Welcome to Quantum Law!

Welcome to the website for Quantum Law: An interdisciplinary exploration of quantum theory, law and ethics

Conference to be hosted by St Mary’s University, London, UK on Tuesday 26th June 2018.

[Please note the re-arranged date due to disruption caused by current industrial action by academics at many universities in the UK. 

Please note that due to the rearranged date, the organisers are delighted to re-open the Call for Papers for additional submissions. The new deadline is for abstracts is 31st May 2018. 

If you have submitted an abstract for the original event you will be contacted directly by the organisers.]

Please use the menu above to navigate this site and download the Call for Papers.

This website contains information about the themes of the conference, as well as the Call For Papers and contact details for the organisers. Please check back for details of how to register for the event, which will appear once the Call for Papers has closed.

Conference overview:

Quantum theory, the study of the nature and behaviour of matter and energy on the atomic and subatomic level, has come to occupy a dominant position in physics. It is however increasingly important also as both the basis of new or potential technologies and as a broader idea outside of subatomic physics itself, as both an artefact of popular culture but also a means of explaining other complex phenomena. The need for quantum theory to engage directly with other areas is pressing for various reasons, both in order to prevent the misuse of its ideas in inappropriate ways, but also in order to consider how its models for understanding can be fruitfully applied to other areas of study. Legal and ethical theory is an obvious candidate for various reasons, yet this relationship has been almost entirely neglected. At the same time, the legal regulation of the application and use of quantum theory and technologies is on the verge of becoming a pressing regulatory concern of public policy given the novel regulatory dilemmas and ethical concerns which such technologies pose. This workshop proposes to create a unique and necessary environment where quantum theorists and scholars of law and legal and ethical theory can discuss these matters in order to articulate ideas, problems and solutions in a manner which reflects the needs, ideas, limits and potential of all concerned parties.

In the field of legal and ethical theory, ideas from quantum mechanics are a potential source of inspiration and for models of understanding to characterise, map and resolve areas of tension within legal theory which seek to characterise and understand issues which overlap with and relate to the concerns of quantum theory in various ways. The expansion of ideas stemming from quantum theory into other areas has occurred in recent years in various ways, including the development of the fields of ‘quantum cognition’, ‘quantum biology’, ‘quantum fiction’, and quantum visions of social theory expressed in such notions as ‘quantum society’, as well as more ambitious projects to see quantum theory as a way of bridging the perceived divide between the natural and social sciences. Building on the successes of these burgeoning fields, and mindful of their failures, this workshop will seek to examine the possibility that legal problems and phenomena can be better understood or re-evaluated through making use of ideas or models of understanding which stem from quantum theory. Our notions do not assert that quantum theory is directly applicable in a mechanistic way, so we do not say that quantum theory can or should lend credibility to any other sphere, but that the ideas might be fruitfully drawn upon and examined in a different system of rules (the law) which possesses overlapping concerns and problems. These might include but are not limited to:

  • Is there an equivalent ‘quantum’ level within law regarding micro-level decisions and adjudication which possesses different properties to that witnessed in macro-level understandings of doctrine or general principles? Can models from quantum theory help us understand this better?
  • Do legal systems possess similar or overlapping characteristics to those explained through quantum theory? Can legal systems and their operation be better understood by drawing upon these ideas? Such questions might include questions of unpredictability, indeterminism, simultaneously conflicting but equally valid legal interpretations, etc. Are judges ‘collapsing a wave function’ when they make a decision, for instance?
  • Are the core notions of the uncertainty principle and the observer effect equally applicable to law and its content? Do such questions alter notions of certainty within the law and its justness?
  • Do rival understandings of quantum theory, such as the multiverse theory, whether as scientific or pop culture concepts, change our core legal concepts of causation, or responsibility?
  • Do quantum models of probability explain questions of adjudication and allow for the better prediction of judicial outcomes? Can work on quantum cognition add to our understanding of legal decision making?
  • Can ideas from quantum theory be creatively drawn upon as the model for ethical or legal models in a way which improves or changes our understanding of questions of justice, law or morality, in the way, for instance, that popular understandings of evolutionary biology have done? Are there particular dangers in this regard?
  • Can quantum theory draw upon legal notions or methods, particularly methods in legal reasoning such as reasoning by analogy, to better understand the outer limits of the theoretical aspects of quantum mechanics?

Similarly, the overlapping question of the legal regulation of the application of quantum theory within new and potential quantum technologies and the carrying out of research in quantum mechanics poses an exciting and important set of questions which require legal scholars and physicists, among others, to discuss the potential problems, goals and solutions. The uptake of new applications based on nanotechnology was greatly slowed by a lack of such discussion and consequent public and policy-maker fears induced by misunderstanding. Conversely the massive success of mobile communications technology was produced by rapid and early agreement global standards. The impending development of quantum technology poses a potentially novel set of problems for policy makers regarding the goals, methods and viability of any existing or future legal regulatory framework. Such discussions will allow the development of ideal models for regulation. This project also fits in with the European Commission’s ‘Better regulation for new technologies’ agenda, and can draw upon and inform the expertise of that project. Drawing on the expertise, requirements and goals of physicists working in the area of quantum theory and legal scholars and people engaged in public policy in the field of regulation will allow discussion of topics including the following:

  • What is the current regulatory framework for research in quantum theory and the development and use of quantum technologies?
  • What regulatory problems does the development of quantum technology pose? What are the ethical and risk distribution issues which must be confronted?
  • Does the current regulatory framework provide an appropriate basis for all relevant stakeholders?
  • How does the existing thinking on the regulation of new technologies apply to quantum theory and its technological application?
  • How do specific legal standards apply, such as the precautionary principle, to quantum technology? How should specific areas of law, such as IP law, trade law and the legal regulation of military use of technology apply to quantum technologies?
  • Are there deeper problems posed by quantum theory to legal regulation and its viability? Is the hyper-specialised nature of quantum theory and its application capable of regulation by a non-specialist? Is self-regulation desirable/necessary/inevitable?
  • What broader tensions regarding the legal regulation of science are brought to the fore by the question of quantum technology and how should they be resolved? How can the law regulate notions such as probability? How should the law best deal with uncertainty?
  • Who should be responsible for such regulatory frameworks, their articulation and their enforcement?