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

Quantum Leap Into the Future of Education

Quantum computing will burst onto the educational technology scene. Are you preparing now?

The quantum era will soon be upon us. The changes we will see will far outpace even those we saw in the development of personal computers, smartphones and broadband networking — combined. IBM has already created a commercial quantum computer prototype, the IBM Q System One.

This quantum field is a strange one in which quantum particles here can be attached to particles there (even tens of thousands of miles away) and particles exist in both positive and negative states at the same time (superposition). In the most basic terms, one can observe or change the phase, for example, of a particle such as an electron or photon in one place, and that will cause an entangled particle far, far away to instantly change to the same phase.

In a recent Science magazine article, ruminations from the father of modern quantum discussions is invoked:

Albert Einstein colorfully dismissed quantum entanglement — the ability of separated objects to share a condition or state — as “spooky action at a distance.” Over the past few decades, however, physicists have demonstrated the reality of spooky action over ever greater distances — even from Earth to a satellite in space. But the entangled particles have typically been tiny, which makes it easier to shield their delicate quantum states from the noisy world.

And even more spooky is the speed of the entanglement; it has been measured at 10,000 times faster than the speed of light.

As spooky as that is, what is equally powerful is that the quantum bits have the ability of superpositioning. Bits as we know them in today’s binary computing have the properties of 1 and 0. So, two bits could be 10 or 01 or 11 or 00. In quantum computing, the qubits have the properties of superpositioning that allow them to hold the values of 1 and/or 0 at the same time! So just one qubit could be 1, or 0, or 1 and 0. This means they can do two calculations at once. The power of multiple qubit factors has a multiplicity effect. Ten qubits can do 1,000 calculations at once; 30 qubits can do a billion calculations at once, paving the way for computational powers never seen, and exponentially faster than ever before.

Earlier this year, IBM unveiled IBM Q System One, which is the first quantum computer to operate outside the laboratory. They plan an open five-qubit computer that will be followed by a 20-qubit scaled computer. With these will come cloud-based commercial quantum computers that will enable researchers and developers to access quantum computing for their own projects.

So what does this mean for educational technology? Qubit superpositioning means massive calculations can be conducted many thousands of times faster than the supercomputers of today.

Machine learning will ignite with the capabilities of quantum computing. Just as quantum computing is expected to revolutionize medical triage and diagnosis, in education quantum-driven algorithms will make informed decisions on student learning and deficits. Entanglement means unrivaled security at super-light speed. We don’t even know by what means entanglement communicates, so at this time it is perfectly secure. And it is perfectly fast — faster than the speed of light. These values of quantum computing are the key factors in achieving the penultimate goal in education of truly personalized learning.

There is much on the horizon in this field. So what should we do today?

First, we must keep abreast of the developments. Take the opportunity to follow the progress of the IBM Q System One and any other public cloud-based prototypes that emerge in the coming months.

Second, we should begin to identify and list those learning challenges that our in-house computers cannot adequately address. For example, big data applications and analysis of individualized student learning needs and support will be an important aspect of quantum computing.

Finally, we might begin to visualize adaptive learning models in which the power and speed of quantum computing may best serve the individualized needs of our students.

An awesome quantum future awaits us!

This article originally appeared in Inside Higher Ed’s Inside Digital Learning on May 1, 2019.

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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