Experts urge stakeholders to consider quantum technology risks

01 February 2022 4 min. read

Quantum computing has been heralded as the next major advance in technology, but there remain unknown risks. A new paper from KPMG urges stakeholders to start considering the issue now.

Discussions around the existential threat and the safe and ethical development of artificial intelligence technologies have been ongoing for decades, the debate perhaps made most familiar to the general public through Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom’s infamous ‘paperclip maximiser’ thought experiment and Elon Musk’s investment into OpenAI, a research lab which seeks to develop ‘friendly AI’ for the benefit all all humanity.

Yet, little has been widely spoken of to date in respect to the responsible development of another fast emerging technology – quantum – which the Australian government announced last year as a ‘critical technology’ with a $111 million investment.

Experts urge stakeholders to consider quantum technology risks

Now, a new discussion paper from the Sydney Quantum Academy and professional services firm KPMG has called on industry stakeholders to consider the potential impacts of quantum technologies.

The paper, ‘Responsible Quantum: Starting the Conversation’, is the result of a virtual roundtable, which included a panel of scientific experts, ethicists, academics, industry leaders, and legal professionals exploring the responsible development and use of quantum computing and quantum communications with three aims; to identify the opportunities and risks, and to consider appropriate mechanisms of governance.

With the promise of unprecedented computational power, the ‘second quantum revolution’ has to potential to open up a new era of technological advancement. A McKinsey & Company report from last year projects the global quantum computing market to reach a value of $1 trillion by 2035, while the CSIRO predicts the quantum sector could generate more than $4 billion in economic value for Australia and create 16,000 jobs by 2040.

But, as stated in the paper, any new technology presents both opportunities and risks along with other unintended consequences, the latter which are particularly hard to predict in this instance when the technology’s practical applications are still unclear. Still, the paper identifies a number of potential risks, including the threat to privacy and security should quantum computers become powerful enough to break current encryption systems.

“Networks, systems, and data based on traditional technologies will become increasingly vulnerable to more sophisticated cyberattacks run on quantum computers,” the paper states. “As networks grow in complexity they will become more difficult to defend. Currently secure information about private citizens, and government and commercial secrets, will be at risk if Australia does not begin enacting measures now to introduce quantum-safe cryptography.”

There are also peripheral risks which could arise through the further amplification of existing social inequalities, both in that computer algorithms can reflect human biases and technology tends to favour the ‘haves’ in widening the socioeconomic gap to those without access. On the flip side, the paper notes that for sustainable local development, Australia will need to support its domestic industry and ensure its geostrategic partnerships are secure.


If Australia is to balance its strategic and commercial interests with the ethics of protecting society from the potential harms of quantum applications, it is imperative, the authors say, that the technology is not developed inside a bubble. Drawing on the lessons learned from the development of technologies such as AI, stakeholders should ensure an open discussion and greater diversity of views, together with genuine public engagement and long-term education.

They also believe that the government’s plan to develop a national quantum strategy presents the perfect chance to advance the discussion. “With quantum still in its early stages we have a great opportunity to get ahead of potential risks by carefully considering use cases and their impact,” says KPMG Futures leader James Mabbott. “If we do this well, not only will we innovate responsibly, but we will also build trust in quantum and support its successful adoption.”