Quantum technology, like many other types of technology, evokes many ethical questions. One person interested in answering those questions is Mira Pijselman, a Senior Consultant in Digital Ethics at Ernst & Young LLP (EY). Pijselman was first introduced to quantum technology after completing her master’s degree at the Oxford Internet Institute. “I entered the quantum industry non-traditionally,” she explained. “I’m not a quantum physicist and I don’t have a mathematics or computer science background. I’m a digital ethicist–someone who evaluates the future and existing implications of technologies, as well as guides decision-making regarding technology development and strategic planning to ensure alignment with societal, business, and planetary needs.” Her work as a digital ethicist allows her to engage with individuals across technical, business, and policy functions, as well as look at connections between quantum and other types of technology.
Pijselman’s background before entering the quantum industry was looking into the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI). “Much like AI, we have a short but crucial window of time to build in ethical and responsible oversight into the fabric of the quantum ecosystem and the technologies it produces,” Pijselman said, “after which it will be too late to prevent downstream harms to communities and our environment.” Pijselman used her passion for digital ethics to transition from the AI industry into the quantum industry. She described this transition as “a natural step,” and stated that she has enjoyed helping to enable responsible technology development for clients.
At EY, Pijselman works in the Technology Risk practice. “I’ve been fortunate to support our work on Trusted AI and data governance, as well as contribute to thought leadership on quantum technologies,” she said. Because EY is a market leader in technological solutions and innovation, Pijselman is able to examine the ethics of both AI and quantum technology. This has helped motivate her to become, as she called it, “technology-agnostic.” According to Pijselman, this is “because I’m more focused on the types of harms and goods for the society that technologies can produce rather than the technology itself. My overarching purpose is to help organizations understand how to put abstract principles like fairness into practice in their day-to-day activities. Ethics can often feel intangible and difficult to operationalize – my team and I are working to change that when it comes to AI, as well as quantum.” Through her work, Pijselman hopes to make digital ethics more accessible and make others more aware of the need for responsible decisions when it comes to innovating new technology.
In examining the ethics of quantum technology and the industry, Pijselman has already given much thought to how the industry can become more diverse. Like many others have suggested, Pijselman proposed better job advertising to specific diverse groups, as well as establishing mentoring programs. According to Pijselman: “Having a role model that, in even some small way, you can see yourself in, can help the territory feel less uncharted. I’ve been lucky to find several of such individuals within EY and continue to pay it forward.” But Pijselman believes that to really address the lack of diversity within the industry, there needs to be a multidisciplinary approach. “For too long we have been concerned with how we can build something, as opposed to why we are building it, and to whose benefit and detriment. Answering these questions will require talent across varied educational backgrounds and disciplines – from art and philosophy to politics and sociology – not just those from hyper-technical backgrounds.” Already many quantum companies are working to include a more multi-disciplinary approach to their technology, but as Pijselman recommends, the approach may have to be widened even more to get the necessary voices involved.