The potential of quantum computing is one of the focuses ofa summit in Genevathataimstoimprove the dialogue between diplomatsandthescientific communityto safeguard our collective welfare.Tworesearchersexplaintherewards and risks ofquantum computing.
Thescientists, diplomats, captains of industry and investors gathering inGenevafor the first-ever summit of theScience and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA)External linkwill, among other lofty goals, discuss howpolicymakersshouldprepare forquantumcomputing, provide governance for it,and ensure thatitis accessible to all.But what are quantum computers, and whatwill they be able to do?
Quantum computersperform calculations byexploitingtheproperties ofquantummechanics, which describes thebehaviourofatoms andparticles at a subatomic scale,for example,howelectrons interact with each other.As quantum computersoperate onthe same set of rules asmolecules do,they are,for instance,much better suitedto simulate them than classical computers are.
Today, quantum computers are small and unreliable. They are not yet able to solve problems classical computers cannot.
There is still some uncertainty, but I don't see any reason to not be able to develop such a quantum computer, although it's a huge engineering challenge, says Nicolas Gisin, professor emeritus at the University of Genevaand at the Schaffhausen Institute of Technology,and an expert in quantum technologies.
Quantum computerscouldhelp solvesome of the worlds most pressing problems. They couldaccelerate thediscovery ofmaterials for longer-lasting batteries,bettersolar panels, andnew medicaltreatments.They could also break current encryptionmethods, meaning that information secure today maybecomeat risk tomorrow.
For private companies, winning the race to develop reliable and powerful quantum computers means reaping large economic rewards. For countries, it means gaining a significant national security advantage.
Gisinsaysquantum computers capable of simulating new molecules could be 5-10 years away, while more powerful quantum computers that can break encryption could become a reality in 10-20 years.
The pace at whichthesetechnologies develop will depend on the level of investments made.Large technology firms such as IBM, Microsoft, and Googleare all developing quantum computers, while the US, China,and Europeareinvestingheavilyinquantum technologies.
Anticipating the arrival ofthesetechnologies isimportant,because you play through different scenarios, and some you may like,some you may not like,says HeikeRiel, IBM Fellow at IBMResearch in Zurich.Then you can also think of what type of regulations you may need,or what type of research you need to foster.
TheSwiss governmentis a supporter oftheGESDAfoundationwhichorganisedits first summit in Geneva fromOctober 7-9.The conferencebringstogetherscientists, diplomats, andother stakeholders to discussfuturescientific developmentsandtoanticipate their impacton society.
To work well, scientists needfavourableframeworks. There is definitely a back and forth between science and diplomacy, and science and politics, because diplomacy can also advance science, Riel says.
Politicians and diplomatsare responsible forcreatingopportunities for researchers to collaborate across borders. Initiatives and funding aimed at addressingspecifictechnical problems influence the directionofresearchefforts.
The fact that Switzerland is outside of the European research framework is an absurdity for everyone because this is just going to harm both Switzerland and Europe, Gisin says. It would be really important that Europe and Switzerland understand that we will both benefit if we talk together more and collaborate more.
Since July 2021, Switzerland haslimited accessto Horizon Europe, the European Unions flagship funding program for research and innovation due to a breakdown in negotiations on regulating bilateral relations.
Many of ourproblemstodaysuch as climate change or the Covid-19 pandemicare globalin nature.Getting governments across the world to agree to work togetheronsolutions is not easy, but researcherscan help.
The research communitylikes to worktogether globally, and this collaboration has helped historically to overcome certainbarriers, Riel says, emphasising the importance of communication in this regard.
Researchers working togetheron a global scaleduring the pandemichasled to vaccines being developed atarecord-breakingspeed.During the Cold Warat theEuropean Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva,Sovietscientistsremained involvedin projectswhich allowedforsomecommunicationto take place.
In science, we have a common ground and it's kind of universal; the scientists in the UnitedStates, Canada, Australia,Europeand China, they all work on the same problems, they all try to solve the same technical issues, Riel says.
Scientists also have an important role to play to inform and share facts with both policymakers and the public, even if politicians cannotrely solely on scientific evidence when making decisions. The challenges of communicatingfact-based evidencehavebeen laid bare during the pandemic.
I think it's very important that we also inform the society of what we are doingthat it's not a mystery thatscares people, Riel says.
Ultimately,to successfullyaddress global challenges scientists,diplomats and politicians willhave towork together.
It's really a cooperation between the global collaboration of the scientists and the global collaboration of the diplomats to solve the problems together, Riel says.
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