Google has reportedly achieved the famous Quantum Supremacy, as the Financial Times first reported on 20 September 2019. Indeed, the NASA/Google claim “that our processor takes about 200 seconds to sample one instance of the quantum circuit 1 million times, a state-of-the-art supercomputer would require approximately 10,000 years to perform the equivalent task.” This would mean indeed quantum supremacy, i.e. out-powering even the most powerful classical computer with a quantum computer for a computing task (for more explanations, see The Coming Quantum Computing Disruption, Artificial Intelligence and Geopolitics (1)).

The paper describing this achievement was, however, then removed from the NASA website, the initial publisher. We can find, of course, cached versions of the paper, for example here (Bing cache) and here (pdf on a google drive). Furthermore, Bing specified it cached the page in … 2006, possibly deepening the mystery. As a result, the web is abuzz with discussions regarding the validity of the claim (e.g. Hacker News).

One way or another, this reminds us that a world with quantum computers is about to be born. All actors need to take this new future into account, in all its dimensions. This is even truer for those concerned with international security at large.

This article is the first of a new series that focuses on understanding the coming quantum-AI world. How will this future world look like? What will be the impacts on geopolitics and international security? When will these changes take place?

Previously, we highlighted how crucial it is to foresee the future quantum-AI world. First, imagining this world of tomorrow drives forward investments in quantum, thus the position in the race for quantum technologies. Second, and relatedly, displaying the right vision of the world of tomorrow will allow for readiness. In turn, that readiness will impact states’ relative power in the international system.

Thus, those countries that will lag behind may well pay a very high price in terms of independence, economic development and wealth, security and capability to protect themselves and their citizens from foreign aggression, etc. Companies that do not foresee the forthcoming quantum-AI world and do not embrace it adequately could similarly have to face a very high cost, become obsolete, fail and disappear.

Foreseeing the future quantum-AI world is thus a geopolitical and security imperative. Yet foreseeing the future quantum-AI world is also particularly difficult. We explain why in the first part of this article. We then present a framework to move forward with foresight in the case of the future quantum-AI, security and geopolitics. In the second part, we highlight another danger, the inability to think and imagine the world beyond its current structure. We suggest ways to avoid this “failure of imagination”. Finally, we present the building blocks upon which the future quantum-AI world is likely to be built. These blocks will be the starting point that will allow us to sketch the future quantum-AI world throughout the series.

A layer-cake of changes

The difficulty to imagine a Quantum-AI powered world results from the need to understand and foresee different layers of changes.

We need to foresee not one evolution, or a couple of dynamics and processes, but a myriad of them, as well as their interactions. Furthermore, those feedbacks will take place in and between different types of fields, and propagate differently. Indeed, quantum technologies and notably quantum computing and simulations, mixed with Artificial Intelligence (AI), or rather deep learning, will, first and foremost, be used by other sciences. As a result new discoveries and innovations will emerge in various areas. Furthermore, a resulting change in one science can be the starting point for a whole series of innovations in another scientific field. In turn, each of these evolutions will impact the world outside science in many ways. Meanwhile these consequences will feed into each other.

In other words, we must foresee quantum-AI-based changes in many different sciences, then the changes brought about by these innovations across areas and with different sequences of development.

Furthermore, as far as international security, warfare, geopolitics and governance are concerned, we cannot stop there. We also need to envision how these changes will impact all security-related areas, as well as governance and international relations.

We thus need to use a foresight approach that could look like a “layer-cake” model – funnily enough a metaphor already used in international relations (George Modelski, Principles of World Politics, 1972; Paul James, “Interview with George Modelski”, 2017).

Moving beyond the linear extension of the present

Quantum applications for present needs

Applications and usages for quantum technologies and science are already being identified.

However, often, these are mainly the projection of already existing usages.

For example, some actors need supercomputers or High Performance Computing (HPC) systems (for an analysis of such needs in the case of AI/deep learning, see ★ High Performance Computing Race and Power – Artificial Intelligence, Computing Power and Geopolitics (3)). Thus, such actors start from their HPC needs and extend them to new, existing, or future quantum computing capacities. Airbus, for example, is using such an approach.

This is indeed a very important way to start imagining how quantum technologies could be used in the future. It is absolutely crucial to start being ready to use new computing languages, new types of algorithms, to start being acquainted with an entirely novel technology.

Yet, this is not enough.

The danger is to fail to envision surprises, be they totally novel possibilities or unexpected consequences. If we were solely extending or linearly projecting the present, we could merely foresee a world that is quite similar to what it is nowadays. The “new” quantum-powered world could be faster, with some important improvements, but yet, it would be similar to what we know currently. In that case, the new quantum-AI world may well fall short of the paradigmatic revolution that is expected.

Yet, it is also quite likely that what will emerge will finally be extremely new and very different.

If we want to achieve actionable foresight, then we must allow also for the very different to occur.

Looking at the consequence of past scientific and technological changes

Past history can help us wondering about the types of changes we could be about to face.

Longitude, maps and multiple impacts

Shall we see changes that are as crucial as had been, in the past, the progressive improvement of the determination of longitude at sea (e.g.
The Galileo Project
Longitude at Sea)? Then, as we progressed in our capabilities to determine longitude at sea with various instruments and methodologies, societies moved from sailing only with reference to land to navigating across oceans. Societies that developed the new capabilities to navigate went from a restricted world to the capacity for expansion.

Meanwhile, maps fundamentally changed and improved with immense consequences on the modern-state system and international relations (Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation, 1994; Helene Lavoix, “The Power of Maps“, 2012).

Steamboats, gunboat diplomacy and China

Shall we see a revolution as potent as what the use and spread of steamboats created in the past, notably the era known as gunboat diplomacy in the 19th century (e.g. Matthew McLin, “Building Up Steam: Steamship Technology In 19th Century East Asian Colonial Warfare“, 2012)?

That time, for example, meant the imposition by “the West” upon China of the (unequal) Treaty Port system (e.g. Albert Feuerwerker, “The Foreign Presence in China,” 1983, 128-207). It triggered an immense cascade of consequences through time and space, which still impacts us today (for a cursory summary and a first bibliography, see Helene Lavoix, “From the Diaoyu Islands, with Warning“, 2012). Indeed, for China, this time is known as the “century of shame and humiliation” and is part and parcel of its historically constructed worldview. It thus infuses its current decisions, including regarding the race for quantum technologies (for the theoretical underpinnings, see Helene Lavoix, ‘Nationalism’ and ‘genocide’).

If we want to achieve an actionable foresight for politics and geopolitics in the quantum world, then we must consider these types of very real and crucial questions.

Imagining a new structure for the future world

In the approach to the quantum future where we “merely” extend the present to integrate quantum technologies, the structure of the world does not change. For example, manufacturing planes could be done more quickly, at a lower cost, and the planes produced could be of better quality, maybe flying more quickly, maybe flying autonomously. But, fundamentally, planes will still be planes and not much will have changed. For a plane manufacturer, not developing quantum capabilities would most likely still be catastrophic compared to competition. Nonetheless, the likely changes on the world may not be fundamentally disruptive.

We tend to be locked into the world we know and can only push forward and imagine existing trends and their known and main drivers.

What the former past examples show is that we must think beyond our current world. We must be able to think today’s and tomorrow’s version of crossing vast expanses of water, without seeing the land, of new representations of the world on new devices that will fundamentally alter polities and the international system. We need to be able to imagine future events similar to steamboats and consequent gunboat diplomacy, furthermore ran by “barbarians”, that will fundamentally disrupt our world.

In other words, we must make sure that we do not fall prey to a “failure of imagination”. Indeed, that error was identified as one of the major causes for 9/11 warning failure (The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 339-348).

On the contrary, we must favour imagination. We need to succeed in thinking out of or beyond the structure of our known world.

To be able to do so, we shall first identify the building blocks upon which the quantum revolution is being currently built. We shall then investigate each block and look at the classical usage that is planned. We shall, however, not stop at first order effect, but also try envisioning second and third order impacts, including in terms of security, politics and geopolitics.

As we move through our building blocks we shall progress towards increasing levels of complexity. We shall try to imagine how some of these blocks are or could be combined. Finally, to try moving beyond the current structure of our world, we shall ask “what if” questions. We shall there suspend disbelief and favour imagination. These questions could lay the ground for future multi-disciplinary foresight work.

Building blocks for the future quantum-AI world

Quantum applications from the Quantum corporate world

The corporate world and notably start-ups have started working upon the way they could create and sell application for quantum computing. In the meanwhile, they have adopted categorisation or classifications.

For example, D-Wave (a company focusing on a type of quantum computing called quantum annealing – whilst most other develop gate-based quantum computers), identifies four major areas for its applications: optimization, machine learning, materials science and Monte Carlo simulations.

The start up Zapata Computing, specialised in creating quantum algorithms and developing software across quantum computing platforms, categorises its applications according to three areas: quantum chemistry, optimization and quantum machine learning, as shown on the table below:

Zapata Computing categories of quantum algorithms applications and examples
TimeNumber of QubitsQuantum ChemistryQuantum OptimizationQuantum Machine Learning
Near-term50Battery MaterialsFinancial Portfolio optimizationImage/audio generation
Catalyst for fuel celllsManufacturing Process optimizationSupply Chain optimization
Material DurabilityVehicule route optimizationPredictive maintenance
Longer-term 500Drug DiscoveryBioinformaticsCredit/Fraud detection

Another startup QCware, identifies five types of “use cases”: chemistry simulations, optimization, machine learning, differential equations and Monte Carlo Methods.

Consulting companies, such as the Boston Consulting Group, focus on applications, but already segment them according to the sectors they use for their consulting business (Philipp Gerbert and Frank Rueß, “The Next Decade in Quantum Computing—and How to Play“, BCG, 15 November 2018). We thus have as users’ categories: High Tech, Industrial Goods, Chemistry and Pharma, Finance and Energy (see notably exhibit 9). This early categorisation, however, makes it also difficult to imagine other usages in other areas. Meanwhile, it does hardly consider feedbacks across industries and larger impacts on society, which will, in turn, have consequences for all actors, including businesses.

Building blocks for the future quantum-AI world

If we synthesise these approaches, as well as others, finding out future – and current – application and use for quantum computing, as well as more generally quantum science, tends to follow two paths, that may then be combined.

First, and logically because we deal with new computing facilities, actors use types of algorithms as starting points and categories to envision future quantum computing applications. We thus have mainly quantum optimization algorithms and quantum machine learning. We find also simulations and notably Monte Carlo simulations/methods, as well as differential equations.

Because of Shor’s algorithm, quantum computing and cryptography should belong here (see The Coming Quantum Computing Disruption, Artificial Intelligence and Geopolitics – 1). However, we shall also consider this section, as well as the related quantum communication field, notably because of their impacts on intelligence and counter-intelligence, as a complete layer, impacting all others (see also ★ Quantum, AI, and Geopolitics (2): The Quantum Computing Battlefield and the Future).

Second, various scientific disciplines try to develop a quantum approach to their field and investigate if quantum mechanics can improve their scientific understanding. In that case, they benefit from the new quantum computing approaches, including the development of quantum algorithms.

We notably identified quantum chemistry and quantum new materials, quantum biology, as well as quantum physics, including quantum optics. Quantum biology, surprisingly dismissed sometimes as “humbug”, actually appears to be a potentially interesting scientific field, according, for example, to the very serious and scientifically recognised journal, the Royal Society Publishing Interface (Adriana Marais et al., “The future of quantum biology“, J R Soc Interface, 2018 Nov). Quantum sensing and metrology, a part of quantum information science (QIS) could be seen as belonging here.

With the next articles, we shall start investigating these building blocks for the future quantum-AI world.


Featured image: Image by alan9187 from Pixabay


Further References and Bibliography

Fairbank, John K., ed. 1983. The Cambridge History of China Vol.12: Republican China 1912-1949, Part 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Feuerwerker, Albert, “The Foreign Presence in China,” in Fairbank, ed. 1983.

Gerbert, Philipp and Frank Rueß, “The Next Decade in Quantum Computing—and How to Play“, BCG, 15 November 2018.

James, Paul, “Interview with George Modelski”, in Manfred B. Steger, Paul James, Globalization: The Career of a Concept, Routledge, Oct 2, 2017.

Lavoix, Helene, “The Power of Maps“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 2012.

Lavoix, Helene, “From the Diaoyu Islands, with Warning“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 2012.

Lavoix, Helene, ‘Nationalism’ and ‘genocide’: the construction of nation-ness, authority, and opposition – the case of Cambodia (1861-1979) – PhD Thesis – School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), 2005. Access and download through the British Library Ethos.

Marais, Adriana, Betony Adams, Andrew K. Ringsmuth, Marco Ferretti, J. Michael Gruber, Ruud Hendrikx, Maria Schuld,1 Samuel L. Smith, Ilya Sinayskiy, Tjaart P. J. Krüger, Francesco Petruccione, and Rienk van Grondelle, “The future of quantum biology”, J R Soc Interface, 2018 Nov; 15(148): 20180640.Published online 2018 Nov 14, doi: 10.1098/rsif.2018.0640 PMCID: PMC6283985 PMID: 30429265.

McLin, Matthew, “Building Up Steam: Steamship Technology In 19th Century East Asian Colonial Warfare“, Master’s Thesis, Florida University, 2012.

Modelski, George, Principles of World Politics, Free Press, 1972.

The 9/11 Commission Report.

Winichakul, Thongchai, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1994.

About the author: Dr Helene Lavoix (MSc PhD Lond)

Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues. Her current focus is on Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Science, and Security. She teaches at Master level at SciencesPo-PSIA.

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