Day 1: Stakeholders from all over the World Coming Together
In a recent article, researcher Eline de Jong [MBS1] (2022: 1) asked whether we are “at the dawn of a quantum revolution?” Among the participants of our Quantum Future Workshop, co-hosted by the TUM Think Tank, there was a broad consensus that it is still too early to tell, although, if this quantum revolution does evolve, we must be prepared in order to not risk falling behind.
Stakeholders from the science, industry, and public sectors explored what the possibility of a quantum revolution might mean from a scientific, technological, and societal perspective in the context of i) high levels of uncertainty regarding the future development and application of quantum technologies (QT) and ii) the past and present experiences with the governance of other technologies like artificial intelligence or genetically modified organisms.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in the German and European context, the question of regulation vis-à-vis quantum innovation was at the core of the debate. Many participants reiterated the well-known concern that regulation at this early stage could stifle the innovation and future applications of QT, stressing that cognitive biases lead us to exacerbate the negative side while downplaying the potential positive impacts. In contrast, others in the workshop strongly advocated for the need to proactively outline possible regulatory and governance frameworks.
However, a crucial challenge at this point in the life cycle of quantum tech development is that the specific problems that require and justify regulation are still relatively vague, with notable exceptions such as encryption and cybersecurity. Another complicating factor is that there are currently almost no applications available which could serve as test-cases for regulatory instruments, further adding to the difficulty in pursuing a “sandbox” approach. Against this backdrop, participants called for frameworks which embrace all instruments in the rich governance toolkit — for instance, ex ante “by baking ethics into it” from the beginning, ex durante by handling QT in real-life applications, and ex post by investing in technology assessment.
A second discussion thread of the workshop revolved around the questions of communication and responsibility. What are the right metaphors (trains, boats, spaceships…) when talking about quantum tech developments? But also, who is the “we” when stating that “we should come up with regulatory frameworks?” In other words, who are the scientists, policymakers, corporations, and citizens that need to or should be part of the conversation?
Within this discussion, the argument of the geopolitical landscape was prominent as fissures deepen between the United States and Europe on one side, and China and Russia on the other — even while interests among the former are not entirely in sync.
Additionally, participants also debated what the development of QT means from an economic perspective. For example, it is probable that QT will only be accessible for a few corporations and companies. It was also mentioned that the next generation of scientists need to be trained in ways that enable them to work across silos in order to build bridges between the technical and the social worlds. Lastly, there was an emphasis that future debates around QT and its applications should be as inclusive as possible to ensure a wide range of positions and viewpoints. Participants agreed upon the importance of multi-stakeholder events which bring together people from industry, politics, civil society, and academia to partner in finding creative ways to address the challenges of QT and unlock its promises.