Speed Demons: How Quantum Computing Could Change Education

Oct 29, 2019

Listen to this week’s podcast on the Apple Podcast app, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music or wherever you listen, or in the player below:

Computing experts love speed—and there’s an ongoing battle to build the fastest computer on earth. Usually the overall trend follows what’s known as Moore’s Law, with the speed of the fastest computer doubling every 14 months or so.

But last week saw the announcement of a new kind of speed record. A team of scientists from Google said they used a quantum computer to solve a problem in less than four minutes that would have taken a traditional supercomputer 10,000 years to complete.

This marked a moment that is being dubbed “quantum supremacy,” when computers using quantum methods—and we’ll try to explain what that means in a bit—can do things that traditional computers just can’t, at least not in a timeframe that does us any good, since we don’t live 10,000 years.

In other words, we could be entering a new era of processing speed, and that is bound to bring some breakthroughs in areas that impact our daily lives. Among the imagined applications: finding cures for diseases and making super-accurate weather predictions. But the quantum era is also likely to bring new challenges, since these kinds of computers could also be used for tasks like hacking into bank accounts or spying in ways that can’t be detected.

Naturally, we were curious: What could quantum computing mean for education?

That’s what we’re exploring on today’s episode. And to do that, we’ll get to what Albert Einstein once nervously called “spooky” science.

But let’s start with a physics professor who happens to hold a different kind of speed record—in wingsuit flying. Wingsuit flying, that’s jumping out of an airplane wearing an outfit that’s something like a super-strong cape.

Meet Alexey Galda, a research assistant professor at the University of Chicago, who specializes in trying new methods of quantum computing. In his spare time, he’s an avid wingsuit flyer, and he’s actually in the Guinness World Records for achieving the fastest horizontal speed in one of these real-life superhero outfits. He was going over 200 miles per hour.

And to bring the conversation back down to earth, we talked with Ray Schroeder, the associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield, to hear what these new super-fast computers might mean for education.

Hear the complete episode on the Apple Podcast app, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music or wherever you listen. Or listen below:

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