Responsible Research and Innovation in Networked Quantum IT
The NQIT Hub has now ended but the quantum computing research and user engagement continues from 1st December 2019 to 2024 with the new Hub in Quantum Computing and Simulation, again led by the University of Oxford.
The Responsible Innovation activities in NQIT were showcased at a successful event at Imperial College, London in October 2019. A video of highlights from the day is available here.
NQIT (pronounced 'N-kit') stands for Networked Quantum Information Technologies. The NQIT Hub, part of the UK National Quantum Technology Programme, was led by the University of Oxford and involved 29 globally leading quantum centres and major companies, working together to realise an entirely new technology sector. The Hub's focus was on systems that can connect together to form flexible, scalable solutions for diverse applications.
These applications and Quantum Computing as a whole raise important societal and ethical issues which are as yet largely under-explored. As new quantum technologies develop, the political and social implications will continue to expand, escalate and transform. Therefore, it is essential to establish an open and transparent framework that allows these impacts to be widely debated. These discussions can address potential points of conflict and ambivalence before they become major issues. Responsible Innovation (RI) – sometimes known as Responsible Research and Innovation, RRI, as reflected in the title of this project – provides a set of transparent and interactive processes to involve researchers, innovators, and others working together towards acceptability, sustainabilty, and social desirability of research outcomes and products. In RI, it is not just the “experts” who are invited to join in discussions and activities, but a wide range of stakeholders, including the wider public.
The RI strand in NQIT developed a broad scoping study and survey of the landscape of quantum technology in NQIT and the other QT Hubs. Specific issues were investigated in greater depth, using a set of structured case studies.
From an RI perspective we aimed to reveal the social/economic transformation potential of quantum computing - the "disruptive" element which has come to be seen as an important component of progress and economic rejuvenation, yet which may have a more ambivalent reading in how lives, values and economics are re-shaped.
We explored the connections between the physical laboratory work, the computing infrastructure and the projected applications. At the intersection of fundamental physics and engineering but driven by exciting opportunities for currently unachievable applications, the project was a rich enviroment for understanding the contemporary innovation process and how this flow might be achieved.
There was a particular focus on the application areas - what are the implications of these forms of secure computing, enhanced modelling and sensor fidelity? We engaged in various envisioning activities around these.
We identified a broad range of stakeholders and set up events for them to collaborate in working out the broader implications of QC - including developing policy and regulation.
The lessons have been brought together into a flexible framework for RRI in NQIT , designed to give researchers and innovators the tools to continue to practice RI throughout the rest of the project.
Engagement with stakeholders is the key to uncovering the core issues for Responsible Innovation in this context, and at the same time this engagement in NQIT built up awareness and capability about RI amongst the researchers and innovators. In addition, training and dissemination in a more formal way aimed to ensured that the practices of RI reached all parts of the project and beyond.
Dialogue with the wider public is also fundamental to RI, and was included in the work plan built on this strategy, including by working with the social research agency Kantar Public on a public dialogue to develop our understanding of public perceptions and opinions of Quantum Technologies.
The RI strategy for NQIT was designed to reflect the needs of the Hub at each stage of the innovation lifecycle. The technological outcomes of the Hubs developed over time, and, now that the Hubs have moved into their second phase from December 2019, the aim now is to maintain the RI capacity built up around the RI Framework.