New paper: Public good for the second quantum revolution

December 18th, 2020

Ensuring new quantum technologies under development benefit the societies they aim to transform

Melina Gillespie

Credit: EQUS


The world of quantum research has often been the subject of speculation and media hype but still benefits from ongoing investment through both private and public sectors. So how can we ensure that new quantum technologies under development will benefit the societies they aim to transform?

The ‘second quantum revolution’ refers to new devices that use the quantum properties of particles and atoms. As this second quantum revolution gains pace, emerging quantum technologies are expected to change our lives in a range of ways, from the mundane through to the extraordinary, affecting a range of sectors in Australia and overseas.

A recently published paper presents a ‘public good’ test applied to national quantum research strategies. The work is drawn from Dr Tara Roberson’s PhD (undertaken through the Australian National University), which examined the framing of the second quantum revolution in national strategies released by governments and research funders in the United Kingdom, United States of America, and Canada.

In this research, the concept of public good referred to how and whether science and innovation was able to create public benefit beyond commercial gain for select stakeholders. Public good was identified by the presence or absence of public reasoning and engagement between science and society about the development of novel quantum technologies. Some of the key findings of the research include identifying:

  • an absence of public good rationales for quantum research and technologies within the national strategies examined in the study, and
  • a strong focus on the international ‘quantum race’ in the framing of those national strategies.

The strong focus on being the first nation to achieve ‘quantum supremacy’ indicates several potential societal issues. For example, there is less consideration of the broad and inclusive development and uses of quantum technologies globally. In addition, emphasis on a rhetoric of global competition and urgency could prevent the development of alternative futures that could potentially deliver broader public good benefits.

Such alternative futures could include those where quantum technologies are used to generate much-needed collaborative solutions to global crises, like climate change, and to highlight potential public good benefits, such as improved cyber communications systems and sensors for civil engineering.

In February 2020, Dr Roberson commenced a research fellowship jointly supported by CSIRO’s Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) at The University of Queensland. The focus of her current research is responsible innovation within the context of quantum technologies – she is investigating the implications of new quantum technologies and the societal expectations that surround them.

The quantum research community plays a vital role in helping to prioritise, develop, and share narratives and possible futures for quantum technologies. They also help to create opportunities for dialogue on a range of public good outcomes. Dr Roberson’s current research on responsible innovation and quantum technologies continues to explore how we can make a more diverse range of these futures possible.

You can read the full paper here:

Roberson, T., Leach, J., Raman, S., 2021, Talking about public good for the second quantum revolution:  Analysing quantum technology narratives in the context of national strategies. Quantum Science and Technology, 6(2).