Terrifying implications for future of warfare

In September 2021 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article on quantum computing, quantum physics and artificial intelligence: Quantum sensors, sea drones and hypersonic missiles: what are the new frontiers of war?

The article dealt primarily with the weaponisation of the early phases of the quantum revolution, especially the phenomenal computing power now becoming available.

Much of it is frightening - hypersonic weapons delivering nuclear warheads so fast there is currently no defence; a nuclear physicist assassinated by an unmanned machine gun that selected him as a target by using facial recognition with a pre-programmed authorisation to fire at him - and only him. In a bullet-riddled vehicle, his wife was not hit; "not selected" by the robotised weapon.

Quantum computing heralds end of encryption

Under a subheading "Why is quantum computing such a big deal?" some less-military uses (and misuses) are raised. The article quotes ANU quantum physicist Ben Buchler and Professor Michael Webb, director of the Defence Institute at the University of Adelaide.

At the moment, the largest quantum computers are less than 100 qubits. When they get to a few thousand or a million qubits, Buchler says, they will be able to crack encryption, which safeguards everything from our banking transactions to spy and military networks. That's a game-changer for defence, says Webb.

Dinghy-sized drone boats far cheaper than submarines

Hopefully we will not get caught up in a hot war involving robotics, drones and artificial intelligence. The possible uses and outcomes are mentioned in some detail in the article, including that, with our new submarines a long way off, they may become useless against technology that is rapidly arriving and being enhanced by quantum computing advances.

Dinghy-sized drone boats with solar power and towing undersea microphones cost peanuts compared to any submarine and can be deployed across vast areas to record location and activity of submarines. In the SMH article the cost is compared to a $3 billion frigate patrolling relatively quite small parts of the oceans.

Industrial and commercial applications of quantum computing not far behind

It is inevitable that quantum computing will affect us some way and soon. The scientists who spoke of military uses in the SMH article say it could be five to ten years, but possibly earlier for those aspects to become a reality.

That's the military speed map, which is always closely linked to the industrial / commercial complex. That complex is doing its own very fast transition to take advantage of the new possibilities being offered by quantum computing.

Bank accounts and property ownership records

Apart from the military implications of quantum computing, what does it mean for the law and the legal profession?

Just the aspect that in say, seven years, encryption will be able to be cracked and that ability used as a military or closely associated tool - in addition to your bank account, almost anything of encrypted status may be at risk.

The Australian property ownership records, and everything associated with them including the highly protected title records might be one type of documentation that could be at risk.

Will humans transcend the machines?

Having lived through a large part of the last Cold War, I sincerely hope the next one might at worst be just "cold" again, but with a high-tech flavour.

It certainly seems that quantum computing will arrive before we are "ready", but one hope is that humans will transcend the machines. That is noted by the authors of the SMH article and I hope they are correct.

John Gooley
Criminal law
Stacks Collins Thompson

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