Quantum computing raises significant implications for a broad group of stakeholders, including governments, technology developers, businesses, regulators, lawyers, and intelligence professionals.
The enormous potential unlocked by quantum computing demands a thoughtful and proactive approach to the creation of a legal infrastructure and policy framework within which the technology can be responsibly developed. With quantum computing moving out of its infancy, now is the time to begin the dialogue.
Understanding Opportunities, Risks
Quantum computing has the potential to drive incredible innovations in technology, paving the way for those such as deep learning artificial intelligence based algorithms, teleportation of information, and simulation of nature. These developments have the power to solve some of society’s most complex challenges and transform major industries, from engineering and health care to telecommunications and energy.
The benefits, however, must be weighed against the risks. One noteworthy risk pertains to the expectation that today’s encryption methods may become obsolete. As capabilities advance, organizations relying on traditional forms of encryption to protect sensitive information may become vulnerable to cyberattacks.
The Need for Proactive Approach
Understanding the opportunities and risks before quantum computing reaches maturity allows policymakers and lawmakers to work proactively to set appropriate guardrails.
In recent decades the law has tended to lag behind innovation, failing to respond to risk with legal protections until after new technologies have reached late-stage development or adoption. Indeed many conventional law firms are “fighting the last war,” struggling to keep up with transformation and innovation in the legal industry.
Quantum computing provides an opportunity for leaders to break away from the game of catch up. Now, and not later, is the time for lawmakers, policymakers and governments to ask what legislation will govern quantum computing? Who will oversee it? How will it be regulated? And how should it be enforced?
Envisioning a Policy Framework
Although legislation is required to establish a policy framework, it’s important to first answer the policy questions before embarking on the legislative process.
The creation of a policy framework for quantum computing should start at a global scale to ensure federal and state policies adhere to a shared set of broader principles.
Several existing global organizations could support this endeavor, including the United Nations (UN), World Trade Organization (WTO) or the G7. Specialized groups devoted to quantum computing technology could be created within these organizations, similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Leveraging the infrastructure of existing organizations would allow for easier coalition building.
Country-specific oversight will be necessary to oversee adherence to broader international standards and direct domestic quantum computing development.
The United States’ National Quantum Initiative (NQI) established a core group of government stakeholders; however, quantum computing’s influence will quickly spread outside the science, technology and energy fields, spilling into health care, the environment, food production and national security. Accordingly, a larger interagency working group should be formed to incorporate more input.
While there is no U.S. government agency devoted exclusively to the oversight of technology development, past experience may support the need for such an organization in the future.
What deployments of quantum computing should and should not be allowed must be answered within the policy framework.
The technology is not without risk and in the hands of criminals or malicious state actors, quantum computing could be used to crack national defense systems or bring down critical utilities. It’s worth considering whether quantum computing should be limited to use cases involving how to solve universal humanitarian causes, such as food scarcity.
Perhaps the litmus test for what constitutes a permissible use of quantum computing is whether that use would benefit the common good.
The quantum computing enforcement regime should set clear and enforceable prohibitions, while also securing access to appropriate use for all stakeholders. The nuclear policy regime offers an example of a robust global framework to oversee the use of another technology that similarly comes with great potential and risks.
The regime is based on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which limits the development of nuclear weapons, depending on the capabilities available at the time the treaty was passed, but also requires that non-nuclear states are guaranteed access to nuclear technology for energy production. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) oversees enforcement. While there is room for improvement in the existing nuclear policy framework, this offers a blueprint for how we might create a global public policy regime for quantum computing.
Building a Legal Foundation
A policy framework cannot exist without a strong legal foundation, the creation of which should include the insight of federal lawmakers and attorneys experienced in technology and compliance.
Flowing from the policy framework, lawmakers will need to pass a new body of laws. Legislation should take a broad approach to providing measurable protections with enough flexibility to accommodate the long-term build out of the technology.
The legal industry should provide insight during the development of the legal foundation and policy framework and eventually advise technology and corporate sponsors on regulatory compliance. The industry’s guidance should draw on recent examples of the law’s failure to anticipate technology-related risks as well as experience navigating other highly-regulated sectors.
The work that lies ahead for the global community of stakeholders spanning the private and public sector cannot be understated. The opportunity for the legal industry to play a role in this crucial work is both exciting and important.
Managing the vast potential of quantum computing starts today with a legal and policy plan for long-term technology development, deployment, oversight, compliance and enforcement.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
About the Author
Monica Zent is an experienced technology entrepreneur, investor, businesswoman, and trusted legal adviser to leading global brands, over a period that spans decades. She is the founder of leading legal services company ZentLaw and its innovative ZentLaw Labs. She is also the founder of LawDesk360, an AI-powered workflow efficiency platform for legal departments and law firms.
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