SLS Launches a First-of-its-Kind Center for Responsible Quantum Technology

In 2019, when Mauritz Kop began his tenure as a Transatlantic Technology Law Forum Fellow at Stanford Law School (SLS), he observed how a diverse swath of industries were harnessing the quantum properties of light and matter in ever more remarkable ways. Quantum technologies—especially in the areas of encryption, computing, and sensors—were rapidly evolving from hypothetical ideas to commercial realities. 

Here, Kop determined, was where the most interesting–and pressing–questions of law and policy lay.

Put simply, quantum technology involves the smallest particles in the universe, but has the potential to create some of the world’s biggest technological quandaries and opportunities, according to Kop, a native of the Netherlands.

On December 6, 2023, he and Professor Mark Lemley, the William H. Neukom Professor of Law, announced the launch of the Stanford Center for Responsible Quantum Technology during a Dutch Network for Academics in the USA event focused on the shared democratic values between the U.S. and the Netherlands. Presented by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the event was chaired by Stanford School of Business Professor Guido Imbens and featured outgoing Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte. 

Left to right, Quantum Technology Center founder Mauritz Kop, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Stanford Business School Professor Guido Imbens, and SLS Professor and Director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science and Technology Mark Lemley. (Photo credit: Heidi Alletzhauser)

Dedicated to tackling the ethical, legal, social, and policy implications of quantum technology, including quantum artificial intelligence (QAI), the new SLS center is believed to be the first academic center of its kind. Before founding the center, Kop wrote some of the earliest scholarly papers on how to best regulate and responsibly develop and adopt quantum technology, including Regulating Transformative Technology in The Quantum Age: Intellectual Property, Standardization & Sustainable Innovation (2020) and Establishing a Legal-Ethical Framework for Quantum Technology (2021).  

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, center, at Stanford University (Photo credit: Heidi Alletzhauser)

Rutte’s visit to campus, coupled with a same-day SIEPR event on global sustainability issues in the semiconductor sector, which Lemley keynoted, provided the ideal day to launch the center, Kop said. “Developing responsible quantum technology is a global issue and we wanted to announce the center while we had these prominent figures in academics and transatlantic politics on campus.”

The Center for Responsible Quantum Technology is one of seven technology- and science-focused centers at SLS under the umbrella of the Stanford Program in Law, Science & Technology (LST), directed by Lemley, who also serves as the faculty leader of the center. The new center has been ramping up at SLS over the past six months and hosted a multidisciplinary quantum technology conference in May 2023, with plans for the event to be held annually.

‘The Extravagant World of the Super Small’

Quantum technology is an emerging field that employs subatomic particles—the “extravagant world of the super small,” as Kop puts it. The multidisciplinary field is poised to transform numerous disciplines and industry sectors: health, geology, astrophysics, materials science, medical imaging, computing, and artificial intelligence—just for starters. 

The center is focused on second-generation quantum technologies, which are based on the creation and control of the quantum states of individual quantum objects such as atoms, molecules, and photons.

The center’s current 10 projects, curated by RQT Fellow’s such as Professor Urs Gasser from the Technical University of Munich and Professor Mateo Aboy from the University of Cambridge, focus on the law and policy aspects accompanying quantum technology, including global governance and smart technology regulation. One of the center’s current projects, the Congressional Quantum Bootcamp slated for 2024, aims to foster quantum literacy and awareness for members of Congress, who soon will be grappling with how to regulate the emerging technologies.

Because quantum particles defy the laws of traditional physics, second-generation quantum technology can seem the stuff of science fiction: particles existing in two places at once (superposition), electrons and atoms moving through seemingly impenetrable barriers (tunneling), or a group of particles sharing spatial proximity in such a way that the quantum state of each particle of the group cannot be described independently of the state of the others (entanglement). Quantum computing has so far received much of the popular attention. Quantum computers use the properties of superposition, which enables many simultaneous calculations. Although quantum computers will supplement high performance computing (HPC) rather than replace it, in less than 10 years, it is expected that universal quantum machines will make today’s supercomputers look like sluggish calculators.

Harnessing the power of this technology will result in “AI on steroids,” according to Kop, as well as numerous other mind-bending technologies and supercomputing capabilities. The center takes a “pro-innovation stance,” he said, in light of quantum technology’s huge implications for potential good. For example, researchers predict the creation of unbreakable methods of Internet encryption, the radical expedition of hyper-personalized drug development, and sensors that can detect earthquakes before they strike. But just as quantum technology could result in a more secure Internet, so too could it result in a world in which all the information on the Internet is able to be compromised by a single bad actor, among many other potentials for misuse and unintended consequences. 

“It is a Pandora’s Box of probabilities and unknown risks,” Kop said. “These are planetary issues.” That is one reason why quantum technology has major geopolitical implications, with the United States and China, for example, racing to develop useful quantum technology.  

“Second-generation quantum technologies will soon make their way out of the labs and research facilities and into industry,” said Lemley, “so this is a critical time to make sure that we proactively address their impact on law, society, and public policy. With the launch of this new center, SLS and the broader Stanford University community are at the forefront of pressing, complex, and fascinating questions that have implications for the world.”

The Art of the Science

“We see the center as a golden triangle of academics, industry and politics,” Kop said. “Geographic diversity is also critical. The best people in all sectors around the world need to contribute so that society has the best options available to manage this new technology.” Securing the support of and participation in the center by the major technology companies also is a focus, he added. “Companies like Google and IBM are the leaders in terms of creating quantum computers and they need guidance on how to proceed responsibly.”

Even music and art have important roles. Kop calls it “art-inspired science.” 

Stanford University computer science students Jin-Hee Catherine Lee (coloratura soprano) and Katie Liu (on piano) perform works by Mozart and Donizetti for Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte as part of the events marking the launch of the Stanford Center for Responsible Quantum Technology, which endeavors to weave music and art into its science and research-focused projects.

“Normally you use logical, deductive thinking to arrive at new scientific discoveries, but in parallel we also use lateral thinking and art-inspired creativity to arrive at novel insights that couldn’t be reached via logical deductive means,” said Kop, who founded an IP and entertainment legal practice, MusicaJuridica, and is also a classical musician and owner of an electronica record label (among a host of other legal, business, and artistic pursuits). His May 2023 conference on responsible quantum technologies wove live music and physics experiments conducted by Stanford students into the day’s events, from a coloratura soprano solo during the conference breakfast to Chopin piano music during the reception. 

Kop said he hopes to make the quantum world accessible to laymen. “In a sense, these technologies and use cases go beyond human imagination,” he said. “ Their societal impact is inherently unpredictable because our human DNA isn’t really clocked to understand the quantum world. It’s clocked for the macro level, the familiar classical Newtonian physics world. Much of it is still counterintuitive even for me, though it starts to become more intuitive every day. And what we want is for future generations to become quantum literate so they understand what is being discussed and develop quantum intuition, as part of a skilled, local quantum workforce. We think we can achieve that through science and art.” 

About the Stanford Center for Responsible Quantum Technology

Part of the Stanford Program in Law, Science & Technology, the Stanford Center for Responsible Quantum Technology brings together the quantum community in diverse, multidisciplinary settings to investigate how society should balance maximizing benefits and mitigating risks of an exciting new generation of applied quantum technologies in computation, sensing, simulation, cryptography, communication, materials and devices, and quantum-classical hybrid approaches.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective, and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.