The quantum era is coming: what legal implications can we expect from next generation computing?

Imagine a computer so powerful it could run at a speed one million times greater than our current capabilities.

 

This is the goal that Google, IBM and a myriad of tech start-ups across the globe are racing towards; it’s a technological target that could see us solving problems, like modelling complex chemical processes, that our existing computers can’t even scratch the surface of.

 

It may seem like a futuristic concept, but thanks to advances in this technology, the quantum era is closer than you think. According to financial powerhouse Morgan Stanley, the next generation of supercomputers is at an inflection point, promising levels of speed and processing power tipped to trigger a new industrial revolution. Now moving from theory to test phase, the progress we are making could see the market for high-end computing double in the next decade to $10 billion.

 

What is quantum computing?

Quantum computing takes advantage of subatomic particles which have the ability to exist in more than one state at any time. In conventional computing, a ‘bit’ is a single piece of information that can exist in two states: 1 or 0. Despite remarkable innovations in computing, today’s machines still function on this binary calculation. Quantum computing, on the other hand, uses ‘quantum bits’ – systems with two states that can store much more information than just 1 or 0 to operate at a speed drastically higher than classical computers and use less energy in the process.

 

In the same way that steam engines redefined industries, quantum computing could bring about change so significant in modern society it could spark the creation of entirely new sectors and create new possibilities in existing industries that would have seemed utterly impossible a mere ten years ago.

 

With the rapid jumps in the quantum field that scientists and engineers have achieved in the last two years, computers with this level of power are no longer a concept reserved for science fiction. Quantum computing is on our doorstep; with every passing year, we quietly edge closer towards the fourth industrial revolution and a new era in computing. With our new capabilities comes a series of questions as to how quantum computing will impact society and what legal implications it will have.

 

New standards in cybersecurity

With quantum computing comes the promise of un-hackable communications through heightened encryption. However, until these machines become widespread, the threat such technology could pose in the wrong hands is worrying to say the least. According to experts, a sophisticated quantum computer would possess the ability to crack existing encryption standards in mere seconds.

 

At present, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation requires controllers and processors of personal data to maintain a certain standard of cybersecurity to protect that data from unauthorised access. However, it goes without saying that the adoption of quantum computing will raise the bar of what is deemed ‘adequate’ in regard to cybersecurity programs and practices. What may have been dubbed ‘state of the art’ in 2018 will undoubtedly be insufficient in a matter of five to ten years. The closer we come towards the quantum era, the more critical it will become for organisations to reconsider the existing security measures and invest in quantum-resistant cryptography.

 

Quantum leaps cause privacy concerns

As well as the immediate threat of a data breach, the emergence of quantum computing could cause genuine challenges to law makers with regard to how modern IT processes can be governed for the good of society. Already, data controllers must ensure that the logic involved and the consequences of automated decision-making processes marry up with legislation set out in the GDPR. However, the potential that quantum computing has to supercharge data processing coupled with advances in artificial intelligence will inevitably lead to more personal data being processed and in more sophisticated ways.

 

Considering the average person will struggle to understand how algorithms make decisions about them in today’s world, data-driven decisions in an era characterised by technological capabilities previously unimaginable naturally raises wider privacy concerns. Protecting the interests of citizens in a world where the potential of powerful algorithms and speed of computing is almost incomprehensible is a challenge in itself – communicating the reasons and justifying the decisions  for using such algorithms certainly won’t get easier for companies in the quantum era.

 

Contracting considerations in the quantum age

Cloud computing has already revolutionised contracting practices for IT lawyers. Rare is it in modern society for companies to licence on-premise software – instead, most rely on software-as-a-service( Saas), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solutions. The advent of quantum computing will more than likely see a continuation of this trend in order for transformation to take place throughout organisations; industry will seek to replicate the cloud computing model and companies will rely on subscriptions from their providers in return for access to state-of-the-art quantum computing.

 

This poses questions as to the nature of computing contracts and how they will need to change in line with new developments. Areas for consideration could include maintenance; contracts will need to take into account the level of in-house expertise and whether external support will be needed from the IT supplier. Considering the most significant benefit of a machine powered by quantum computing is performance, IT contracts will further need to factor in how performance will be measured through service levels and how sub-standard performance will be proven. What’s more, our current inability to understand the types of losses that could arise from errors in quantum computing makes it difficult to predict how we will consider exclusion of loss clauses in IT contracts.

 

It goes without saying that the quantum age will bring a host of challenges that even the most digitally-savvy businesses may struggle to prepare for. With new opportunities come new threats and legal considerations that will policymakers and business leaders will be forced to grapple with as we come ever closer to a new era in computing. To find out more about the legal implications of quantum computing and how to prepare your business for technological change from a legal standpoint, get in touch with our specialist lawyers today.