Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator

Solution idea:
The Open Quantum Institute

Quantum computers will have a transformative impact on our society and our planet. GESDA wants to ensure that everyone has a part to play in this journey, and that the transformative impact of this technology is directed towards humanity’s most pressing challenges. GESDA recognizes the need to speeding up the availability of this emerging technology by bringing quantum experts, SDG experts and local innovators together to jointly develop use cases geared towards accelerating the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Through the creation of the Open Quantum Institute, GESDA would like to ensure that the most diverse groups and geographical regions have the opportunity to use quantum technologies so they can best tackle the challenges they face directly.

According to the research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), governments and businesses will invest some $16.4 billion in quantum computing by the end of 2027. The reason for the excitement is that quantum computers promise to solve currently intractable problems at the heart of critical sectors of the economy such as materials science, chemistry, energy, and logistics. Having access to these uniquely powerful computers could accelerate progress in crucial areas by enabling the development of more efficient drugs, cheaper fertilizers, longer-lasting batteries and more efficient solar panels.

1. What is quantum computing?

Quantum computers exploit quantum mechanics – the laws of physics that govern the behaviour of matter at the tiniest of scales. Quantum mechanics defies all our intuitions about how the physical world operates. It is a world of probabilities rather than clear cause and effect and upends our understanding of time and space.

Quantum computing isn’t a new idea. The potential of this technology has been known since the 1980s when legendary physicist Richard Feynman highlighted its ability to simulate physics beyond classical computers. But excitement has been building in recent years because technology finally seems to be moving from theory to practice.

Learn more about quantum computing on our Science Breakthrough Radar ® website.

Quantum computers are not general-purpose computers, and for many tasks they will provide no advantage over current technology. But for certain problems they will, in theory, provide unprecedented computational speed-ups on problems over classical machines that are at the heart of critical sectors of the economy such as materials science, chemistry, energy, and logistics. If directed towards the right issues, quantum computing could enable scientific and technological breakthroughs that could transform the lives of millions.

2. Why should we care?

Quantum computers are hugely expensive and hard to build so ensuring broad access to them will be difficult. So far, their development has been concentrated in a handful of nations and large multinational corporations (see CIFAR (2021) report). This increases the risk that the most socially beneficial use cases will be de-prioritized in favor of applications that confer commercial or geostrategic advantages.

Read the GESDA Quantum Computing Impact Story

Moreover, little work has been done to investigate how quantum computing could help tackle the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for example, on challenges related to climate, food security or health. Some of the more commercially lucrative applications of the technology could very possibly overlap with these topics, such as the exploration of new techniques to develop drugs or to devise longer lasting batteries. Quantum computing will certainly reveal many other potential applications that have so far been neglected due to the lack of an obvious business case.

3. What are we doing about it?

The unprecedented computational power of quantum computing will break current paradigms. Not enough is done to explore applications for the SDGs, and not enough people have access to quantum computers. That is why working to ensure an open future for quantum computing is crucial and requires immediate action.

To ensure quantum computing, when at full maturity, will be able to achieve its full potential for the benefit of humanity, GESDA has been working with scientists, technology developers, UN organizations and governments around the world to shape a solution idea which should:

  • Facilitate the development of use cases geared toward accelerating the achievement of the SDG and other beneficial applications for humanity
  • Ensure global, inclusive and equitable access to quantum computing
  • Anticipate the readiness of all stakeholders to be informed, embrace and use the full power of quantum technologies once at maturity

The proposal of building an « Open Quantum Institute » has emerged from these developments and is now being evaluated by all the parties to make sure it will be able to fulfill its ambition.