On 16 Nov. 2023, CERN Sparks collaborated with the CERN Quantum Technology Initiative (QTI), bringing current developments, priorities, timelines, applications and potential impacts on society of quantum physics and technologies to a packed audience in Meyrin, Switzerland (down the street from central Geneva). Attendees were warmly welcomed to the event in CERN’s new Science Gateway center for public outreach, by the friendly CERN team, energetic lighting and nice music. The Globe was looking well, lit up nearby.

Bruno Giussani moderated the session, asking the speakers interesting questions.

Sofia Vallecorsa, CERN physicist and coordinator of the Quantum Computing area within the CERN Quantum Technology Initiative, kicked off the speakers by putting current developments in the historical context of previous groundbreaking research done at CERN. She mentioned areas of current research at CERN, for example, sensing, and also talked about the interplay between AI and quantum technology. She highlighted the achievements of John Bell and the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN.

CERN’s long history makes it a natural home for further exciting developments in research and applications. CERN’s not planning to build its own quantum computer currently but instead is looking at how different technologies could be best adapted for different tasks, and continues to collaborate on developing the science to drive and explore more discoveries. Her group and colleagues at CERN are thinking ahead to when the next CERN collider will be in play and what kinds of requirements there could be, for example, for that but also for other science being done at CERN not just now but down the road.

Next, Nicole Yunger Halpern, author of Steampunk Quantum, talked about quantum thermodynamics, further putting current developments in historical context. We’re currently in the third wave of quantum technology developments, following the first one around the turn of the 20th century, the next one starting around the 1960s, and here we are today in a third wave, as she put it. She explained, for non-experts in the audience, quantum entanglement, and barriers to scaling up and widespread adoption of the technology like the physical requirements.

She also did an analysis pointing to areas of interesting research and applications. She drew on the theme of steampunk, a cultural movement uniting 19th century art, culture and technology with current ones, to explain how the areas of thermodynamics, that drove huge developments in the Industrial Revolution, interact with today’s research and cutting edge ideas.

Rachel Maze, Head of Quantum Technologies Policy, UK Department for science, Innovation and Technology, shared via video conference about the UK’s ongoing work to develop policy, the funding framework, and to create good spaces for innovation. A task force is advising on the work, which includes looking at societal implications. Big questions lie ahead that must be addressed, such as effects on security and stability, given the impact that quantum technology is widely anticipated to have on cryptography and current methods of securing data. People are developing ‘quantum-safe algorithms’ in anticipation of such challenges as one potential approach although this would not be the only one.

She stressed the need to learn from everything we’ve all been seeing with the development of artificial intelligence as it’s become quickly more widely available and used, and mentioned how the UK is trying to do that, in developing its own policy. The UK published a strategy earlier this year, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-quantum-strategy. The UK will collaborate with other governments to share technology and keep a healthy framework that will allow for innovation, while also dealing with the reality of unstable international relations. The UK supports the GESDA initiative recently launched in Geneva, aiming to share open science. The UK has gone through different parts of strategy development from early thinking to bringing in new ideas from the business sector, supply chain and government procurement, to stimulate innovation while protecting society from potential harms.

Mira Wolf-Bauwens, Responsible Quantum computing Lead at IBM Research outside Zurich, Switzerland, brings a political philosophy background to her work with IBM Research. She looks at ethics of development and shared some broad-stroke information about IBM’s progress and prospects in quantum technology development. Like Sofia Vallecorsa and Nicole Yunger Halpern had done in their remarks, she also provided a breakdown of areas of current research, potential use and noted that some use cases, we can’t even imagine yet, as there will be other technologies and requirements that will impact the research, development and use of quantum technologies. (This is why, in first image following here, the oval extends outside the circle.)

She situated where we are in the present moment within a sketched timeline of IBM quantum technology research, projecting continued scale-up of availability of quantum computing by 2026 and beyond. She noted that early adopter Cleveland Health Clinic had installed its own IBM quantum computer being used for health research. She pointed to the risk of a digital divide in quantum technologies and computing, showing the disparity of amounts of government investment in quantum research worldwide.

The evening next featured the art and dance of Su Wenchi with I-Fang Lin. Su Wenchi is a dancer, new media artist and recipient of the Arts at CERN Accelerate Taiwan Award. The beautiful dance event featured a combination of reading text, video, filmed sculpture, graphic arts, dance and costume. It encouraged attendees to interpret the movement and relation between ideas, people, words and space in their own ways, perhaps sparking new ideas from an unexpected source. It provided an opportunity and open moment for attendees to reflect on all of the ideas that had gone just before.

Thoughtful questions were asked and not always answered, instead we saw movement or a color or a visual arts idea. The film displayed was the result of a creative collaboration. At some points during the feature, the only way to see both her, dancing at the back of the auditorium, and the film on the screen at the front auditorium, was to look at neither of them but instead at somewhere in between, allowing your peripheral vision to see both, if poorly.

The evening concluded with a lively question and answer session, for example, one attendee wondering how banks with legacy computing frameworks would eventually cross over to make the transition to emerging technologies.

The question was also raised during the evening, of when is the proper time to regulate. From a human rights point of view, it’s good to bring in human rights considerations as early as possible. Technology and science should develop alongside increased human rights education. As well, emerging technologies can be put to use for the purpose of implementing human rights and increased international understanding. Besides trying to catch up and regulate once the technology is already out of the box, human rights can inform societal applications and make for perhaps even better technologies and societies.

The event was recorded and the recording will be available on CERN’s website. For more information, please visit https://home.cern/events/sparks-future-quantum.