Reaping the benefits of Quantum

By Philippe Gillet
– Chief Scientific Officer – SICPA

The case for a new paradigm based on Trust

An Economy of Trust based on a shared ethos is a necessity for our societal model, and never more so than in 2020, the year of Covid. Trust has deep roots in scientific and technological progress, but we are constantly challenged to manage the risks , to achieve win-win, to find a balance between trust and distrust, between honest brokers and criminal applications, benefits for all or exploitation by a minority. The speed at which we need to navigate these challenges has rapidly accelerated in the age of Quantum. Quantum will disrupt all aspects of society in ways we still cannot fully comprehend; exceptional potential and immense complexity. This has been understood at a geopolitical level but we do not yet know how it will play out. How do we ensure Quantum has the transformational positive effect to which we aspire? How do we ensure that the good dominates the bad? The stakes are high. A new paradigm is needed.


An Economy of Trust

We all need an Economy of Trust in which to live and operate in our constantly changing world  – be it in a physical or digital environment, globalised or local. A society where above all there is trust between government and the people, between industry and consumers, between the private and the public. But we cannot always achieve win-win and there is an ever present risk of falling into a win-lose situation which is out of balance, inviting social conflict, economic shocks and with far reaching impact on the environment, public health and citizen well-being.

The ideal society is probably an unobtainable goal, but a worthwhile target nevertheless. So a sense of pragmatism spurs us to keep seeking a balance between trust and distrust. History has shown us that it is achievable.

And in 2020, the year of Covid, more than ever trust has become a major preoccupation. Trust in our governments, trust in the many scientific experts filling our TV screens, trust in fellow citizens to practice social distancing.

What is an Economy of Trust and how do we build it?

It is difficult to define an Economy of Trust. It is clear that it is based on a social contract, with government defending the interests of the people, and on progress in the arts and sciences in which technology has its roots. To quote Alain Peyrefitte, an Ethos of Trust is an intangible value which emerges from the collective understanding of the importance of access to the information from which societal innovation arises.

In reality a society is built in reality when perceptions meet, when misunderstandings are clarified and doubts are allayed, when there is a shared ethos of trust between political and economic actors, and shared with citizens.

Scientific progress is central to the construction of a society of trust. Throughout the history of humanity it has often been the vision, the expectation but accompanied by choices which can turn the dream into a nightmare, breaking the ethos of trust.

How does Quantum fit in?

Quantum technologies are interesting in the broader context of the economy of trust. To remind: the first quantum revolutions brought us the computer, GPS and magnetic resonance imaging. Back in 1900 Max Planck was the instigator thanks to his discovery of black holes and the electromagnetic radiation of celestial bodies. A hundred years later we are feeling ever more acutely the effects of a second quantum revolution producing unparalleled computational power.

Today quantum technologies have risen rapidly to the top of political and economic agendas, a matter of state sovereignty, just as space conquest and energy leadership were before them. The USA, France, Germany, China, Israel, Canada and others – all have made it a priority. Quantum computing is promised in …. 10 years and other quantum technologies are closer: new faster and more precise sensors,  telephone networks secured by quantum cryptography.   10 years is 2030 – it’s tomorrow!

Each decade bring its own scientific, technological and intellectual challenges: GMO, nano technologies, 5G.. now it’s ‘Quantum’: Trust or Distrust: which will win out?

From lab to public acceptance

Science is in its essence enthusiastic, creative, sometimes visionary, sometimes naïve. We should all listen to and understand science – be we politicians or citizens. It provides an essential link for trust. It is impossible to quote all the scientists who have given birth to quantum as a tool which explains nature and at the same time is a major geopolitical consideration.  Richard Feynmann, Nobel prize winner for Physics, passionate iconoclast, herald of a positive vision of science, sketched out the route leading from awareness of the quantum world and its potential toward future technological applications. At the beginning of the 1980s he gave an enlightening speech: he spoke about a future where the only way to simulate quantum physics would be with a computer governed by the laws of quantum physics! 40 years later this vision is reality and we are at the dawn of an age of application into society.

In Europe alone there more than 5000 high level researchers focused on the topic, competing with the greatest minds in China, America and Japan. It will release computing power that is incomparable, unimaginable. A few seconds to do operations that today would take tens of thousands of years. Promising a world where such computing power will be available to make health care more efficient, communications faster and more secure, enabling spectacular progress in new materials, new medicines … a good basis for an ethos of trust, but….

Risks and Requirements

A game of chess is unfolding in front of our eyes and, as so often the case, the more agile, the more enterprising, the more dominant are preparing to assume the mantle of Grand Masters in the quantum game. A game which as it turns out has nothing to do with chance! The stakes of economic growth and digital superiority, tomorrow’s skills, sovereignty and leadership in defense and security are positioning themselves on society’s chess board.

The route from science lab to the factory sometimes divides and takes unexpected turns.

PCR tests have been a great help in managing the Covid-19 pandemic, we must not forget that we have them thanks to the passionate researchers of the 1970s who discovered bacteria capable of reproducing at temperatures over 100c in the geysers of Yellowstone park and in the depths of the ocean.  An amazing discovery of life adapting to extreme circumstances, reminiscent of the first forms of life on the planet. These bacteria survive and reproduce thanks to a DNA replication protein which is stable at high temperatures. The application to biotechnological use happened quickly and was accepted in the early 2000s.

Other discoveries like CRISPR-Cas9 – a type of precision cutter for editing and transforming the human genome, provoked polemic and as we see in the case of the quantum computer, its use may be deviated to applications which may undermine trust. Whilst we may be able to heal genetic conditions by deleting or inserting genes, the tool may also be applied to turn benign structures into aggressive organisms. High stakes for a society and economy of trust in which Mr Hyde must constantly struggle win against Dr Jekyll.

In this last case, the normal route to acceptance was undermined by the lighting speed of a scientific discovery made in 2011 being exploited by laboratories across the whole world as early as 2014 and recognized by a Nobel prize in 2020. There was no space for the classic process of “I find, I evaluate, I generate an ethos of trust, I go to the market, I create a business…”. What we saw was “I find and then everything else happens in parallel”. Serial processing of developments was supplanted by parallel processing. Will it be possible for the second quantum revolution to be accepted and guided in a way which maintains trust? This is today’s debate.

Emerging risks

At the current stage of the development of quantum computers and quantum communications, it is important to understand that they will need to be integrated into a world in 2030 based on interdependences that are ever more complex and dynamic.

Participative and open science has become the norm in the academic world, with a credo of sharing and cross-checking facts and theories. Done very much in the spirit of a society of trust. But his sharing also benefits the malevolent and enables misuse. The threat exists alongside technological progress.

Researchers tell us that computing capacity will be so considerable that even the most robust cryptographic codes will be broken. Today we are all asking for guarantees of our personal data and the preservation of the private sphere. The race to use quantum computing for good will run alongside the race which counters it. How to protect and promote only the good? We know that technologies for protecting our data, will also protect those of the malicious. There is nothing simple in this world.

Economic analysts foresee this revolution’s significant impact on GDP and employment. There are special chips at the heart of the quantum computer, the cryostats. But there are also much beyond – connectivity, user interfaces which will deliver products to the market. Many existing sectors will be affected, new ones will be created to industrialise technologies such as microelectronics, refrigeration, photonics and software development. A quantum computer is not programmed in the same way as a computer based on binary.

The fall out will touch the users of this technology and we can expect tough competition eg in the area of cybersecurity, in chemistry, in forecasting, or in health. New professions created supplanting old ones.

Learning trust

This perspective is an invitation to better understand the cause and consequence of the systemic risks linked to the advancement of these technologies. It is a good reason to revisit and promote a Society of Trust., anchored in the Economy of Trust. Political and industrial decision-makers must prepare their organisations for future challenges because in many instances, our traditional way of managing risks will be insufficient in the face of high uncertainty. We absolutely must create the conditions for an Ethos of Trust, daily practices which will enable a liberal economy to survive or at least not perish because we have failed to adopt key enabling technologies. We have to enrich everything they do with a new dimension: Trust.

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