There was no shortage of advice, updates and points to ponder for upwards of 200 attendees at a panel discussion held earlier this month at a virtual three-day conference called Quantum Days 2023.
The panel, moderated by Prof. Raymond Laflamme, a leading Canadian theoretical physicist who studied for his PhD under Stephen Hawking and currently teaches at the University of Waterloo, also contained an update and discussion on another panel of which he is chair of – The Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies.
In May, it was announced that, at the request of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) had formed a panel to “examine the impacts, opportunities and challenges quantum technologies present for Canadian industry, governments and Canadians.”
Laflamme said at the time that “quantum technologies have the potential to transform computing, sensing, communications, healthcare, navigation and many other areas. But a close examination of the risks and vulnerabilities of these technologies is critical.”
At this month’s event, he was joined by Jeff Kinder, project director of quantum technologies with the CCA, an organization that says it evaluates the “best available evidence on complex issues where the science may be challenging to understand, contradictory, or difficult to assemble,” as well as Dr. Jacqueline Bartlett, an associate professor from Memorial University, and Prof. Mauritz Kop, both of whom are members of the Expert Panel.
Kinder said that in addition to answering “a fairly broad main question about the opportunities and challenges of quantum technologies, there are three sub questions that provide a tighter focus for the assessment. These ask about leading practices and enabling conditions for the adoption of quantum technologies, as well as the social, ethical, and legal challenges associated with their adoption.”
Panel members, said Bartlett, who has worked with entrepreneurs and small businesses in the technology sector for 25 years, are examining quantum from a number of different lenses.
Describing it as a “bird level view,” she said they are “looking at programs, initiatives, policies, all the things you can imagine. What collaborations would really help drive the different sectors that we’re looking at, but equally important, is there any low-hanging fruit that we can get some early wins and if so, where are they? What are the priorities and are there preconditions that we have to meet before we can actually set some of the programs in place?”
While Bartlett’s expertise revolves around entrepreneurship, Kop, who is a visiting scholar at Stanford Law School and whose current research includes the ethical, legal, social, and policy implications (ELSPI) of quantum, spoke at length about the importance of having guidelines in place.
“Raising quantum ELSPI awareness is really about building bridges between disciplines – hard science, humanities and social sciences – and it’s about learning to speak each other’s language,” he said.
“We should apply a comprehensive quantum ELSPI vision to the Canadian quantum sector. Therefore, it’s a promising sign that Canada’s National Quantum Strategy explicitly mentions, in its own words, the importance of ethical, legal, social, and policy issues, such as innovation, societal impacts, national security, and intellectual property.”
Some questions to consider, said Kop, whose work on regulating AI, machine learning training data, and quantum technology have been published in Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley, and Yale universities’ scholarly journals, revolve around how to “operationalize quantum ethics into real world actions. Should we use codes of conducts and guidelines for responsible quantum design? And how do you agree on ethics, which is, of course, culturally sensitive.
“For example, while Western ideologies often focus on winning and conquering, native Canadians’ world view might emphasize living in harmony with our planet. It is a big difference.”
One of the central goals in the quantum ELSPI is for everyone to benefit from the prosperity quantum will bring to society, said Kop, but he wonders how we ensure equitable access.
Another key question that needs to be answered, he added, is will ELSPI considerations stifle innovation? Kop’s view is they will not: “They enable innovation, they convey trust, which is crucial for the acceptance of this technology.
“And one of the central goals in the quantum ELSPI concept is for everyone to benefit from the prosperity quantum will bring to society. But how do we ensure equitable access to quantum technologies such as the Imminent Internet for the least advantaged, either via fiber or satellite?
“I mean, Canada is a huge country. And we have to carefully think about the logistics and practicalities of access, not just talking about it, but doing it.”
In closing, he told the audience they can expect regulation on a federal level within the next three years, “so it might be good to start thinking about regulatory conformity and legal compliance today.”