While You Were Sleeping

Quantum computers process information, using the capabilities of quantum physics, differently from traditional computers. “Whereas normal computers store information as either a 1 or a 0, quantum computers exploit two phenomena – entanglement and superposition – to process information,” explains MIT Technology Review. The result is computers that may one day “operate 100,000 times faster than they do today,” adds Wired magazine.

Talia Gershon, an IBM researcher, posted a fun video explaining the power of quantum computers to optimize and model problems with an exponential number of variables. She displayed a picture of a table at her wedding set for 10 guests, and posed this question: How many different ways can you seat 10 people? It turns out, she explained, there are “3.6 million ways to arrange 10 people for dinner.”

Classical computers don’t solve “big versions of this problem very well at all,” she said, like trying to crack sophisticated encrypted codes, where you need to try a massive number of variables, or modeling molecules where you need to account for an exponential number of interactions. Quantum computers, with their exponential processing power, will be able to crack most encryption without breaking a sweat.

It’s just another reason China, the N.S.A., IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Google are now all racing – full of sweat – to build usable quantum systems.

“If I try to map a caffeine molecule problem on a normal computer, that computer would have to be one-tenth the volume of this planet in size,” said Arvind Krishna, head of research at IBM. “A quantum computer just three or four times the size of those we’ve built today should be able to solve that problem.”

And then there are all those problems we never even imagined we could model and solve. Universities and companies are already accessing three IBM quantum systems (ranging from 5 to 16 qubits) that are online and open source at ibm.com/IBMQ, and they’ve already run two million quantum programs to prove out, and write papers on, theories that we never had the processing power before to prove.

But, again, look at where we are today thanks to artificial intelligence from digital computers – and the amount of middle-skill and even high-skill work they’re supplanting – and then factor in how all of this could be supercharged in a decade by quantum computing.

As education-to-work expert Heather McGowan ( www.futureislearning.com) points out: “In October 2016, Budweiser transported a truckload of beer 120 miles with an empty driver’s seat. … In December 2016, Amazon announced plans for the Amazon Go automated grocery store, in which a combination of computer vision and deep-learning technologies track items and only charges customers when they remove the items from the store. In February 2017, Bank of America began testing three ’employee-less’ branch locations that offer full-service banking automatically, with access to a human, when necessary, via video teleconference.”

This will be a challenge for developed countries, but even more so for countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, China and India – where huge numbers of youths are already unemployed because they lack the education for even this middle-skill work THAT’S now being automated.

It’s why IBM’s C.E.O., Ginni Rometty, remarked to me in an interview: “Every job will require some technology, and therefore we’ll need to revamp education. The K-12 curriculum is obvious, but it’s the adult retraining – lifelong learning systems – that will be even more important.”

Artificial intelligence “is the opportunity of our time, and skills are the issue of our time. Some jobs will be displaced, but 100 percent of jobs will be augmented by A.I.,” added Rometty. Technology companies “are inventing these technologies, so we have the responsibility to help people adapt to it – and I don’t mean just giving them tablets or P.C.s, but lifelong learning systems.”

To back that up, said Rometty, IBM designed Pathways in Technology (P-Tech) schools, partnering with close to 100 public high schools and community colleges to create a six-year program that serves large numbers of low-income students. P-Tech schools offer calculus and physics alongside workplace skills – problem solving, writing and job interviewing. These skills are reinforced through mentorships and internships with IBM and more than 300 other companies. Kids graduate in six years or less with both a high school diploma and an associate junior college degree.

“The graduation rates are four times the average, and those getting jobs are at two times the median salary,” said Rometty, “and many are going on to four-year colleges.”

Each time work gets outsourced or tasks get handed off to a machine, “we must reach up and learn a new skill or in some ways expand our capabilities as humans in order to fully realize our collaborative potential,” McGowan said.

Therefore, education needs to shift “from education as a content transfer to learning as a continuous process where the focused outcome is the ability to learn and adapt with agency as opposed to the transactional action of acquiring a set skill,” said McGowan. “Instructors/teachers move from guiding and accessing that transfer process to providing social and emotional support to the individual as they move into the role of driving their own continuous learning.”

Anyway, I didn’t mean to distract from the “Trump Reality Show,” but I just thought I’d mention that Star Wars technology is coming not only to a theater near you, but to a job near you. We need to be discussing and adapting to its implications as much as we do Trump’s tweets.

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