Evaluating quantum computing’s societal impacts

Published on
June 27, 2023

The speed of development in quantum computing has accelerated greatly in the last few years, and as a result, the commercial sector is becoming more developed, with accompanying attention and excitement from both stock markets and policymaking circles. Alongside commercial development, potential use-cases are also becoming clearer, and thus preparing for the possible societal impacts of quantum computing becomes increasingly important.  

ResQCCom (Responsible Quantum Computing Communications), a project supported by the Hub's Partnership Resource Fund (PRF) in association with industrial partner EY, is engaging with companies, policymakers, and citizens, to discuss concerns and think collaboratively about the future.

Within the Department of Computer Science at Oxford, researchers have been focused on the potential societal impacts of this game-changing technology since the inception of the UK’s quantum computing programme.  

A process of investigating the challenges and impacts of this novel technology - as well as the potential unintended consequences - through an industry, policy, and social dialogue, can enable the forward-thinking aspects of responsible innovation to be turned into responses that help shape governance. Such an approach can ensure not only that society experiences the benefits of advanced quantum computing research, but that principles of good governance, transparency, and other aspects of responsible development are translated from the research environment into the commercial sector.

Key challenges:

Governance in technology transfer

At present, governance structures or ‘responsible’ approaches are not translated from the university research environment into the commercial world. Public confidence in quantum computing requires good governance, and citizens rightly expect that fledgling companies spinning out of university labs will be required to comply with industry standards, regulation etc – however such standards and regulations do not yet exist in quantum computing, placing a heavy burden on founders to ensure their work considers societal impacts.

Communication in policymaking

Policy around quantum computing is often bound up with perceptions of quantum technologies as matters of national strategic capability. There are concerns in the international quantum computing community that attempting to align development along ‘national’ lines is premature, unnecessary, and likely to hinder overall progress. At the same time, there may be insufficient recognition that quantum computing is an ‘enabling’ technology that should be of interest to multiple areas of government.

Public engagement

Although the 2017 Public Dialogue in Quantum Computing was extremely valuable, it has not been followed up, despite the findings that the public were interested in quantum computing and invested in its development. Societal attitudes to, and familiarity with, quantum computing have therefore not been examined at scale for over five years, during which time quantum computing has developed far faster than anticipated. ResQCCom will conduct research into current public knowledge and attitudes, that can inform policy and research.

The project is now approaching the halfway mark, and has gathered data from expert and stakeholder interviews on topics such as comparisons between quantum computing and AI, the need for governance in novel technologies, and the types of use-cases companies foresee within their own domains.


ResQCCom will create publicly available, comprehensible explanations of the possible impacts of quantum computing including data visualisations, infographics, and an animated film for non-specialist audiences. ResQCCom will also work to connect up international researchers focused on the societal impact of quantum computing in order to share best practice, argue collectively for global RI approaches, and exchange developments in their respective countries.