Fierce Competition in AI and Quantum Technologies Leads to Major Security Concerns

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The world could see a so-called ‘Q-Day’ as soon as 2025.

News Analysis

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and quantum technologies have revolutionized our modern era, and many countries are competing for breakthroughs in their use in the military, encryption of communications, and the wider economy. However, such rapidly advancing technologies also come with significant risks and concerns.

Most communications to date are encrypted on a large scale using the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) invented in the 1970s. For example, commonly used passwords for email accounts, online banking, and secure messaging platforms all rely on this system for encryption protection. It would take thousands of years for a supercomputer to break these passwords with this type of encryption. This is why PKI is so important to secure communications for most governments.

Quantum computers have not yet been put into practical use, and their stability is the major concern compared to ordinary computers. The reason is that they are huge, inaccurate, consume huge amounts of energy, require extremely low temperatures to operate, and are particularly sensitive to the environment. Currently, AI relies on existing chips, computers, and big data to increase its arithmetic power, which is still limited.

Waiting for ‘Q-Day’

It is highly likely that PKI’s cryptography will be cracked in the future by quantum computers, super AI (ASI), general-purpose AI (AGI), or new products combining quantum and AI, which would mean that quantum computers and AI can break through their own instability or limitations.

In response, Canadian cybersecurity firm Quantum Defen5e (QD5) issued an ominous prediction and warning to the U.S. Department of Defense in 2023. They said that the world could see a so-called “Q-Day” as soon as 2025, rendering current encryption methods completely useless.

A laser tests the optical waveguide of a chip for quantum computing in a laboratory in Stuttgart, southern Germany, on Sept. 14, 2021. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images)
A laser tests the optical waveguide of a chip for quantum computing in a laboratory in Stuttgart, southern Germany, on Sept. 14, 2021. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images)

Tilo Kunz, the company’s vice president, said that global efforts are underway to plunder data in order to decode intercepted messages after “Q-Day.” He warned that all content sent over public networks is currently at risk.

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Decoding such intercepts is akin to the Venona project in 1943. The project was initiated by the U.S. government to decrypt the communications secrets of World War II adversaries. It was also used to decrypt more than 2,900 telegrams and secret messages sent by the Soviet Union, uncovering Soviet infiltration of the Manhattan Project and other spy networks.

In addition, Mr. Kunz wanted to make the point that the long-term military plans and intelligence gathering would be exposed to hostile nations, and the intellectual property rights of corporations are at risk of theft. The secrets of people’s lives and even their bank passwords would be exposed.

In response, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and other organizations have been urging the public and private companies for several years to adopt the Post-Quantum Cryptography (PQC) as a new mechanism for establishing public-key encryption in order to protect the security of communications. In a May memo, the Biden administration revealed that U.S. government agencies expect to release a new standard for post-quantum cryptography in the first half of 2024.

The World Economic Forum estimated in 2022 that 20 billion devices worldwide will need to be upgraded or replaced in the next 20 years to meet quantum security standards.

US-China Competition in AI and Quantum Fields

The United States and the Chinese regime are competing fiercely in the areas of military, AI, and quantum applications, where they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. In addition, the European Union, Canada, and Japan have initiated programs in both areas and are investing large amounts of money and talent.

Currently, China’s strength in AI is that it has the world’s largest amount of big data, but its weakness is that it lacks the big tech companies’ support of AI chips with better computing powers. As a result, China has resorted to theft and other nefarious means to gain access to the data of many people in order to fulfill its expansionist ambitions.

Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), named China in October 2023 as having stolen AI technology, quantum technology, robotics, and biotechnology from other countries through hacking, commercial espionage, and other means, and he said that China has used them to enhance their own capabilities to achieve their goals.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has also invested heavily in the quantum field. An April 2023 report by McKinsey estimated that China has allocated $ 15.3 billion in funding for quantum research, compared to $8.4 billion in the European Union and $3.7 billion in the United States. However, Quantum Insider suggests that the CCP’s investment could range from $4 billion to $17 billion.

In August 2023, President Joe Biden asked the U.S. Treasury Department to regulate U.S. investments in quantum computing, semiconductors, and AI to prevent the U.S. government and corporations from investing in these areas in China.

In addition, in October 2023, President Biden signed an executive order calling for a new standard for AI safety and security. The standards will be used to protect the privacy of Americans, promote fairness and civil rights, safeguard consumer and worker interests, foster innovation and competition, enhance U.S. leadership around the world, and more.

Vice President Kamala Harris applauds as President Joe Biden signs an executive order after delivering remarks on advancing the safe, secure, and trustworthy development and use of artificial intelligence, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, on Oct. 30, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)
Vice President Kamala Harris applauds as President Joe Biden signs an executive order after delivering remarks on advancing the safe, secure, and trustworthy development and use of artificial intelligence, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, on Oct. 30, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

Currently, the United States’s advantage in the AI and quantum fields lies in the support of many high-tech companies such as IBM, Quantinuum, Google, Intel, IonQ, and Microsoft, which puts the United States far ahead of China in terms of software, hardware, and chips.

However, the United States is also constrained by ethical and legal constraints on data collection, which has become its weakness, as the development of AI requires not only better chips with better arithmetic power but also more data to train it in order to increase the capacity of its neural networks and the speed of its operations.

Although the United States, with the help of private sector tech innovators, government labs, university researchers, and allied countries, remains the overall leader in the quantum and AI fields, the threat posed by the CCP to the United States and the world should not be underestimated.

Quantum Computing and AI Integration

While the emergence of AI and quantum computing is exciting for many due to the enormous business opportunities it presents, the faster and more accurate predictions it offers, and the solutions to many of humanity’s previously intractable problems. On the other hand, there are also potential dangers on the horizon. They are likely to bring many new problems and challenges to human society that cannot be solved easily or even predicted at this stage.

The reason is that current AI relies on chips and algorithms running on traditional computers. These computers are binary, requiring information to be processed into 1 or 0 bits, resulting in limitations on AI’s computational rate and performance.

Quantum computers, on the other hand, use “quantum bits” for processing, so they can be any number, and these numbers can be processed simultaneously, resulting in a computing rate hundreds of millions of times greater than that of current supercomputers. However, their hardware is susceptible to “noise” such as fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field or other electromagnetic signals.

When quantum computers are combined with AI to form “quantum AI,” the previous shortcomings may be overcome, and then AI may then be able to break through the hardware and arithmetic limitations of the past. It will likely no longer need to spend more time training itself. It could bring breakthroughs in the fields of machine learning and algorithms.

The emergence of “quantum AI” will inevitably be affected by the complexity of quantum, resulting in a significant reduction in the transparency and interpretability of AI algorithms, which may produce things that are incomprehensible to humans, or even escape from human control, creating events that jeopardize human safety. These problems have caused some to worry.

Japanese computer engineer Kiyohara Jin told The Epoch Times, “If you compare AI to fire, quantum computing is oxygen. If the two are combined, they may play a role in accelerating the destruction of human beings, especially AI developed by some people against human morality, and if they are assisted by quantum computation, it will accelerate the possibility of human involvement being totally replaced.”

Japanese electronic engineer Li Jixin said to The Epoch Times, “This idea is good if it’s for practical application by humans. This can lead to new positive changes in all aspects of people’s lives, but all kinds of unexpected risks and crises will come one after another. When human beings develop technologies that cannot be fully controlled, it will be the most dangerous time for all humans.”

Kane Zhang and Ellen Wan contributed to the report.

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