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from Ray Schroeder, Director of the National Council for Online Education

Quantum Computing Is Poised to Change Everything

I recall the advent of the ILLIAC computer, ARPANET (that grew into the internet), the personal computer, the mobile phone, the smartphone, and other advancements in technology that have had such a huge impact on our society. Yet these are mere drops in the ocean compared to the impact we will see from the advent of quantum computing. Earlier this year, Google’s 53-qubit computer reached computing supremacy, and from now on the world will never be the same. In a huge step forward in computing, a Google research paper published on the NASA website, detailed the moment:

Google’s quantum computer was reportedly able to solve a calculation — proving the randomness of numbers produced by a random number generator — in 3 minutes and 20 seconds that would take the world’s fastest traditional supercomputer, Summit, around 10,000 years. This effectively means that the calculation cannot be performed by a traditional computer, making Google the first to demonstrate quantum supremacy.

That’s astounding — 200 seconds compared to 10,000 years. IBM has a similar-sized quantum computer, and Google claims to have yet another much more powerful 72-qubit computer. The IBM Summit computer at Oak Ridge Labs is no slacker; it boasts specs of “a peak performance of 200 petaflops, or 200,000 trillion calculations per second. Summit more than doubles the top speeds of TaihuLight, which can reach 93 petaflops. Summit is also capable of over three billion billion mixed precision calculations per second, or 3.3 exaops, and more than 10 petabytes of memory, which has allowed researchers to run the world’s first exascale scientific calculation.”

The supremacy challenge earlier this summer was based on a problem given to both the Summit and the Google Quantum computers to prove that a set of numbers was truly random. That’s a rather esoteric test, but it demonstrates the magnitude of superiority of quantum computing: 200 seconds compared to 10,000 years.

Do you recall Moore’s law? That’s the axiom developed by Gordon Moore some two dozen years ago that the processing power of computers would double every 18 months to two years. Now, quantum computing has ushered in Hartmut Neven’s law. His law predicting growth in quantum computing power is one that is doubly exponential. That is two to an exponent of two to a second increasing exponent. Charted on a graph, that growth rate appears to become nearly vertical.

What does this mean for our society and world? It means that we now have a tool to process enormous sets of data and find patterns such as cause-effect relationships that we have never been able to discover previously. That, in turn means we may be able to generate truly accurate weather forecasting, more accurately predict all kinds of actions in society, discover causes and cures for diseases, and much, much more. In short, we can squeeze solutions out of the big data that we are now and have been gathering in recent years.

What does that mean for higher education? Over the next decade, as we begin to harness the power of this new tool, it will mean many things. Through processing the huge amount of data we are collecting on students, we may be able to develop truly personalized learning that will power a new era in individual learning, knowledge and achievement. We will be able to identify prospective student matches with our institutions and programs with a quality that we have never been able to achieve before. We will be able to predict job market growth and demand for skilled and knowledgeable workers with precision. And, with growth at the rate of Neven’s law, there will be so much more every month that passes.

When will this happen? It is beginning today. The year 2020 will see significant advances, including expanded access to quantum computing power in milliseconds on the cloud. Quantum computers for the foreseeable future will do the heavy lifting of processing, but then they will turn the job over to our more pedestrian computers to refine, synthesize and implement. The 2020s will be decade of quantum computing.

This article originally was published in Inside Higher Ed’s Inside Digital Learning blog. 

Ray Schroeder 2016 Summit for Online Leadership

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

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