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By  Emily Brown Rebecca Coates Manolo Per 7 June 2023 4 min read

Key points

  • Quantum technologies are expected to bring $6 billion and 19,400 jobs into the Australian economy by 2045.
  • Australia has a chance right now to develop quantum technologies in an inclusive and ethical way.
  • It’s important that everyone, from the boardroom to the classroom, is aware of and prepared for quantum technologies.

Released in May 2023, Australia’s new Quantum Strategy builds on decades of pioneering research.

It will tap into a $1 billion fund, to help generate commercial outcomes and position the country as a world leader in this field.

Quantum computers will be orders of magnitude more powerful than the classical computers we use today. These technologies will be able to solve a whole different class of complex problems. They will revolutionise banking and finance, healthcare, infrastructure, and the way we communicate. 

For example, quantum computing could completely change how medicines are developed. They could simulate how drugs act on the body with impressive detail. This powerful technology could even help doctors predict the side-effects of new medicines before they even go to trial.

But the stakes are high. And the risks are as big as the rewards.  

Now is the time to be tackling quantum’s ethical quandaries.

Risks and rewards

Dr Manolo Per is a quantum expert in our Data61 Business Unit.

"Even the most powerful computers we use today would take thousands of years to break or weaken the encryptions that keep our personal data safe online," Manolo said.

“But experts are concerned that a quantum computer could take as little as 8 hours to break the code.”

Each major data breach potentially affects millions of Australians. Bad actors could hoard and later decrypt data using more advanced technologies.

Scientists around the world are working on ways to protect personal data from being decrypted using quantum computers.

Manolo said it could be years until scientists build quantum computers powerful enough to reach their full potential.

"For example, it would require millions of qubits to decrypt personal data. You can think of a qubit as the basic building blocks of a quantum computer. The largest quantum processor launched to date is IBM’s Osprey, with 433 qubits," he said.

“Still, we’re seeing rapid advancements in quantum technology. And although these risks are still some way off, they need to be considered now.”

The high stakes risks and rewards show just how important it is to develop quantum computing in an ethical way. That’s the challenge Dr Rebecca Coates, Research Scientist with our Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform, has in her sights.

“Ethical values can act as a lighthouse, exposing unseen risks, and as a guardrail, steering development for good," Rebecca said. 

“From my perspective, an ethical quantum ecosystem is an inclusive one.”

When technologies are not designed with values like inclusivity in mind, they can harm people and make existing inequality worse.

"One example is early AI tools. These were trained to make decisions using data that entrenched biases. This could have been avoided, if values like inclusivity were prioritised and built in from the beginning," Rebecca said.

“Making quantum technologies more inclusive and accessible will help reduce harm and maximise benefits when they start to become part of our everyday lives."  

With quantum technologies expected to bring $6 billion and 19,400 jobs to the Australian economy by 2045, it’s critical these benefits are distributed fairly.

Being a part of the conversation

Building a trusted, ethical, and inclusive quantum ecosystem is a key theme of the Australian Government’s Quantum Strategy.

Rebecca’s recent research points to some ways of achieving this. Making quantum technology inclusive means ensuring that lots of people from all walks of life are involved in developing and introducing it into mainstream use.

"There needs to be an open conversation, a dialogue between the scientists and developers working on quantum technologies and the people who will use them," Rebecca said.

Naturally, it’s important the people making decisions – whether that’s the CEO of a company, an elected politician, or the head of a charity – are well-informed about quantum technologies.

And this extends to the public as well. Education about quantum in schools, universities, and in the wider community will mean people develop useful skills to advocate for their rights and interests.

You can think of it like a chain. More people involved make the chain longer. So, there are more ways – and more ideas – about how you can use it. Education reinforces any weak links. Reducing risks that come from ignorance or misuse makes the whole chain stronger.

How we shape the future

Having clear values and standards about how we use quantum technologies will help leaders make decisions that benefit society. It will also make it easier to hold people who breach these standards accountable.

But a big question is who gets to decide what is good for society? How do they decide? And what impacts does that have? These are questions tackled in our Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform.

"We’re still in the early stages of making quantum technologies useful," Manolo said.

"This gives us a one-of-a-kind chance to capture their benefits for society, while managing risks by developing them in a responsible and ethical way.”

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