March 4, 2024

How will the UK develop regulation of quantum computers?

In its National Quantum Strategy, which includes £2.5bn of funding as well as plans for research and skills training zones, the government announced it will establish a regulatory framework “that supports innovation and the ethical use of quantum technologies”. This needs to be stable, agile, simple and ethical while protecting UK capabilities and national security. One expert said Technical monitor The focus should be on legislating post-quantum cryptography before the UK falls behind.

Quantum computers have the potential to change our understanding of the universe (Photo by IBM)

Quantum computing is a potentially transformative technology; once fully implemented, it has the potential to change our understanding of the universe, the human brain and address problems such as climate change. But it also carries risks, including the potential to easily crack encryption and change warfare.

Governments around the world are investing heavily in quantum technology and China leads the world in terms of direct domestic funding, followed by the EU and now the UK. Billions of dollars in venture capital, private investment, and university research funding are also being invested in this technology.

Last year, Professor Mauritz Kop of Stanford University stated that we must learn from the mistakes made around AI regulation “before it is too late” and said that quantum computing has the potential to be “more dangerous than artificial intelligence” without sufficient regulation.

In its National Quantum Strategy, the government says it is important to engage early in the debates that will shape the future regulation of quantum technology. Initial work will help identify potential risks with the use of new technology and develop new taxonomies, languages ​​and shared principles to guide development.

“Over time, new standards, benchmarks and assurance frameworks will gain importance in facilitating technology development as use cases become more evident, helping to establish interoperability requirements and measure performance within key sectors.” ”says the strategy.

How the UK will develop ethical quantum systems

Includes a commitment to putting innovation, business growth and the ethical use of quantum technologies at the heart of the UK economy, while testing technologies within the UK through testbeds and sandbox environments. regulatory agencies, as well as working with “like-minded partners” around the world to shape norms and standards as technology evolves and becomes more common.

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Much of the engagement is outward-looking, with the strategy calling for the UK to play a role in the World Trade Organisation, the World Economic Forum, the G7, the G20, the OECD, NATO, the Council of Europe, the Commonwealth and the UN, including “using the UK seat in the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to ensure that quantum regulation supports UK business and innovation, that the wider interests of prosperity, security and defense of the United Kingdom are represented and that we continue to defend the values ​​of the United Kingdom, including those on human rights.”

The government also outlined proposals to ensure the economy and national security are protected, including working with “like-minded allies” to monitor and review current and future controls, including through export regimes, security and safety targets. of intellectual property.

The plan is also to ensure that the National Cyber ​​Security Center (NCSC) continues to publish guidance on the transition to quantum-safe cryptography. “In terms of the government’s own preparedness, mitigation measures are already in place for critical information and services,” the report states with specific recommendations to follow the US NIST process.

There will also be work on technical standards, including through quantum-secure cryptography in partnership with ISO, IEC and ITU, and efforts will be made to create assurance frameworks for the use of these technologies as they mature. Much of this follows the established pattern for AI regulation, including test environments, standards, and regulator-led guidelines.

“The Chancellor reinforced the UK’s technology strategy with the £2.5bn ‘Plan for Quantum’, but the writing is on the wall: the extraordinary processing power of quantum computers will have a catastrophic impact on digital systems unless we begin a transition.” now,” said Tim Callan, chief experience officer at digital identity and security company Sectigo. Technical monitor.

“IT leaders must start paying attention today to the next threat of quantum computing and prepare their organizations to upgrade to the new ‘post-quantum’ cryptography in order to avoid, or at least mitigate, the damage.”

In addition to the promise of investment in research, promotion of greater computing power and regulation, the National Quantum Strategy also promises £15 million of direct funding to “enable the government to act as a smart, early customer of quantum technologies”, such as James Sanders said. CCS Insight’s senior cloud and infrastructure analyst said “further articulation” is needed as there are currently unlikely to be many circumstances in which the government could use a quantum computer to find efficiencies or optimization that couldn’t be done with a classic machine.

Export controls and intellectual property protection for quantum technologies

In terms of regulation, Sanders says it falls within two different priorities: export restrictions and intellectual property protection. The first is similar to the approach seen with the export of precision semiconductor manufacturing technology, as well as the export of advanced GPUs for training AI models, which, according to him, are “two aspects prioritized today by the United States government.” Joined”.

Ben Packman, head of strategy at UK post-quantum crypto company PQShield, says quantum technology is developing at rapid speed around the world and more seed funding will be needed for the UK to maintain its leading position. in the sector. “Any delay could leave the door open for others to overtake us, which is a real problem when you think about the UK’s adversaries developing a quantum computer for malicious purposes,” he says.

Public and private partnerships are required to protect against this and other risks associated with technology, including the adoption of legislative and policy updates. The United States has the Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act, but in the United Kingdom this new strategy is “lightweight when it comes to mitigating the risks associated with quantum computing,” Packman says.

He said that while regulators are already collaborating with industry and academics across the quantum value chain to build a regulatory framework, the UK is behind when it comes to crypto legislation. “The United States has already actively legislated for quantum-secure cryptography, and the US National Security Agency (NSA) has issued a very specific set of guidelines and deadlines in its CNSA 2.0 framework,” he says. “We would like to see the UK match and even go further if it wants to become a true quantum superpower.”

Many British companies, including PQShield, are contributing to the cryptographic standards considered as part of the NIST review. The result of this will set the global standard for post-quantum cryptography, including algorithms used in industry and government.

“We would like to see the UK’s quantum achievements heralded from the top,” adds Packman. “The government also needs to align all its departments on the same path, including bodies such as GCHQ and the National Cyber ​​Security Center (NCSC) and MI5’s newly created National Protective Security Authority (NPSA).

“The strategy does not mention the DRCF or Digital Catapult and how they can support the broader quantum strategy. It seems to me that both schemes could play a relevant role, so it would be good to see the dots connected at a strategic level.”

Read more: Could quantum computing make our energy grid sustainable?

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