Responsible innovation in quantum computing
The development of quantum computing offers huge potential for social good. Researchers at the Department of Computer Science have been working with industry stakeholders to lay the groundwork for a ‘Responsible Innovation Hub’ to inform the future governance of this powerful emerging technology. With IAA support the team explored how approaches for RI and governance can help mitigate societal concerns and contribute to public trust in this novel technology.
Quantum computing offers new affordances in computing. These include optimisation of large numbers of variables, true randomisation, and factorisation. Theoretical work in the field has developed rapidly over the last few decades and there is already a lot of interest in potential commercialisation.
But whilst quantum computing offers the potential for social good, it may also bring negative consequences – for example its use in factorisation may offer the ability to break existing cybersecurity protocols, with potentially harmful consequences. The potential for unexpected harms could undermine public acceptance of new technology. Appropriate governance is vital to protect public interests and build confidence in the sector, but there is a real concern that innovation could run ahead of governance.
With EPSRC IAA funding, a team at the Department of Computer Science worked with 20 stakeholders, including academia, industry and policymakers, to establish the groundwork for a future Responsible Innovation Hub for the sector. Principal Investigator, Professor Marina Jirotka, comments: “We don’t know how quantum technologies will develop in future, but it’s important that we have knowledge and processes in place to deal with issues as they arise. The aim is to work with stakeholders to ensure ‘governance from the outset’, rather than relying on legislation and regulation once the harms of real-world applications emerge.”
The team undertook a scoping exercise with academic researchers, think tanks, and potential early adopters of quantum, including start-ups and established companies. Whilst face-to-face interviews and workshops had been planned, COVID restrictions forced the team to move to virtual interviews and workshops.
Project outputs included transcripts of interviews and workshops; interdisciplinary research papers; a roadmap outlining key steps towards developing a Hub; and a video of key experts in the field discussing the application of responsible innovation to quantum computing.
Dr Philip Inglesant, Research Associate on the project, commented: “It’s vital that responsible innovation reaches beyond academia into ‘on the ground’ practice. The IAA project allowed us to work with a very wide range of stakeholders, who not only informed the research, but will help embed responsible innovation principles in research, development and commercialisation of quantum computing going forward.”
The work on the IAA project helped to lay the groundwork for a new project, ResQCCom (Responsible Quantum Computing Communication) [see note 1], working with industry leaders on ways to embed responsible governance into commercial quantum computing.
Carolyn Ten Holter commented: “Ultimately, society will benefit from a greater understanding of quantum technologies, and the confidence that they are being managed responsibly and ethically. We are really excited to see so many stakeholders engaged in the governance debate, and supporting the development of a Responsible Innovation Hub, and we look forward to the next steps in the process.”
Marina Jirotka is Professor of Human Centred Computing at the Department of Computer Science and Director of the Responsible Technology Institute in the Department of Computer Science
Dr Carolyn Ten Holter is a Researcher at the Responsible Technology Institute
Dr Philip Inglesant is a part-time Researcher on the ResQCCom project and a member of the advisory board of the Responsible Technology Institute
Towards a Hub in Responsible Innovation for Quantum Computing was funded by the University of Oxford’s EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account (March 2020-November 2021)
Note 1: Funded by the Quantum Computing and Simulation Hub, and EY; started in January 2023.