The advent of nuclear and information ages propelled human evolution throughout the 20th century. As humanity entered the 21st century it faced challenges like terrorism, climate change, population increase, resource management, and water scarcity to name a few. Some of these are new while others are those which metastasize with time. As the world continues to make advances in nuclear and information knowledge domains, it began to embrace the quantum age in its physical manifestation as well.

Quantum technologies emerged as a possible way forward for humans to continue their technology-driven social evolution by overcoming or mitigating the challenges mentioned above. 

In the most simplistic worlds, quantum mechanics is a domain of science related to the study, control, and manipulation of quantum systems to achieve information processing, and communication beyond the limits of the classical world of science. It is a multidisciplinary field, lying at the cusp of fields such as physics, mathematics, and engineering.

The most prominent application of quantum mechanics has manifested in the field of computing but it’s not limited to quantum computing only, there are other domains of knowledge where quantum mechanics is being studied, analyzed, and explored to develop innovative discoveries and advancements in technology, leading to new applications and a better understanding of information technology.[1]

Emerging fields of quantum sensing, quantum communication, quantum networking, and quantum optics are potentially going to redefine the fields of medical imaging, drug discovery, virology, automotive design, financial modeling, resource management simulations, batteries, traffic patterns analysis, solar energy, weather forecasting, and even artificial intelligence.[2]

Once manifested, research work on quantum technologies in all these fields will help solve problems like optimizing the supply chain by finding the most optimal route for every single tanker ship in the sea even in natural emergencies, doctors will be able to pinpoint which patient in ICU they must attend first, pharmaceutical firms will be able to churn out the new vaccine in a much shorter time with far less side affects than what the world experienced during Covid-2019 pandemic pharma crisis because they will be able to study the behavior of chemicals in the drug at subatomic levels.

These are just a few of the use cases where quantum computing due to its unique ability of processing stacks of data has already been making a visible impact. Driverless cars and drone taxis are no longer science fiction ideas.  U.S. National Cyber Director Chris Inglis maintains that Quantum AI simulations exhibit a “degree of effectiveness and efficiency that is mind-boggling.” [3]

So what makes Quantum computers so powerful? The answer lies in its basic computing unit known as quantum bits or simply qubits.  It can be both 0 and 1 at a given time which can lead to an exponential increase in possible combination of 0 and 1 yielding massive computing power at any given time.

Researchers have started to exploit this power of quantum computing. For example, EPB, a firm in Chattanooga city in Hamilton County, Tennessee, United States partnered with “Qubitekk” and is building a commercial quantum network, which is scheduled to go online soon for researchers and private industry alike to run complex simulations. [4] In this network, fiber optic cables will carry qubits from central Quantum computers to and from various nodes used by humans.

EPB’s Quantum Network in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA.

Quantum computing is just one of many quantum-age domains.  Below is a high-level snapshot of different quantum mechanics-related fields of study.

  1. Researchers have devised sensors using quantum mechanics to analyze with high precision various quantities of natural physical phenomenons with great accuracy like gravitational wave detection, reading magnetic field values, and temperature changes.
  2. As explained in the above example of EPB, Quantum communication is the main feature of quantum networks where quantum properties of fiber optic cables are used to secure end-to-end communication. Quantum communication will be near impossible to breach because any such attempt will alter the state of light giving away the presence of any hacker in the network.
  3. Quantum cryptography uses quantum properties to enable secure communication and data encryption. Quantum cryptography can be used to protect sensitive information from cyber-attacks and other security threats.
  4. Quantum mechanics exploit certain quantum properties to improve the resolution and sensitivity of high-power cameras deployed to study cosmology, biological processes, and chemical reactions. Quantum imaging is going to revolutionize remote sensing.

Quantum technologies are progressing rapidly despite the fact due to the high cost and complexity involved in quantum mechanic processes. Many collaborating projects are being run across the world apart from major investments made by big tech giants like IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon in this field.[5]

Quantum technologies are going to leave a transformative impact across various sectors, and their availability for practical use is a subject of growing interest and investment from industry and government.

While quantum technologies are still in the research and development phase, there are indications that they will become available for practical use in the near future. Experts believe that “we will do more (in quantum realm) in the next five years than we did in the last 30” and that quantum technology is on the cusp of becoming the “next industrial revolution”. [6]

The transformative impact of the quantum age is not limited to businesses only, it’s expected to have significant implications for the global political order as well. For nation-states, the quantum age is going to change various statecraft hence leaving a lasting impact on global political order. There are certain implications that no country can ignore.

  1. Quantum computing can both benefit or harm national cyber security at the same time. On one hand, it can render existing cryptography obsolete, jeopardizing communications, financial transactions, and military defenses. On the other hand, quantum computing can secure cyber and military communication, unlike anything by uniquely encrypting data. “Your communication is always secure because the hacker is detectable,” said UTC physics professor Tian Li. This has led to increased investment in quantum technologies by countries such as the United States, China, and Russia.
  2. The formation of international organizations such as the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C) and the Quantum Alliance Initiative (QAI) is proof that the quantum age has ushered new age of global collaborations that aim to promote collaboration and knowledge sharing among countries.[7]
  3. The development and deployment of quantum technologies have the potential to exacerbate geopolitical tensions, as countries seek to maintain national security and strategic advantage. This has led to increased investment in quantum technologies by countries such as the United States, China, and Russia, as they seek to maintain national security and strategic advantage.
  4. The development and deployment of quantum technologies have significant implications for international law and policy. For example, quantum computing has the potential to render existing cryptography obsolete, which has led to the development of new legal frameworks to address this challenge.

Notwithstanding all these benefits of the quantum age, there are certain challenges associated with this domain and the most prominent one remains the high cost of research and development. Apart from this, there are complex technical challenges in building quantum infrastructure especially when there are not many vendors and big tech firms are still trying to come up with affordable quantum technologies just like they did during the 1960s and 1970s to make classical computers a commercial success for making it available to everyone eventually in mid to late 1980’s.

Right now, the number of players in this game is limited by the staggering cost of developing quantum technologies, which commonly involves complex and technically challenging tasks such as supercooling, shielded facilities, rare materials, and intellectual capital. Considering all these potentials of quantum age technologies and research work being done around the world, it is natural to raise questions about the practical use cases where Pakistan can leverage this knowledge to overcome its prevailing and future challenges.

Pakistan is among the world’s largest populations facing some unique challenges from natural degeneration to governance and planning challenges due to the rapid increase in population amid inadequate resources and gross mismanagement of whatever is available.

Quantum technologies certainly can do wonders for Pakistan to improve governance, city planning, resource management, economics, and security. For example, Pakistan needs a new paradigm shift in resource management using complex and accurate modeling and simulations about population growth, resource requirements, finding optimal supply chains, building secure communication networks, and even more.

This is a critical imperative for the state to initiate a national research program for quantum technologies and related disciplines. The main aim of such a program would be to lay the foundation for a thriving knowledge-based national economy, governance, and defense. Pakistan’s close ties with Beijing and China’s advances in this domain must be taken advantage of by seeking long-term research collaborations.

Research in quantum technologies and collaboration with artificial intelligence and non-technology are taking off and are in the early stages of research and development and this is the right time to become part of global collaborations in these domains. It will also serve Pakistan by developing high-tech human resources that can contribute to national and global development for the times to come as the quantum age has begun and the era of finding futuristic solutions to complex problems like climate changes, urban planning, health sciences, cybersecurity, and national defense is coming to an end!

End Notes:

[1] Purdue News Service. “Building the Workforce for the Quantum Age.” Purdue University News, May 21, 2021.

[2] Simson L. Garfinkel, and Chris Jay Hoofnagle. “Law and Policy for the Quantum Age.” Fifteen Eighty-Four | Cambridge University Press – The Official Blog of Cambridge University Press, October 29, 2021.

[3] Campbell, Charlie. “Quantum Computers Could Solve Countless Problems—And Create a Lot of New Ones.” Time, January 26, 2023.

[4] Montgomery, Mary Helen. “Gig City Enters the Quantum Age — What Does It Mean for Chattanooga?  — Chattamatters.” Chattamatters, February 13, 2023.

[5] Banafa, Ahmed. “Trends and Challenges in Quantum Computing �.” OpenMind, February 27, 2023.

[6] Campbell, Charlie.

[7] Derian, James Der, and Alexander Wendt. “Quantum International Relations: The Case for a New Human Science of World Politics.” OUP Academic, May 5, 2022.

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