The onset of the quantum era promises to be highly transformative, impacting industries, governments, and society profoundly. As this emerging technology evolves, corporations must consider its wide-ranging implications for corporate citizenship and ethical responsibility. This article examines how the rise of quantum technology will impact businesses and shape their role as ethical, sustainable, and community-conscious corporate citizens.
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The Quantum Revolution
Quantum technology represents the next epoch of human technological capability, building upon but moving decisively beyond the digital revolution. While classical computing relies on binary bits existing as 1s or 0s, quantum computing uses quantum bits or qubits, which can exist simultaneously in a superposition of multiple states. This superposition property enables exponential parallelism, with quantum computers simultaneously performing calculations across many states.
Such quantum parallelism unlocks unprecedented computational power, allowing quantum systems to solve highly complex, data-intensive problems completely intractable for classical machines.
Experts anticipate quantum computing will revolutionize fields as diverse as pharmaceuticals, cryptography, materials science, finance, logistics, and artificial intelligence. Leading technology firms and startups are racing to develop practical, commercializable quantum computers, and gate-model quantum processors are expanding rapidly, doubling qubits approximately yearly.
In addition to quantum computing, breakthroughs are also unfolding in quantum cryptography, sensing, simulation, and communication. Quantum sensors offer record precision in measurement, detection and imaging, down to the molecular level. Quantum cryptography uses the fundamental properties of quantum physics to enable virtually unbreakable data transmission and encryption schemes. And quantum networks promise faster, more secure communications harnessing principles of quantum entanglement.
Across these domains, quantum technology will utterly transform information processing, problem-solving, security, sensing, and transmission. Corporations that fail to prepare for the quantum advantage risk sudden disruption. However, those proactively harnessing quantum capabilities will achieve exponential leaps in innovation, efficiency, and capability over their conventional peers.
How May Quantum Technology Create Ethical Risks for Businesses and Their Corporate Citizenship?
Corporate citizenship reflects a company's role within society and its responsibility to stakeholders, including customers, employees, communities, and the environment. It encompasses priorities like ethics, transparency, accountability, sustainability, and social impact.
The emergence of quantum computing brings immense potential but also complex ethical challenges for businesses that must be responsibly addressed.
Undermining Existing Protections
Quantum computers could become tools for hackers and hostile entities to breach existing encryption methods, presenting a substantial threat to internet services, encompassing online financial transactions and blockchain technologies.
The high costs of quantum technology could also limit availability mainly to wealthy corporations and institutions rather than the general public.
Exacerbating Existing Risks
The enhanced processing capabilities of quantum computers may drive organizations to intensify consumer data collection, amplifying the existing challenges related to data privacy and responsible AI use. In addition, quantum machine learning presents a substantial challenge in terms of explainability, making it difficult to understand the decision-making processes of quantum algorithms.
Introducing New Risks
The significant investments by various countries in quantum technologies, often framed as a new global "arms race," may heighten international tensions, warranting caution in its characterization. In addition, the role of quantum computing in gene editing and biomedicine raises ethical concerns about unforeseen consequences.
Lastly, quantum technology accelerating new material development may introduce unexpected environmental challenges, similar to past issues with substances like DDT and plastics.
Strategies for Promoting Responsible Quantum Innovation in Businesses
Businesses have an opportunity and duty to steer quantum innovation toward beneficial societal outcomes by making ethics and responsibility core pillars from the outset. Here are some strategies that businesses can employ to promote responsible quantum innovation:
- Ensure quantum computing and its applications are harnessed for the benefit of humanity.
- Establish mechanisms for human accountability in the design, usage, and outcomes of quantum computing, preventing intentional misuse for harm.
- Actively make quantum computing technology and knowledge widely accessible, enabling a broader understanding of its principles, differences from classical computing, and potential benefits.
- Promote the safe, ethical, and responsible use of quantum computing to prevent intentional or unintended harm and ensure it is not exploited for malicious purposes.
- Promote transparency among users, developers, stakeholders, and regulators regarding their intentions and purposes concerning quantum computing.
Case Studies in Quantum Readiness
Early quantum adopters are already exploring how quantum capabilities can improve business and social outcomes when thoughtfully applied:
IBM's Quantum Leap: Simulating the Largest Molecule Ever on a Quantum Computer
In September 2017, IBM scientists used a 6-qubit IBM Q quantum computer to simulate beryllium hydride (BeH2), the largest molecule ever simulated on such a device. This quantum computer measured BeH2's lowest energy state, a key factor in understanding chemical reactions.
While classical computers can also simulate this model, this achievement represents progress in using near-term quantum systems for complex chemical simulations, with the potential for groundbreaking applications in chemistry and the life sciences as more powerful quantum systems and tools are developed.
JP Morgan Chase Ventures into Quantum Advantage in Finance
Through collaboration with IBM, JP Morgan Chase is already testing quantum algorithms for investment optimization, risk analysis, and derivative pricing. While not yet exceeding classical capabilities, these explorations help position JPMorgan Chase to capture the advantages of emerging quantum systems for finance.
Towards a Responsible Quantum Future
The potential benefits of quantum technology are immense, but it comes with risks like AI and biotech. Businesses can mitigate risks through collaboration with stakeholders, impact assessment, and adherence to principles like equity, transparency, and the common good. The decisions made by industry leaders today will influence the trajectory of quantum technology for decades.
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References and Further Readings
Bova, F., Goldfarb, A., & Melko, R. (2023). The Business Case for Quantum Computing. [Online]. Available at: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/the-business-case-for-quantum-computing/ (Accessed on 23 September 2023)
Buchholz, S., & Ammanath, B. (2022). Quantum computing may create ethical risks for businesses. It's time to prepare. [Online]. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/insights/topics/cyber-risk/quantum-computing-ethics-risks.html (Accessed on 23 September 2023)
Coates, R., et al. (2023). Quantum Computing Governance Principles. The World Economic Forum. [Online]. Available at: https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Quantum_Computing_2022.pdf (Accessed on 23 September 2023)
Davies, N. (2023). Here's what quantum computing is—and how it's going to impact the future of work, according to a software engineer. [Online]. Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/90925065/heres-what-quantum-computing-is-and-how-its-going-to-impact-the-future-of-work-according-to-a-software-engineer (Accessed on 23 September 2023)
Goldsmith, D. (2023). Businesses must prepare for the quantum revolution. [Online]. Available at: https://techmonitor.ai/comment-2/businesses-must-prepare-for-the-quantum-revolution (Accessed on 23 September 2023)
IBM. (2023). Coming soon to your business – Quantum computing. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ibm.com/thought-leadership/institute-business-value/en-us/report/quantumstrategy (Accessed on 23 September 2023)