Quantum revolution: is our society ready? – News – University of Sherbrooke
Quantum technological advances represent a paradigm shift because their potential is enormous. How to deploy these disruptive technologies without creating social and economic imbalances?
At the Quantum Institute of the University of Sherbrooke, as elsewhere on the planet, this preparation requires constructive dialogue between, in particular, disciplines.
Meeting combining ethics and quantum in Isabelle Lacroixvice-dean for development and international affairs at the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences and professor at the School of Applied Politics, and Christian Sarra-Bournetadministrative director of the Quantum Institute of the University of Sherbrooke.
Quantum science will change the world. Will this revolution be as important as the arrival of smart phones in your life?
[M. Sarra-Bournet] I believe the potential is greater, but it is not seen in everyday life.
Quantum technologies are truly incredible tools to continue our pursuit of knowledge. Understand the universe, the world we live in, nature…
But, if quantum science allows us to advance knowledge, the technologies that will result from it will truly change our daily lives.
For example, using a quantum computer with a large number of fault-tolerant qubits would allow for faster development of new drugs. Is it the new medicine that will affect our lives, or the arrival of the quantum computer? By itself, quantum science has no direct impact on everyday life.
We can draw a parallel with artificial intelligence: a person who sees his bus route optimized will not say that artificial intelligence has improved his daily life. He would just tell himself that it would be nice to have access to this technology!
Of all the quantum technologies to be developed, the quantum computer is the one whose deployment represents a greater ethical challenge. Why?
[Pre Lacroix] The potential of the quantum computer as explained to us, the people outside the field, is that it will allow us to do things that we cannot currently do, and that it will provide obsolete other technologies that can share the economy or social market.
[M. Sarra-Bournet] Yes, quantum technology will have the biggest impact when we think about what it can achieve. The problem is that we have no point of comparison to prepare for this.
[Pre Lacroix] But this does not mean that quantum technologies represent an imminent danger and that our world is in danger of collapsing. Of course, we should be concerned about the negative effects, but above all there is the potential for positive effects in our societies.
What can we do now to ensure that these technologies, including the quantum computer, are put to good use?
[Pre Lacroix] We must ensure that technology is placed in the hands of the right people, a critical mass of people with the goal of truly improving the common good.
What we do not want is for the quantum computer to be controlled by a handful of large companies that have a stranglehold on the entire economic market, even a stranglehold on the security of our States. Ideally, access to this technology should be distributed among many companies that can put themselves at the service of the common good.
Let’s take the example of the new drugs given by Christian. If there are three companies that manage to offer this service and only 14 rich people on the planet can afford this treatment, we will not achieve the goal of improving the lives of thousands of people with this technology.
To avoid this situation, we must establish a dialogue now, first between disciplines. For example, the Institut quantique at UdeS invited me last October to lead a webinar on the ethical and political issues of quantum science, because people at this institute are interested in what the decision makers in this ecosystem are doing there .
The Quantum Institute of the UdeS understood the importance of acting upstream. What are its initiatives?
[M. Sarra-Bournet] What we are doing at the Institut quantique and what others are also trying to do, is precisely to start this dialogue. In particular, we participate in the Canadian Science Policy Conference. We have also organized activities with Acfas, International Government Science Advice (INGSA) and the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ) with the aim of bringing this topic into the public arena. In addition, at the federal government level, I participate in a panel of experts that examines these types of considerations.
Among recent initiatives, the GESDA institute in Geneva launched The Open Quantum Institute a few months ago, a non-profit entity open to this discussion on an international scale. Its mission is to ensure that quantum technologies are developed for the common good and not just for personal, commercial or nationalistic interests. This is an initiative that is currently taking place, and the Institut quantique is participating in it.
So are countries already working together to combat these potential challenges?
[Pre Lacroix] In fact, dialogue between disciplines is quite realistic in a democratic environment such as Canada, the United States, Germany and Great Britain. But the global race for the mastery of quantum technologies is also taking place in States that are not in this democratic spirit, and this fact must be taken into account. Let’s think about China, which wants to be a force in this regard, but does not play the same rules as ours.
Now that this dialogue between disciplines is open, what is the next step?
[Pre Lacroix] When we say to citizens, civil society groups or decision makers “This is going to be big, but I have no idea what will happen”, people say to themselves “Perfect, we’ll never talk again when you knew” . It’s normal, you know, creating public policies, you always have to have something to fix to create them.
However, for the question of quantum technologies, we must get groups, civil society and decision-makers to immediately develop guidelines on which we can rely on formulating what will be concrete. In other words, you have to say to themselves “Wait! Me, I’m not just going to make Google rich, these technologies should be used for something else! “.
The political apparatus should be the guardian of fairness. Equity between individuals, between companies, between countries, between people. It is necessary from now on, along with our advancement of knowledge, that we advance this reflection.
If we have not yet seen any of the possibilities of quantum science, we can prove without doubt that it has the property to bring all kinds of science closer together!
To go deeper into this topic, watch the webinar The political and ethical stakes of quantum from the Quantum Institute of UdeS.