October 2015, scientists at the University of New South Wales announced the successful design of a single-atom qubit 3D silicon chip architecture, making significant progress toward building a full-scale, operational Quantum Computer. While the last two decades have seen unambiguous experimental progress developing the science of Quantum Computation, there has never been a feasible, physical architecture developed upon which to scale-up the actual Computer itself. Not until today. Further, the success of specifically a silicon chip architecture now ensures that existing manufacturing facilities and processes can be more-easily upgraded to mass-produce quantum computational devices (QCD), in turn ostensibly reducing the time-to-market estimate for enterprise and consumer QCD offerings. Today’s development is tantalizing because possibilities for QC application are near-limitless: cryptographic algorithms, advanced chemistry models, pharmaceutical designs, error-checking of mathematical theorems, climate prediction, oil and gas exploration, etc. It is tempting therefore to believe that we are at the threshold where the STEM community’s drive for pure Research and Development (R&D) gives way to the invisible hand of the enterprise and consumer markets. However, considering the unprecedented disruption to extant technologies posed by QC, there will certainly be an intermediary stage between pure R&D in the Lab and consumer QCD offerings in the shopping mall: Defense Industrial application in War. For senior Defense planners and policy analysts predicting the effect of QC on everything from conventional Command and Control nodes, to Computers and Communications and Combat Systems (C5) – to the often less-than-transparent world of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (combined, known as C5ISR), the question is not one of ‘if,’ or ‘when’. Rather, the biggest questions for the Department of Defense are of degree and magnitude: will Quantum Computing be to Cyber warfare what Nuclear weapons have been to kinetic warfare? And if it is, how can the U.S. DoD establish a world-wide, non-proliferation security regime?
On Successive and Parallel Military/Civilian Dual-Use technologies
Quantum Cyber Warfare may seem esoteric now, yet there is ample precedent for fielding a disruptive, cutting-edge technology for military application first, and for research or consumer-use second. Galileo’s Spy Glass (itself radically superior to the then-current Dutch telescope) was sold as an instrument of naval military reconnaissance when first presented to the Venetian Senate in 1609 and only second for the prestige of scientific discovery (and only then on the condition that Galileo attribute all his discoveries to the Medici family of Florence in exchange for their patronage; indeed then as now, even social prestige outranked pure research and science). In the 20th century, the first programmable computer, ENIAC was developed for use by the US Military in 1946, while the first Personal Computer (the Altair 8800) did not become publicly available until 1975. Succession from military application to civilian consumer products, as a paradigm of technological dispersion, applies to a wide-range of products still in use today: radar, microwave ovens, nylon, touch screens, walkie-talkies, superglue, duct tape, the Epi-Pen, the Arpanet – even silly putty.
The second paradigm is that of military/civilian dual-use technologies, which develop not in succession, but in parallel – Global Positioning Systems, the Nuclear Power cycle, chemical products in concentration, etc. Yet just how “parallel” their development, has often depended on how disruptive the technology, the adversary’s awareness of that technology, and whether a suitable cover story explaining it was necessary. There is no doubt that Rocket technology was first developed for deploying Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, yet the need to create an illusion of purely-civilian pursuit for massmedia reporting and consumption began in parallel with the headline-grabbing aspirations of Sputnik and has since persisted up to the North Korean nuclear ambitions of today. Silly putty required no such cover story. Hence, whether the paradigm is successive application, or instead parallel military/civilian dual-use, the Department of Defense is the reliable bridge between pure STEM R&D and free-market consumerism for many of the technologies we take for granted in the modern world. Quantum computing will be no different; it is too lucrative for any military to ignore.
Policy Options for Classifying Weapons
If the three greatest defensive security challenges in Cyber space – asymmetry, attribution, and first-strike advantage – are simultaneously QC’s greatest offensive characteristics, then any dominating instrument of a punctuated technological equilibrium will surely be militarized before it is monetized. In recognition of the Cyber battle space as the fifth domain of conflict, the US Military may well choose to weaponize and classify indefinitely any American-researched and developed, QC-derived technologies or final products, or Quantum Computing Weapons (QCW). At that point, the DoD would have several legal options for controlling the technology domestically and internationally, but would require an overarching, comprehensive policy approach to such a complicated and far-reaching discipline.
Currently, one mechanism the DoD has at its disposal domestically is Department of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 7 (protecting infrastructure deemed critical to National Security). If the most immediate application of QC is harvesting foreign government secrets by breaking intercepted data of its classical encryption then the QCD itself clearly falls under HSPD 7. Another option is that if QC were to be used with AI to power unauthorized access against foreign state and non-state actors, then both code and design could be interpreted as defense items. Then it could fall under Title 50 of US Code, appear on the United States Munitions List, Category XVII (Classified Articles, Technical Data, and Defense Services Not Otherwise Enumerated) and therefore be subject the Arms Export Control Act. Once under DoD control those examples of QC code, design, and technical datum would likely be further controlled by classification at the TOP SECRET level with some kind of Alternate Compensatory Control Measure specific to QC and QCW.
Internationally, the U.S. would benefit greatly by proposing an NPT-inspired Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Quantum Computing Weapons (QCW). Much the same as the nuclear NPT, a QCW-NPT would suggest a central bargain, that non-QCW states renounce pursing such weapons technology in exchange for the technological leadership of QCW States on the peaceful use and benefit of QC. An international body similar to the IAEA would best conduct inspections and produce assessments of world-wide compliance and oversight. A natural extension of a QCW-NPT would be for states to leverage Cooperative R&D agreements (CRADA) with Universities without ties to foreign government. For the United States, the existing legal mechanism under 15 U.S.C. 3710a could easily be revised/reviewed for QCW R&D partnerships which prevent illicit technology transfer. By this same mechanism, the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Control would have international backing to rule against the awarding of a CRADA partnership to a foreign university, to pull its funding, and to effectively blacklist it. In a tip of the hat to Neo-Liberal International Relations theory, having just such a wide variety of multilateral agreements binding together the tech-driven economies which depend on multinational CRADA relationships to remain regional leaders, would inturn offer the U.S. a stronger hand when compelling QCW-aspiring nations to choose a U.S.-led QCW security regime. Simply put, you cannot threaten to take away anything you have not already built.
Thus and in sum, though select non-signatory foreign research bodies and their parent governments might still continue pursuing QCW on their own (much the same as dual-use Nuclear technology research by India, Israel, and Pakistan) or initially pledge support and sign, only to then withdraw (ala the DPRK’s 2003 withdrawal from NPT), the United States would still have developed a way forward both domestically and internationally by legal mechanisms, institutional programs, and funding regimes, for preventing unchecked adversarial development of Quantum Computing Weapons.
Author’s Note: This article was originally published OCT 2015 as a series of posts on LinkedIn regarding the future of quantum computing; it was then reposted to a defense forum online for further discussion and guest contribution. A handful of reference materials published since the original posting series have been added to further support the original claims. None of the conclusions or arguments from the original series of posts have been modified in any way.