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Report finds quantum technologies engage the public


The results of a public dialogue on quantum technologies (QTs), commissioned by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), have just been published. The department’s Professor Marina Jirotka is on the oversight board for this public dialogue project.

The report presents the results from a dialogue with members of the public about how they view and feel about the development of QTs, and their possible applications.

The dialogue, which was highly exploratory in nature, took place in York, Oxford, Glasgow and Birmingham in late 2017. The aim was to explore public perceptions about QTs and to gather opinion on possible applications and uses of quantum devices and technology and to identify new and interesting directions. Experts and researchers entered into the dialogue to engage and inform participants about QT and the devices that might emerge from the National Quantum Technology Programme and the wider quantum community.

The dialogue found that there was wide familiarity with the word ‘quantum’ but low knowledge of what it is or about QTs. Participants broadly associated quantum with being related to advanced technology and science/physics.

Having had limited exposure to information about QTs, many participants initially felt neutral towards them. However, some participants with lower engagement with science tended to express some anxiety going into the start of the dialogue, while those more interested in science generally felt curious and excited.

As researchers explained more about QTs, many participants become more engaged and excited by the range of potential benefits associated with them, particularly once they understood the possible impact and relevance to their own lives. Whilst no participants became more negative about QTs, there was a small number of participants who felt disengaged from science and their level of interest remained unchanged.

Participants understood that QTs have a wide range of benefits for individuals and society, and were most engaged by those viewed as having the greatest potential impact on individuals and society: saving or extending life (such as health technologies and humanitarian applications); finding cost-efficiencies in healthcare; and improving national and financial security. At the same time, there were some concerns expressed about who would control and have access to these powerful technologies, and whether they might lead to job losses or environmental damage. Participants identified some possibilities for misuse, as with all new technologies, but, overall, they felt that, on balance, the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

The results of the dialogue will be used to inform research and innovation priorities in the next phase of the National Quantum Technology Programme, which aims to ensure the successful transition of QTs from laboratory to industry. The current phase of the programme comprises four hubs; Professor Marina Jirotka is leading the incorporation of responsible innovation in the Networked Quantum Information Technologies (NQIT) Hub, based in Oxford across several departments including Computer Science.

The full report is available here

A summarised report is available here