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UK public has little understanding of quantum technologies, says survey

22 Jun 2018
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Quantum questioning: people in the UK were asked about quantum technologies. (Courtesy: Shutterstock/Natalia Sheinkin)

The UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has published the results of one of the first public dialogues on quantum technologies. Involving 77 participants from in UK cities, the exercise revealed that the British public is largely in the dark about developments in quantum technologies but can be easily engaged when learning more about them. The survey was carried out in late 2017 by Kantar Media, and the results evaluated by 3KQ.

In the study, a representative sample of the British public was informed about the wide range of devices currently being developed in the quantum technology community. Then, subjects discussed the topic with experts and researchers. As well as engaging participants with the research, the EPSRC aimed use the study to gain new insights into what the public currently knows and thinks about quantum technologies.

Neutral emotions

The results showed that despite the word “quantum” itself being widely familiar, most participants initially knew very little about its meaning and applications; displaying primarily neutral emotional responses towards new developments in quantum technologies. EPSRC concluded that this was likely do to a limited exposure of information about the topic in the media. A small number of participants remained disinterested throughout the dialogue.

However, as most participants learnt more about quantum technologies, they became increasingly curious and excited about them, particularly when gaining an understanding of how the devices could impact their own lives. Many became engaged with the dialogue as they realized the benefits that quantum technologies could have for individuals and society. Potential applications presented to participants ranged from healthcare technologies, to improvements in national and economic security.

Ultimately, the EPSRC aimed to establish a two-way dialogue between experts and researchers, and the public for the first time. By seeking more informed public opinions about the potential uses of quantum technologies, they hope to influence scientists in deciding on the future priorities of their research. The different perspectives of the public also create the potential for revealing new directions in quantum computing research which experts have not previously foreseen.

The Quantum Technologies Public Dialogue Report is available to the public and EPSRC has also produced a summary of the report.

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