Public Dialogue Report

Public Dialogue Report on Quantum Technologies

Are you aware of all of the work that has been done alongside the public regarding the impact of quantum technologies on everyday life?

In 2018, a public dialogue report was funded by the Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC) to explore and understand public views on Quantum Technologies (QTs). The report resulted in a number of significant findings and made several recommendations to the Quantum Community.

As part of the investigation, workshops were held in the four lead hub locations – Birmingham, Glasgow, Oxford and York, members of the public were invited to attend one of these workshops, they were then encouraged to take part in an interim activity, followed by a second workshop at the same Hub.

The first wave of workshops explored participants’ spontaneous knowledge of and associations with quantum and QTs, before exploring participants’ aspirations and hopes, as well as their concerns and fears for QTs. The interim activities (which varied between Hubs) included tours of facilities, lectures on QTs and an interactive exhibition. The second wave of workshops aimed to understand if and how participants’ views had changed since the initial workshops; understand in detail participants’ aspirations and concerns about the technologies; explore participants’ views on how they want quantum researchers, industry and government to respond to the issues they’ve raised; and suggest how the public ought to be included in future dialogue on QTs.

Some of the key findings were:

  • QTs were seen to have a wide range of benefits for individuals and society. The most engaging QTs were those which participants understood to have the greatest potential impact on individuals and society – in terms of saving or extending life (i.e. health technologies and humanitarian applications); finding cost-efficiencies in healthcare; and improving national and financial security. 
  • Participants hoped that benefits would be realised for the public good, rather than private profit (particularly in the context of the NHS – and did not cite wider economic growth as a benefit of the technologies.
  • Some concerns were raised throughout the dialogue about the development and use of QTs, some of which related to the development of technology more widely: who controls the development of QTs; who would have access to QTs; automation and job losses and environmental damage 
  • Other concerns raised were more specific to the QTs discussed and included:  whether QTs would spark a defensive international arms race – where nations felt compelled to invest in quantum computers defensively to ensure their security. While the development of this technology was thus perceived to be inevitable – not a matter of choice – participants were keen that the UK was at the forefront of quantum computing, and so supported investment; misuse of QTs for the purposes of hacking and cyber warfare; misuse of encryption technology to hide criminal activity; misuse of imaging technologies by criminals, companies and the state.
  • Whilst concerns were raised, overall participants were not overly concerned about the development and use of QTs and the risks associated with them. They saw the benefits as worthwhile and as positive progress for society. 
  • Whilst good governance was important to participants, they did not want to see regulation stifle innovation in and advancement of this area or disadvantage the UK in the international area.

The following recommendations for the quantum community emerged from analysis of the dialogue data:

  • Participants wanted to see the UK investing in QTs and leading on this in the international arena, because they saw the benefits as providing progress for individuals and society and to ensure the security of the nation if other countries were developing the technologies.
  • The neutrality felt by participants towards QTs suggests there is an opportunity and growing need for the quantum community to tell its own story and establish positive associations with QTs.
  • Participants were excited about the potential benefits associated with QTs and there was interest in more information about these – particularly the QTs which have health, humanitarian, security and efficiency benefits.
  • Discussions suggested there is a need to address concerns about quantum computing and encryption as these are seen to present the greatest step change and potential threat to society and therefore induce public fear.
  • Discussions suggested it would be helpful to consider engaging with wider debates regarding concerns associated with technological advancement including automation, privacy and surveillance, and climate change – and the contribution QTs can make to these debates.
  • There was a desire for governance mechanisms to be created which consider the public interest as well as profit; consider wider societal implications; and ensure there is adequate regulation and enforcement in place prior to commercialisation of QTs to deter and punish perpetrators (including the government and public bodies as well as individuals and companies).
  • Researchers should take responsible research and innovation more seriously.

If you'd like to read the full report, you can download a copy here.