Over the past decades, research into quantum technologies has come to the stage where the science is rapidly being translated into real-world applications be it quantum computers, materials and communications systems. These advancements are witnessed by the considerable number of quantum start-ups that have emerged in recent years. Yet before these innovations can be diffused, we must ensure that ethical, legal and social implications are sufficiently addressed. Against this backdrop, attention is now turning to interdisciplinary efforts identifying the dilemma’s ingrained in making quantum technologies ethical.
The article proposes a multi-layered ethical framework for quantum technologies, including a definition of quantum ethics. At one level, we employ the old, familiar “normative” ethics that apply to all transformative technologies and to information. In addition, the counterintuitive phenomena that underpin quantum physics – such as superposition, entanglement and tunnelling – require a tailored, applied ethics approach. In other words, due to the unique characteristics of quantum technologies – such as the unprecedented capabilities of quantum sensors, the features of quantum networks, and the probabilistic nature of quantum computing – we also develop a new subtype of context-specific practical ethics. In this way we constitute our theory in well-established ethical traditions while at the same time providing tailor-made solutions.