Jim's Blog

The Catalyst for the Future : Quantum Computing : A Well Thought Out Scream by James Riordan

You know how a lot of science fiction stories go.  Some geeky guy are messing around with something and wind up changing the whole world.  As crazy as that sounds it’s happened a few times with guys like Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, and nerds like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  And , according it just may happen again real soon with quantum computers.  Let’s examine three unrelated problems:

  1. One percent of the world’s energy is used every year just to produce fertilizer.
  2. Solar panels aren’t powerful enough to provide all the power for most homes.
  3. Investing in stocks often feels like a game of Russian roulette.

Q8These seemingly unconnected issues canal  be solved by the same tool, according to some scientists: quantum computing. Quantum computers use superconducting particles to perform tasks and have long been seen as a luxury for the top academic echelon—far removed from the common individual. But that’s quickly changing. IBM has been dabbling with commercial possibilities when last year it released Quantum Experience, a cloud-based quantum computing service researchers could use to run experiments without having to buy a quantum system. In early March, IBM took that program further and announced IBM Q, the first cloud quantum computing system for commercial use. Companies will be able to buy time on IBM’s quantum computers in New York state, though IBM has not set a release date or price, and it is expected to be financially prohibitive for smaller companies at first.

Jarrod McClean, a computing sciences fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says the announcement is exciting because quantum computing wasn’t expected to hit commercial markets for decades. Last year, some experts estimated commercial experimentation could be five to 40 years away, yet here we are, and the potential applications could disrupt the way pharmaceutical companies make medicine, the way logistics companies schedule trains and the way hedge fund managers gain an edge in the stock market. “We’re seeing more application areas start to develop all the time, now that people are looking at quantum,” McClean says.

Quantum computing is as different from traditional computing as an abacus is from a MacBook. “Classical computing was [invented] in the 1940s. This is like [that creation], but even beyond it,” says Scott Crowder, IBM Systems vice president and chief technology officer of quantum computing, technical strategy and transformation. “Take everything you know about how a class of computers works and forget it.”

Besting supercomputers

Quantum computers are made up of parts called qubits, also known as quantum bits. On some problems, they leverage the strange physics of quantum mechanics to work faster than chips on a traditional computer. (Just as a plane cannot exactly compare to a race car, a classical computer will still be able to do some things better than quantum, and vice versa. They’re just different.)

Explaining how qubits work requires jumping into quantum mechanics, which doesn’t follow the same rules of physics we’re used to in our everyday lives. Quantum entanglement and quantum superposition are particularly important; they defy common sense but take place only in environments that are incredibly tiny.

Q3Quantum superposition is important because it allows the qubit to do two things at once. Technically, it allows the qubit to be two things at once. While traditional computers put bits in 0 and 1 configurations to calculate steps, a qubit can be a 0 and a 1 at the same time. Quantum entanglement, another purely quantum property, takes the possibilities a step further by intertwining the characteristics of two different qubits, allowing for even more calculations. Calculations that would take longer than a human’s life span to work out on a classic computer can be completed in a matter of days or hours.

Eventually, quantum computing could outperform the world’s fastest supercomputer—and then all computers ever made, combined. We aren’t there yet, but at 50 qubits, universal quantum computing would reach that inflection point and be able to solve problems existing computers can’t handle, says Jerry Chow, a member of IBM’s experimental quantum computing department. He added that IBM plans to build and distribute a 50-qubit system “in the next few years.” Google aims to complete a 49-qubit system by the end of 2017.

Some experts aren’t convinced IBM’s move into the commercial market is significant. Yoshihisa Yamamoto, a Stanford University physics professor, says, “I expect the IBM quantum computer has a long way to go before it is commercialized to change our everyday life.”

Caltech assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences Thomas Vidick says IBM’s commercialization of quantum computing feels “a bit premature” and estimates it will still be 10 to 20 years before commercial applications are mainstream. “The point is that quantum hardware hasn’t reached maturity yet,” he explains. “These are large machines, but they are hard to control. There is a big overhead in the transformation that maps the problem you want to solve to a problem that the machine can solve, one that fits its architecture.”

Despite the skepticism, many researchers are pumped. “While the current systems aren’t likely to solve a computational problem that regular computers can’t already solve, preparing the software layer in advance will help us hit the ground running when systems large enough to be useful become available,” says Michele Mosca, co-founder of the Institute for Quantum Computing at Ontario’s University of Waterloo. “Everyday life will start to get affected once larger-scale quantum computers are built and they are used to solve important design and optimization problems.”

Q4A company called D-Wave Systems already sells 2,000-qubit systems, but its systems are different from IBM’s and other forms of universal quantum computers, so many experts don’t consider their development to have reached that quantum finish line. D-Wave Systems’s computers are a type of quantum computer called quantum annealers, and they are limited because they can be used only on optimization problems. There is a roaring scientific debate about whether quantum annealers could eventually outpace traditional supercomputers, but regardless, this type of quantum computer is really good at one niche problem and can’t expand beyond that right now.

Practical Applications

What problems could be so complicated they would require a quantum computer? Take fertilizer production, McClean says. The power-hungry process to make mass-produced fertilizer accounts for 1 percent to 2 percent of the world’s energy use per year. But there’s a type of cyanobacteria that uses an enzyme to do nitrogen fixation at room temperature, which means it uses energy far more efficiently than industrial methods. “It’s been too challenging for classical systems to date,” McClean says, but he notes that quantum computers would probably be able to reveal the enzyme’s secrets so researchers could re-create the process synthetically. “It’s such an interesting problem from a point of view of how nature is able to do this particular type of catalysis,” he adds.

Pharmaceutical science could also benefit. One of the limitations to developing better, cheaper drugs is problems that arise when dealing with electronic structures, McClean says. Except with the simplest structures, like hydrogen-based molecules, understanding atomic and subatomic motion requires running computer simulations. But even that breaks down with more complex molecules. “You don’t even ask those questions on a classical computer because you know you’re going to get it wrong,” Crowder says.

Q5The ability to predict how molecules react with other drugs, and the efficacy of certain catalysts in drug development, could drastically speed up the pace of pharmaceutical development and, ideally, lower prices, McClean says.

Finance is also plagued by complicated problems with multiple moving parts, says Marcos López de Prado, a research fellow in the Computational Research Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Creating a dynamic investment portfolio that can adjust to the markets with artificial intelligence, or running simulations with multiple variables, would be ideal, but current computers aren’t advanced enough to make this method possible. “The problem is that a portfolio that is optimal today may not be optimal tomorrow,” López de Prado says, “and the rebalance between the two can be so costly as to defeat its purpose.”

Quantum computing could figure out the optimal way to rebalance portfolios day by day (or minute by minute) since that “will require a computing power beyond the current potential of digital computers,” says López de Prado, who is also a senior managing director at Guggenheim Partners. “Instead of listening to gurus or watching TV shows with Wall Street connections, we could finally get the tools needed to replace guesswork with science.”

Q2While business applications within quantum computing are mostly hopeful theories, there’s one area where experts agree quantum could be valuable: optimization. Using quantum computing to create a program that “thinks” through how to make business operations faster, smarter and cheaper could revolutionize countless industries, López de Prado says.

For example, quantum computers could be used to organize delivery truck routes so holiday gifts arrive faster during the rush before Christmas. They could take thousands of self-driving cars and organize them on the highway so all the drivers get to their destination via the fastest route. They could create automated translating software so international businesses don’t have to bother with delays caused from translating emails. “Optimization is just a generic hammer they can use on all these nails,” McClean says.

One day, quantum might even be used for nationwide problems, like optimizing the entire U.S. economy or organizing a national power grid.

Just as computers presented a huge advantage to the handful of companies that could afford them when they first came on the commercial market, it’s possible that a few companies might gain a tactical advantage by using quantum computing now. For example, if only a few investors use quantum computing to balance portfolios, the rest of the market will probably lose money. “But what happens when quantum computing goes mainstream?” asks López de Prado. “That tactical disadvantage disappears. Instead, everyone will be able to make better investment decisions. People will rely on science rather than stories.”

 

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The Author

James Riordan

James Riordan

Rare is it that any author will have one of his books described as the definitive work on a particular subject, but such a distinction has been bestowed by critics on no less than four books written by James Riordan. The New York Times Bestseller Break on Through, Riordan’s biography of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, has not only been called “the most objective, thorough and professional Morrison biography” by the Times Book Review but also named as one of the Ten All Time Best Rock Biographies by Amazon.com. Riordan’s The Platinum Rainbow (written with Bob Monaco) was called “One of the best how-to books ever written” by the Los Angeles Daily News and “The ultimate career book on the music industry” by Recording, Engineer & Producer. Critics described Riordan’s The Bishop of Rwanda as “one of the most important books you’ll ever read.” and The Coming of the Walrus, Riordan’s novel about the 60s as “the definitive book on the era” and “a hilarious tale of a harrowing search for the greatest truth of all”. With the release of A Well Thought Out Scream and Madman in the Gate, Riordan pushed the boundaries again with poetry/song lyric books that contain hundreds of stunning, beautiful and poignant images from artists and photographers from all over the world. In the summer of 2013 a new edition of The Coming of the Walrus was released to rave reviews followed by The Kill Switch. The author of thirty-three books, James Riordan’s career began in the music industry where as a songwriter, manager, producer and concert promoter he worked with several well known artists. In 1976 he began writing a newspaper column, Rock-Pop, which he later syndicated. Riordan soon became one of America’s premier rock journalists with articles reaching millions of readers including those of Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, Circus, Musician, and newspapers like The Chicago Daily News and The Kansas City Star. His reputation for relating on a one-to-one level soon led to interviews with George Harri-son, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, Frank Zappa, The Doobie Brothers, Kenny Rogers, Barbra Mandrell, Crosby, Stills & Nash and countless others. His first book, The Platinum Rainbow (written with Bob Monaco in 1980) became the largest selling book ever written about the music business. The guide to “succeeding in the music business without selling your soul” was praised by Variety ,The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Las Vegas Sun, The Minneapolis Tribune, Billboard, Record World and many more. The Platinum Rainbow became an industry-wide phenomenon and interviews with James Riordan were aired on over 1200 radio stations and numerous television talk shows. Next Riordan collaborated with Pulitzer Prize winner Jason Miller on a mini-series for network television (The Irish) and a movie of the week for CBS (Bless Me Father). In June 1991, William Morrow & Co. published Break On Through to outstanding sales and reviews. Riordan worked as a consultant on Oliver Stone’s film of Morrison’s life, The Doors, which led to his writing Stone’s biography. Published by Hyperion /Disney in December 1995, Entertainment Weekly called STONE “an unflinching biography... enough spectacle to fill a month of daytime-TV talk shows.” The New York Post said reading the book was like “the sensory overload of watching all of Oliver Stone’s movies back to back.” Riordan was interviewed by Inside Edition, People Magazine, The Tom Snyder Show, and many others. From 1997-2000, Riordan created and co-starred in a local television program, Kankakee Valley Prime Time, which won six Crystal Communicators, three Tellys, and earned Riordan a Chicago/ Midwest Emmy Nomination for Writing the program. In the summer of 1999, James Riordan wrote, directed and starred in Maddance, an hour long dramatic project which won Crystal Communicators for Drama, Writing, Acting and Directing. On April 9, 2000, James’ 16 year old son, Jeremiah, was killed as a passenger in an accident that involved three drunk drivers. Shortly after this, James founded Make it Stick which works to warn teens of the dangers of substance abuse and publishes a magazine distributed to high school students. In 2001, he founded Jeremiah’s – A Place to be Yourself to give teens a place to hang out away from the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Force to close by its incredible growth rate, Jeremiah’s was recognized as one of the fastest growing and most successful teen centers in the United States. In 2004, Toastmasters International named Riordan Communicator of the Year for Central Illinois, the YMCA gave him their Service to Youth Award and the United Way named him the Outstanding Volunteer of Kankakee County. Returning to writing, Riordan went to Africa to write The Bishop of Rwanda, (with an intro by Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren). In November of 2006, Harper Collins released a new edition of Break On Through followed by The Coming of the Walrus (Image Workshop) in December and The Bishop of Rwanda (Thomas Nelson, Inc.) to rave reviews (“Powerful …plumbs the depths of God’s forgiveness and finds no bottom – Publisher’s Weekly). In 2011, he won the Pledge For Life Harold Award for his work with area youth. In the summer of 2012, Lee and Shane Stanley (Gridiron Gang) optioned Maddance as a feature film followed by Apothecary Films optioning The Kill Switch in 2013 and Omni Films optioning Final Service to film in May. Riordan joined the staff of the Mancow Syndicated Television and Radio show in January of 2014 and is now seen and heard across America on a weekly basis. His biography is included in Who’s Who in Entertainment , Who’s Who in Poetry and Contemporary Authors of America. James Riordan – Works Books The Kill Switch, novel with Andrew Dahlmaine, Stonegate Ink, 2013 The Coming of the Walrus, Trade Paperback Editn, Image Workshop 2012 Springboard To Heaven ( Jojo Sayson Adventure), Image Workshop, 2012 The Elijah Collection, novel collection with Bill Myers, Zondervan, 2011 The Well Thought Out Scream (Poetry/Art), Image Workshop Press, 2009 Madman in the Gate (Poetry/Art), Image Workshop Press, 2009 The Deadly Loyalty Collection, Forbidden Doors, Zondervan, 2009 The Ancient Forces Collection, Forbidden Doors, Zondervan, 2009 The Enemy Strikes with Bill Myers (Elijah Project series. Zondervan, 2009 Deception with Bill Myers (Book 2 Elijah Project series. Zondervan, 2009 The Bishop of Rwanda (Finding Forgiveness) Thomas Nelson, March 2007 Paperback Edition May, 2012 The Coming of the Walrus (What Really Happened in the '60s) IW, 2006 Break on Through (The Life & Death of Jim Morrison), Morrow, 1991. (New York Times Bestseller, Published in 5 languages, Hardcover, 5 Paperback Editions, Harper Trade Paperback November, 2006) Stone (The Controversies, Excesses & Exploits of a Radical Filmmaker), Disney/Hyperion,1995. (Published in 3 languages, Hardcover, Paperback Edition). Making It in the New Music Business, Writers Digest Books, 1987, (Second Edition, Revised and Updated 1991, Two Hardcover Editions) The Platinum Rainbow (How to Succeed in the Music Business Without Selling Your Soul) 250,000 copies with Bob Monaco, Swordsman Press, 1980, Twenty-Three Editions, Revised 1988) 25 Year Anniversary Edition, 2005 Capture the Wind (Microphones) w.Tom Lubin, Literary Mouse Press,1989 Private Biography of Russ Kalvin, founder of Kalvin Corp., 1990 Private Biography of Steve Stefano, founder of Joico Hair Products, 1993. Mystery of the Invisible Knight (Book 2 in the BloodHounds Series) with Bill Myers, Bethany House,1997. Matters of the Heart (The Life & Times of Edgar Cullman), Culbro, 1997. The Curse (Book 7 Forbidden Doors) with Bill Myers, Tyndale, 1997. The Undead (Book 8 Forbidden Doors) with Bill Myers, Tyndale, 1996. The Scream (Book 9 Forbidden Doors) with Bill Myers, Tyndale, 1998 The Ancients (Book 10 Forbidden Doors) with Bill Myers, Tyndale, 1999. The Cards (Book 11 Forbidden Doors Series) with Bill Myers, Tyndale,2000 Films Final Service, co-written with Gary Moore and based on his book, Omni Productions, to be filmed in May, 2014. Maddance, Writer/Director/Lead Actor, Search Engine Films, Simmcomm, 1999. (Winner of 4 Crystal Communicators including Best Drama, Screenplay, Director, Male Actor – Austin, TX.1999) Performance (The Life of Ingrid Bergman), Screenplay, Lancit Productions 1998. Returned to Author when film division closed)Rewritten2009 Shadowdancers, Story & Screenplay, Story with Bill Myers, 1997 Dr. Babylon, Story 1996. Air Guitar, Story & Screenplay, 1994 The Platinum Rainbow, Story & Screenplay, 1993 Television/Video Kankakee Valley Prime Time, Writer, Director, Producer, 1997-2000. (Nominated for Midwest/Chicago Emmy for Writing, 1998, 3 Telly Awards, 4 Crystal Communicators 1998-2000). Angels Among Us (The Amtrak City of New Orleans Train Disaster, Co- Producer, (Telly Award, 2000). River Valley Sports Authority, Producer, 1999-2003. I Hate The World (Hypnoises Music Video), Writer/Director/Producer, Crystal Communicator for Best Music Video Concept, 1998). The United Way (Video) Crystal Communicator for Best Video for a Charitable Organization, 1998.

If it isn't money and it isn't fame and it isn't sex... then what... God?

— James Riordan, 2000

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