I recently responded to a question, since closed, regarding the social impact of quantum computing.
The reason for the closure was that any answers were expected to be primarily opinion based. This seems reasonable — in my answer, I clearly stated that any assertions were bound to be speculative in nature. That said, despite the norm violation of the question, I do see value in it being asked. Specifically, these kind of questions:
- Encourage the community to consider the social impact and broader implications of our work.
- Can serve as a wellspring of new ideas for practical applications of quantum computers, something which many in the QIP community see as important to the future of the field.
- May bring to light evidence (or lack thereof) for quantum computing applications, yielding novel research directions and/or better prioritization of resources in applications research.
- May allow for more communal inclusivity, especially for members outside of domains traditionally associated with QIP.
Of course, with these potential benefits may come potential drawbacks. These may include:
- Low quality, opinion-based arguments.
- Low quality, unfocused questions.
Nonetheless, my view is that these drawbacks are ones that can be mitigated against by the expectation of high-quality, logically consistent arguments and, when needed, robust evidence. This is one purpose of the reputation system and these are norms that are already well-established on the QCSE. Further, to make this meta (pun intended), we have opinion based discussions in the QC meta every day and other SE sites every day.
All said, I would be very interested in hearing thoughts from other members of the community. Thus, my question is, should we consider social impact questions? And, more generally, what criteria should we use to determine whether an answer is opinion based?
P.S. Regarding the latter question, I think it should be pointed out that communal knowledge may consist of evidence based facts and shared intuitions, the latter of which may in some instances be opinion based. Further, even when evidence supports a fact, the degree of confidence in that evidence may vary and thus some individuals may accept it whereas others may not; that is, an objective fact may have a subjective interpretation. For example, a very small minority of computer scientists believe that $P=NP$, often pointing to the lack of a proof that $P≠NP$ and ignoring the overwhelming non-specific evidence that the odds that $P=NP$ are very low.