People everywhere are waking up to the fact that the end of the digital revolution is fast approaching — and quantum computing is about to take its place. This small-but-mighty Ant-Man-esque form of superpower will usher us into a weird and wonderful new world where speed isn’t the key. It’s assumed. Instead, innovation will be the new, hyper-enhanced ability that causes our jaws to hit the floor.
While quantum computing may be the future, though, as with all revolutions in human history, we need to think further than the exciting, trailblazing moments. As I consider the way inequality has shaped the past couple of centuries, I can’t help but think that one area that needs to be front and center from the get-go with quantum is diversity. Here’s why.
Why Diversity in Quantum Computing Matters
If you want to grasp the size and scope of what quantum computing could do to our human experience, you have to resist the temptation to look at the development as another upgrade for your iPhone. Quantum computing rewrites the script.
McKinsey & Company points out that it produces exponentially higher performance in certain mathematical circumstances. This gives it the potential to revolutionize practically everything across most sectors of business — and of upending life as we know it.
When I look at this in a vacuum, it’s great news. Any technological development in its clean, pure form has infinite potential for good. The problem is putting it into application. Specifically, when businesses get involved, the entire situation becomes sticky.
A.I. is a perfect case study of what a quantum revolution could look like. Everyone had fun with ChatGPT when it came out in late 2022. But as businesses began applying the technology, opinions soured.
Content creators lost out on work. A-list actors walked off film sets where artificial intelligence threatened their livelihoods. Misapplication of the technology was quickly sued for libel. Even high-profile directors started reciting the age-old script of A.I.’s risk to humanity.
With quantum computing (which is buzzy but hasn’t “arrived” yet as a mainstream reality), the carrion fowl are already circling. McKinsey reports that investors have already pumped billions of dollars into the industry in the hopes of making massive profits, and a flood of further resources will likely follow.
To make myself clear, this isn’t all bad. It’s simply, well, reality. Once the shine is off, these new tech toys shift from fun to practical. And when that happens, and privileged early investors stand out as winners yet again, inequality quickly becomes an issue.
An Asimovian Comparison
As I break this all down, I’m reminded of Asimov’s classic “Foundation” sci-fi series (which Apple TV+ is currently adapting into a streaming series). In Asimov’s books, the Foundation is a colony on the edge of the galaxy that functions as the genesis of humanity’s salvation in the face of a collapsing Galactic Empire. Over time, though, the resources and technologies of the upstart Foundation start turning it into the very monster it is supposed to avoid, and active measures must be taken to curb that propensity.
In the same way, quantum computing right now is a cute, fun picture of a bright, hopeful future. Once the age-old forces of commercialism and industry get a hold of a practical model of the tech, though, it could quickly become a repeat of the same old problems.
For Asimov, his glittery sci-fi solution was telepathy, or as he calls it, “Mentalics,” who could adjust the Foundation’s trajectory from a distance. For real-world quantum mechanics, the solution is simpler. It’s diversity.
By embracing a DEI (diversity, equality, and inclusion) mindset with quantum mechanics, we can immediately resist the tendency toward abuse of modern technology. Giving others a seat at the table allows the conversation to remain open, honest, and equitable. More perspectives also allow for greater innovation, too.
Quantum Requires More Than Scientists
As a final thought, I also want to make one thing clear. When I talk about diversity in quantum computing, that isn’t restricted to scientists and mathematicians. On the contrary, I remember hearing EY’s Global Innovation Quantum Leader, Kristin Gilkes’s comments at a recent Economist Summit panel about the opportunities that diversity in quantum offers.
Gilkes highlighted the fact that you don’t have to be a mathematician or physicist to be involved in the quantum realm of computing. There are genuinely applicable roles that come alongside those central figures to make the field viable. From digital ethicists to scientific journalists to managers and C-level executives, there is plenty of room for capable individuals from minority groups to contribute to the conversation.
In fact, when you break it down, in the long run, these positions can become more important than the boots-on-the-ground folks developing the science itself. Remember, those who are driving the car have just as much of a say (if not more so) in where they go than the technicians who built the vehicle. If we can embrace diversity throughout the quantum field, it can open up the doors to equity, ethics, and even greater innovation as we move forward into a brighter future together.
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