quantum ecosystem, a triple helix of industry, academia, and government must focus on public-private partnerships, train tomorrow’s quantum workforce, and enable a vibrant quantum-A.I. ecosystem to produce several strong national champions in areas such as computation, sensing, simulation, and communication–while focusing on and investing in sustainable development goals.
The nuclear industry has taught us that the existence of a technical possibility doesn’t always warrant pursuing it.
Significant promises and perils exist in both the nuclear and quantum realms, many intersecting with geopolitical uncertainty and macroeconomic unpredictability. Countless industrial catastrophes demonstrate that we must employ modern system-safety engineering approaches rather than rely on reductionist risk-assessment tools, whose inability to handle emergent properties makes them unfit for analyzing the risks of complex systems.
Multidisciplinary embedded responsible quantum technology offers significant competitive advantages and the capacity for exponential innovation.
In a culture of openness, trust, and mutual understanding, embracing responsible quantum technology will enable us to actively navigate toward beneficial societal outcomes on a planetary scale–with our eyes wide open.
Mauritz Kop is a fellow and visiting ‘quantum and law’ scholar at Stanford University, director at AIRecht.nl, and general counsel at Daiki, a company committed to building a trustworthy A.I. future. Vivek Wadhwa is an academic, entrepreneur, and author. His book ,From Incremental to Exponential, explains how large companies can see the future and rethink innovation. The authors thank John Harvey for his excellent editorial support.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.
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