Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Q&A with Chris Jay Hoofnagle & Simson L. Garfinkel, authors of ‘Law and Policy for the Quantum Age’

Simson L. Garfinkel, Chris Jay Hoofnagle

Law and Policy for the Quantum Age (out now as Open Access) is for readers interested in the political and business strategies underlying quantum sensing, computing, and communication. This work explains how these quantum technologies work, future national defense and legal landscapes for nations interested in strategic advantage, and paths to profit for companies. See below for a Q&A with author Chris Jay Hoofnagle & Simson L. Garfinkel

Q: What is the “quantum age?”

The quantum age is now! It is the world that we are in, which is defined at a very fundamental level by our knowledge, understanding and control of quantum phenomena.

Much of our understanding of the quantum world dates back Albert Einstein and something called the photoelectric effect, which Einstein figured out in 1905. The photoelectric effect demonstrates that light arrives as a stream of things that have a precise, indivisible energy. That is, the energy in light is quantized. Today we use the word “photon” to describe these quanta. It’s for this that Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Prize—not for his work on relativity.

So we’ve been living in the quantum age for more than a hundred years.

What’s new—the reason that we’ve written this book—is that increasingly scientists and engineers are figuring out how to use quantum effects to make ultra-precise measurements, to perform simulations and computations, and to create uncrackable communications systems. Broadly, this is quantum sensing, quantum computing, quantum “encryption” and quantum networking. Our book explains these different technologies and discusses why they are important.

Q: I didn’t take physics in high school or college. Can I understand this book?

We wrote this book to be understandable by lawyers and policy makers—people who have a general understanding of the world around us and perhaps still remember their high school algebra. One section of the book introduces the quantum physics aspects, but the descriptive and policy sections stand on their own.

Q: Why does quantum information science matter to lawyers?

Many companies are spending significant amounts of money now to prepare for using quantum technologies. These companies need both technical and legal advising. Just as today’s lawyers need to understand about the internet, encryption, and search engines, lawyers increasingly need to understand about quantum computing, quantum encryption and particularly quantum sensing. Quantum sensing will present the deepest challenges to civil liberties, as devices may let us literally see through walls and read people’s thoughts.

This is also great time for attorneys that are interested in policy to start engaging with these topics.

Q: Why does quantum information science matter to policy makers?

For policy makers, the time to engage on quantum is now! There are major quantum research and development initiatives happening right now in the US, Europe and China. And we are not all playing by the same rules: some see quantum as a purely scientific endeavor, other see it as a key for commercial or even national competitiveness. And some see quantum as an intelligence capability to be developed and possibly withheld from others.

At the present time there is a lot of partial information and even misinformation about quantum information science out there. We spent a lot of time chasing down leads and trying to understand what are the real threats and opportunities, and what is just quantum hype.

Q: Are quantum computers going to crack all of the world’s codes?

No, your codes are probably safe for a long time into the foreseeable future.

Quantum computing got a huge boost in the 1990s when computer scientists discovered that a functioning quantum computer would be able to factor large numbers much faster than any conventional computer. That was the discovery that drove literally billions of dollars into quantum computing research.

Now, after nearly thirty years of research, it’s clear that we are many, many years away from building a quantum computer that could crack one of today’s encrypted messages. And that computer, once it is built, will be only able to crack one message at a time. So an attacker would need to have recorded your encrypted message, kept it for decades, and then scheduled time on a very expensive piece of equipment to reveal your secrets.

Another thing that’s unlikely is that quantum computers will be able to crack passwords. Although we’ve seen this possibility referenced in several high-level reports, the science just doesn’t back it up.

What quantum computers may be able to do within the next ten years is solve highly complex scheduling and optimization problems. Quantum “simulators” may be able to assist in the design of catalysts, drugs and new materials. Those are the most consequential possibilities of quantum in the near term.

Q: What is “Quantum Winter?”

We think that there is a very real possibility that companies will not see a significant pay off from quantum information science in the short term. If that happens, companies may retreat from their investments. The result would be a “quantum winter” similar to the “AI winters” that happened in the 1970s and 1980s.

A danger of a quantum winter is that it might cause governments and companies to ignore the real benefits of quantum information science, just as many in the 1990s were slow to realize the benefits of AI.

Another danger is that many people who are now studying quantum computing, and nothing else, might find themselves unprepared and the unable to spin up a new career.

Q: Should we be teaching “quantum literacy” in grades K-12?

We should, but that does not mean that we should be teaching quantum computing. We should be teaching quantum physics, rather than classical physics, from the beginning. There is no reason that primary school students can’t learn that light works like both a wave and a particle. This kind of thinking pays off in a whole bunch of areas—the idea that the world is not as it seems at first glance. And it’s easy to do experiments in the home or in the school with readily available materials to show the true quantum nature of our physical world. In fact, we had such an experiment in the back of the book, using three pieces of readily available polarizing film.

Q: Where did the idea for this book come from?

Chris was working on a law review article about quantum information science, when he and Simson were put next to each other on a flight from Tel Aviv to New York. Chris and Simson had known each other for almost two decades, but had never collaborated together project. Simson offered to review the article, and after reading it, we decided to join forces and pitch the project as a book to Cambridge University Press.

Law and Policy for the Quantum Age by Chris Jay Hoofnagle and Simson L. Garfinkel

About The Authors

Simson L. Garfinkel

Simson L. Garfinkel is a pioneer in digital forensics, with a career in technology spanning starting a local internet service provider in 1995 to academia and government service. G...

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Chris Jay Hoofnagle

Chris Jay Hoofnagle is professor of law in residence at the University of California, Berkeley and affiliated faculty with the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing. He is a...

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