Episode 7: Education Cleavage


Subscribe in a reader

Transcript of Audio:

Welcome back to Three Deviations Out!  Last week we talked about the distributed internet and how to cut the ultimate cord.  This week we’ll cover the very real and distinct split in our education system.  I will warn you this week was pretty hectic so the episode is short, because education is already a massive topic I will be revisiting at a later date, don’t worry.

Now, before I get all riled up, let’s cover the basics:

What: The failure and subsequent splintering of education ideologies across the country as we all try to figure out how to break away from our antiquated system that will ruin us in only a few years.

Who: United States Department of Education, Common Core Advocates, Charter School Advocates, Teachers’ Unions, Private Schools, Non-Profit Education Initiatives, the Montessori Schools, F-infotech, Eduventures, Codeacademy, Duolingo, Lumosity, IBM, P-TECH,

Why:  In just a few years there will come a cleavage point in our society where the majority will not be able to get jobs with the skills they learned in high school or college, and those already in the workforce will have their jobs automated.  The choice will be to either upskill or give up, fall back on the state.  Unfortunately, at the scale expected our country will not be able to support the number of individuals whose skills will not fit into the new economy.  When that happens, we need to have a fallback plan to ensure the ability to keep going, to keep innovating.

83.3% of full time, first time postsecondary students received some sort of federal financial aid in the 2014 – 2015 school year, up from 75% ten years earlier. Overall, 38.3% of undergraduate students received financial aid in 2014 – 2015 with the average loan of $6,831 annually resulting in $27,324 of total debt in the expected 4-year graduation.  In the graduation year of 2009, though, only 53.8% of students nationally graduated their 4-year program within 6 years of the start date. As for high school, over the course of 4 years an average of 3.6% of students drop out nationally, with the majority (4.8% overall) dropping out in their senior year. In 2015 the United States fell just on the average of OECD countries in reading and science, and was lower than the average in mathematics.  As a country we are also investing less over time in primary and tertiary education as other OECD countries spend more, with steady declines in investment rates since 2009 though since then the economy has only grown.  Our country’s teachers are overworked and underpaid when compared to others and have minimal time to lesson plan and give feedback to students because they are consistently in the front of the classroom, teaching.  That’d be like expecting me to have a six-hour blog post ready to go each day, all prepped and researched by myself.  I could maybe do it for a week.  If that.

So, what we get out of that ramble is what many of us already know.  Our country’s education system is broken.  It’s been broken for a number of years.  However, with the technological changes making their way to the mainstream right now and a major socioeconomic shift in how we perceive what a ‘job’ is just over the horizon, something’s going to break.  Estimates suggest that 38% of Americans could lose their job to automation over the next 15 years with the biggest hits suffered in routine tasks such as manufacturing, administration, transportation, and logistics.  Using August’s job numbers, that is the equivalent of nearly 60,000 people across the country losing their jobs with no chance of receiving another position in their field.  That’s a population the size of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Today’s theory: A technological revolution will upend the socioeconomic system we’ve been contentedly dealing with for the past century or so, and we are not prepared for that.

What we’ll cover today:

  • Informal Education, including Public/Private Partnerships and Technological Reform
  • Use Cases
  • Things You Should Absolutely Know
  • The Idealized World in Amanda’s Head

Informal Education:

Education has increasingly become an intrinsically motivated institution.  From Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to online universities, high skill apprenticeships, technology incubators, and education apps, online or informal education is a growing trend.  Because of easy access, with cost and other barriers to entry removed many are understanding that a traditional formal college education is not necessarily providing the skills a person needs to succeed in the workplace or in society after graduation.

Use Cases:

As a mature and widespread market, education has a wide variety of use cases I could choose from to talk about here.  Because of that, I’ve chosen just one to focus on for each of the categories I covered just a minute ago.  The real-world examples I will be focusing on are: BASIS Scottsdale, Onondaga Community College, P-TECH and IBM, and Coursera.

BASIS Scottsdale:

The number one charter school in the country started in 2003 with 138 students.  The goal of the school is to merge STEM ideals with a liberal arts education, idealizing the merging of the fuzzy and the techie.  While focusing on traditional STEM and liberal arts subjects, there is a high emphasis on time management and organization.  For 5 years the organization has been listed in the Washington Post’s ‘Top Performing Schools with Elite Students’.  The option to go charter is a difficult one that all families have to make at an individual level.  A student may have more availability to resources and be more challenged than in a traditional public-school setting, but in turn may also have a more focused academic path chosen for them instead of being able to choose it themselves.  This school has proven its clout though and this and the other BASIS charter schools are making this style of education very enticing.

Community College

Community colleges are on the rise.  42% of undergraduates were enrolled in a community college in fall 2014.  Compared to the lofty price of a public or private four-year college, community college tuition ranges from just under $1,500 (California) to just over $7,500 (Vermont).  And depending on which state you live in, a community college will give you the same quality of education and access to resources as a full-time university while offering more flexibility and less expense.  Many community colleges offer partnerships with full-time universities to ensure credits transfer if you decide to move from the two-year program to the four year program, and business partnership allow these institutions access to internships and apprenticeships that may not be interested in those working toward a full-time degree.

P-TECH & IBM:

There are 56 P-TECH schools in the country.  P-TECH stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School, and these schools span from grades 9 to 14, instead of the traditional 9 – 12 model.  IBM has developed these schools to allow students an opportunity for a no cost associate’s degree in a subject area that has been deemed business necessary.  The focus is in STEM but also incorporates other necessary workplace skills like communication and business analysis.  Students are focused on a path toward a career from day one of 9th grade and can easily see the path to graduation with an accredited degree, removing the stressors of college application and tuition.  This public/private partnership allows for a different path than the traditional high school, and is offering an interesting use case study on what tailoring education to business needs actually accomplishes.

Coursera

Coursera is a great meeting of the altruistic and the capitalistic minded.  The site does a great service; it provides high quality education through lecture, tutorials, class discussions, and interactive exams all available online.  Mostly these courses are free, or some aspect of them is free.  But in instances where someone wants to have a bit more recognition for what they’ve done there is the ability to ‘purchase’ a class and receive a certificate at the end indicating they’ve obtained that skill.  This allows for the more traditional university feel, with a type of degree received at the end, with a much lower price and more flexible hours than available traditionally.  Coursera has offerings spanning from deep learning to linguistics to art history and software development.  There are tutors available, study groups within each course, and access to top tier academic scholars.  Right now Coursera partners with 145 post-secondary institutions, has 25 million active users, over 2,000 courses, and four full-length degrees.

Things You Should Absolutely Know:

It’s hard to guess what skills we humans will need to have in the next decade or so.  With technology moving as quickly as it is I and we can make a lot of assumptions but really, it’s all up in the air until it actually happens.  There are a few things that are always key when interacting with one another and moving our society forward.  First of all, the ability to simply interact is key.  Communicating effectively and being able to effectively understand others when they’re trying to communicate with you is a skill that will never go away, and will become more important as many of us work in more collaborative settings today than we would have 10 years ago.  Another key skill will be the ability to access and assess our emotions in a positive way.  This goes along with communication but also ties in creativity and out of the box thinking.  By access and assess our emotions I don’t mean get all touchy feely all the time.  What I mean is the ability to be in a situation, check yourself, and make sure your reaction is appropriate to what is going on around you.  For example, if you are giving an important and widely watched speech, don’t allow yourself to get worked up into an angry fit and call people names.  Again, as we get more collaborative in our work spaces and communities, situational awareness and empathy are key skills.  Lastly, everyone should know how to use a computer.  I’m not saying you need to be able to code in C++ or hack into classified documents.  Just know the basics, and be willing to learn more as you do more in your online life.  Maybe take a Coursera on web development or html, or do some reading on the history of the semiconductor.  Tech is pervasive now, there’s no escaping it.  So know something about it.

The Idealized World:

There’s a realization we have to face as a society, and we have to do it quickly.  That is, we don’t know what skills will be needed in the job market in 10 years.  The majority of us are just making wild guesses while a few very impressive humans are making more educated predictions.  Especially with robotics and AI automation potentially able to more successfully complete a lot of tasks that make up entire current industries, we need to approach education differently.  Instead of the outcome of education being a specific job we should consider the types of traits and skills we want to see in our overall society, both professionally and socially.  We need to consider what it means to be uniquely human, and what kind of humans we want to mean.  And this especially means that education, either through formal or informal channels, does not stop at adolescence.  Learning new skills and being introduced to new ideas as a lifelong endeavor needs to become the norm, not the exception.  As we move to a less ‘job focused’ socioeconomic system we need to change our habits and preconceptions or risk falling into the proverbial pit.

Thanks for joining me for another episode of Three Deviations Out.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Leave comments, concerns, questions and arguments below, and follow me on Twitter @greaterthanxbar.  Next week we have a special treat, Jen Hamel will be joining us as Three Deviations Out’s first guest!  Follow her on Twitter @jenhameltbr and join us next week to talk about Artificial Intelligence.  The Robots are Here!

 

References:

Episode 4: Millennials and Tech

Subscribe in a reader

Transcript of Audio:

Hello, and welcome back to Three Deviations Out.  Last week we talked about quantum computing and all the weird crazy fascinating earth shattering things that hard tech can do.  This week we’re going to pull back into soft tech and the people who use it, namely millennials.  Trigger warning, I’ll be talking in averages here so this may not all apply to you.  Let’s dive into what makes our generation just so special, like why we need to hear that we’re so special.

88% of internet users 18 – 29 are on Facebook, compared to an average of 79%.  59% of that same age group is on Instagram with an overall average of 32%, and 36% are on Twitter compared to 24% of all online adults.  As an age group, we’re even more likely to be using LinkedIn with the demographic at 34% compared to an overall of 29%.  Not only are we as millennials, which actually currently represents anyone from the ages 22 – 37, more likely to have social media presence we also spend a lot more time on them.  A dscout study found that on average mobile phone owners touch their phone 2,617 times a day, with heavy users reaching an average of 5,427 touches a day amounting to 225 average daily minutes on the phone.  Guess where our age group falls on that spectrum…dingdingding right up there at the top.

We are a generation that grew up on the internet, that has always had information directly at our fingertips either at school, at the library, or in our homes.  I know, I’m speaking in generalities.  There are many people within this age group that for whatever reason, whether they grew up on a Himalayan mountaintop or rural New York State and Internet penetration didn’t happen until after adolescence, or you are on the upper end of the age spectrum of the group and don’t like being lumped in with those of us who never had to use dial-up.  Now, however, technology and especially the internet are unavoidable aspects of daily life driving social change and nightly hookups and whatever else you feel like doing on your phone or laptop or tablet or desktop.  As a generation that grew up with literally the entire world of information at our fingertips we’ve turned out a bit different than those who came before us, and there’s no shortage of people trying to point that out.  What I want to get into in today’s episode is where the hype ends and actual evidence shows us being different from those who came before us, especially because of the influence all this technology has had on us.

What: The technology influencing our daily lives, including social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.), crowdsourcing, forums (Reddit, Quora, StackOverflow, etc.), financial support (Mint, Betterment, Acorns, Robinhood, etc.), ecommerce (Amazon, Etsy, Alibaba etc.) and the things we see it all on – screens (phones, tablets, ereaders, laptops, desktops, etc.).

Who: Millennials and our codependent relationship with technology.  Whether this relationship is good or bad, it exists and it is influencing us in a number of ways.  We represent a group 22 – 37 who grew up on tech, had cell phones in high school or earlier (unless your parents were really strict) and spend an outrageous amount on student loans.

Why: Millennials are the first generation to have unlimited knowledge and connection at our fingertips anytime we want.  And yes, we as an age group are not the only ones who have access to that phenomenon.  However, we are the first to have grown up with it.  We’re the first generation where interaction didn’t end when you came home from school because you could get online and chat with your friends on AIM.  Remember AIM?  This has caused movements of all sort with potentially the largest being the Arab Spring, a slew of revolutions protesting horrific treatment by oppressive regimes driven by young people and their connection with the rest of the world through social media.

Today we will cover:

  • Why we’re different
  • How we’re different
  • Use Cases
  • Ideal world in Amanda’s head

Why We’re Different

Screen Time:

In my two-person apartment there exists 11 screens of varying sizes, 8 of which are used on a regular, almost daily, basis.  This includes laptops, phones, tablets, extra monitors, and a projector.  On the average weekday, I spend anywhere from 10 – 15 hours staring at screens.  Granted, 8 of those hours are work, where my job requires me to be at a computer, and I do spend some time outside work reading articles for this time I spend with all of you. Still though, that’s a lot of time in front of a screen.  I’m not alone either.  Consider my stat from earlier; the average millennial spends 225 minutes a day touching their phone.  That’s nearly 4 hours a day swiping right or whatever it is you like to do with your screen.  Far and beyond any generation before us we are addicted and tied to our screens.

Access to Information: 

Because I have a computer in my pocket constantly, I am always right.  Or at least that’s the theory.  Good or bad we are the generation of constant access, both to one another and to the answer of any question we may have.  There are even now little voices you can ask just to Google things for you (e.g. Siri, are you a human?).  No longer does anyone buy sets of encyclopedias unless they want to look like a distinguished gentlemen from 1910.  I don’t know if I have to go on about this for very long, because I don’t think anyone is arguing that we as a generation and as a species as a whole are able to know more now than we ever have.  However, what that has done is made it so we actually don’t know any more and in many cases know less.  Results have begun to indicate that younger generations (us millennials and the iGens that come after us) are actually retaining less knowledge because we are instead able to access it anywhere and anytime we want at the press of a button.  Think about it – how many phone numbers do you have memorized?  Can you list off the 50 states?  What did you eat for lunch last Wednesday?  If you give me a minute I can probably look through my calendar and tell you.

Overstimulation:

Television screens, video games, cell phones…this generation’s everyday life is filled with constant pings, vibrations, and push notifications.  The sheer amount of light exposure is enough to drive you nuts, and is influencing things that range from our ability to interact socially to our sleep patterns and overall body chemistry.  Every time you get a ping on your phone letting you know you’ve been liked or commented or re-anythinged a little bit of dopamine is released by your brain.  Dopamine is the chemical released in the pleasure centers of our brains and is also very effective and addictive in narcotic form. And just like those who are chasing the dragon, our generation of social media junkies are trying to just find a high as good as the first time someone liked the picture of your dog in a bow tie, even if it was only a bot.  We allow this to interfere with our lives, twitching a little bit each time the buzz of a phone goes off wondering ‘is that mine?’.  It also drives us to some interesting pastimes, wavering on two very heavy extremes including extreme overstimulation (think Electric Forest, LollaPalooza, Coachella) or extreme understimulation (yoga retreats, backpacking in the Andes, chaperoned ‘descreen’ time).  These extremes have become a reality in our lives due to the normality of constantly being ready to read the next 140 characters.

How We’re Different:

In Our Work:

Millennials are lazy, constantly need praise, don’t understand paying our dues, and are too aggressive about raises.  At least that’s what I’ve heard about us from those who are older or higher up in organizations.  Other ways of saying these are efficient, goal oriented, driven, and understanding of our value.  Many of us were asked since kindergarten what we wanted to do with our lives and lo and behold we actually thought about it.  This career determination, whether based on what we want to do in our work or what we want to get out of it, has created a revolution in the workplace.  A number of organizations have caught on to this and changed, because as a whole we are great resources for any organization.  Those which aren’t adapting are seeing their workforce age into retirement with no influx of new talent.

  • Benefits
  • Culture
  • Optimization
Benefits:

One key way we as a generation are changing the workplace is in the benefits we request.  We often look for perks beyond salary in compensation.  Of particular import are vacation time, childcare, flexible hours, and work-from-home availability.  No longer is it odd to see a company with an unlimited vacation policy.  Another trend that has caught on is the ability to bring your dog to work.  More affluent workplaces or those trying to attract younger talent go all out with the extra benefits including extended parental leave, on-site fitness facilities, sports and entertainment events, pet health insurance, tuition reimbursement, cultural memberships, massages, and fully staffed free cafeterias.  And that only scratches the surface.  In 2016, job seekers, the largest percentage of which are millennials, reported 57% of the time that benefits and perks were among their top considerations when evaluating an offer.  I don’t know about you but I would love to have my fluff monster in the office with me.

Culture:

Some may argue that culture is a benefit in the workplace but I consider them two distinct entities.  While benefits are explicitly included in a compensation package culture is how you and the humans you work with interact on a daily basis, especially as our offices become more collaborative than ever.  One of the most significant changes that our generation is forcing onto companies is actually just that.  We are a cooperative age group, one that considers the sum of the parts to be greater than individual contribution.  As we’ve embraced open-sourced software, crowdsourcing, and social media movements we’ve shown again and again what great things can be done through cooperation.  Unfortunately, that often clashes with the traditional business structure that is strictly and largely hierarchical.  While many companies are attempting to increase the cooperation of their employee’s, traditional perceptions about business roles can cause serious cogs in the machine.  If you’re trying to bring more workplace cooperation into your employees’ environment I suggest being open and honest with them from the start, and begin the cooperation then and there.  Ask your group or team or unit how they want to go about this change, whether people are comfortable with it, what concerns they may have.  Buy in is always most effective when everyone has some skin in the game.  If you’re an employee working through a transition to cooperation, speak up.  The only way this works for everyone is if everyone is involved.  And if you don’t want to cooperate that’s fine, just know you’re falling to the way of the dinosaurs and floppy disks.

Optimization:

One big driver behind our generation’s desire to cooperate is the need to feel like what we’re doing matters.  Some like to deem us the generation of the participation trophy, but we aren’t driven to empty goals.  What we really long for is to feel purpose in our work.  If it seems like the things we do on a daily basis aren’t bringing us any closer to our goals, we aren’t afraid to cut our loses and move on.  60% of millennials are open to a new job opportunity and 55% say they are unengaged at work. While we may not be the job-hopping generation that seemed to be the stereotype up until last year, our sentiment about quitting a job that doesn’t align to our goals and values is higher than generations past.

In Our Play:

Social:

From glamping to hot yoga retreats to Electric Forest, we millennials like to let loose a little different than our parents did.  But as the generation of tech we’ve also come to embrace the idea of ‘descreening’.  In general, we’ve accepted the fact that technology and especially social media or work connectedness surround us on a daily basis all hours of night and day.  So when we have that chance to take a vacation and get away from it all, we actually want to get away from it.  A new industry has begun to thrive that actively cuts vacationers off from technology, and we’re beginning to learn to shut the screen down at dinner, at concerts, in museums, or elsewhere.

Service:

As a generation, we are more altruistic in our ways than those who came before us even though we are less likely to belong to an organized religion.  I would argue that is because we have more opportunities to give back to our community outside of religion than those who came before us, but this also relies on the amount of wealth, free time, and exposure we have.  We carry all of these in significant abundance over our parents and especially their parents, unless you’re descended from royalty or robber barons.  We aren’t just all consumed by the latest video game or Pharrell album.  On average, we each give $600 per year to some charitable cause and love to use our social media accounts to discuss the relevant social justice actions in our lives.  In fact, if you looked at the top trending Twitter moments last Wednesday they included: Charlottesville, the review of national monuments, the melting of Alaska’s permafrost, and Women’s Hour. Through technology we have become more connected to one another and those who are empathetic have become able to see the struggles of others around us, even if we ourselves are not personally influenced by hardship.  The ability of social media to tell stories of anyone with an internet connection has created a community that spans beyond physical boundaries and brings you directly to your tribe in the online community.  It allows you to feel special while also not feeling alone bringing a brave confidence to a generation not afraid of speaking up.  I would argue that’s a good thing.

Use cases:

Things we’ve seen so far (this week the use cases are things being done by millennials that would not have been conceived by any previous generation).

There are a number of well-known millennials who are doing things that have high influence across a spectrum of industries.  Take Emma Watson, who speaks out on behalf of the UN for equality for all, or Mark Zuckerberg who built an empire on social media and is now using that empire to attempt to cure all disease.  There are plenty of unknown faces though that are doing great things to better the reputation of us lazy millennials.  I’ll cover a few both known and less known here but there are plenty more in my resources list and out there in the world.

Alex Momont was a student at the Delft University of Technology who in 2014 had a passion for drones and wanted to find a positive use for the technology.  Partnering with Living Tomorrow and the University Hospital of Ghent, Momant developed the ambulance drone to deliver emergency supplies to a victim ahead of EMT arrival.  Today ambulance drones are in used in a number of cities and have the potential to cut down arrival time of supplies by an average of 16 minutes.  Not only does the drone deliver materials, it also gives instructions to those around the victim on how to use the supplies available.  Cardiac arrest victims most often need to be cared for within 4 – 10 minutes, so cutting any arrival time by an average of 16 minutes has high potential to save lives.  I would count that as a win.

Taylor Swift is now a household name, and some may be rolling their eyes when they hear that name come out of my mouth.  But Taylor Swift is a millennial who understands the power of technology, particularly social media, to further her career and her message. After a long hiatus, the musician released a new song on YouTube on Aug 24, 2017.  By Aug 27, 2017 the video had 35.4 million views and 206,106 comments.  She boasts 102 million followers on Instagram and 85.4 million followers on Twitter.  In 2015 Ms. Swift posted a letter directed towards Apple Music on her Tumblr account derailing the company for not paying artists during the company’s 30-day free trial of the product and pulling all of her music until the company agreed to pay artists.  Most recently the artist has gone through a very public trial in which she was accused of improper involvement of the firing of a disk jockey and she instead of backing down countersued accusing the other party of sexual assault.  The proceedings, which remained very public throughout, concluded Aug 14, 2017 and sided in favor of Swift with an award of $1 meant to be symbolic and support victims of sexual assault cases that had not been made public.  While there is no doubt that Taylor Swift would have been a great artist without social media, the things she has done and the acclaim she has found would have been impossible for any artist before her attempting to speak directly to her fans.

Oscar Schwartz is a poet who is asking the world if computers can write poetry.  A writer, researcher, and teacher in Darwin, Australia, Schwartz is looking into what it means to be human and how interaction with technology changes that.  Right now, he is running a project that looks into 7 of the jobs least likely to be automated.  What he wants to know is what makes up those occupations, how they might be automated (if they can be) and if they are automated what creative bits may be lost.  He and partners have started the site Bot or Not which uses the Turing test and allows users to determine whether poetry examples are created by a human or an algorithm.  Continuously questioning what the difference between human and computer is, the researcher believes the computer is a mirror reflecting human back on human.  As technology becomes even more an integral part of our lives, this continuous reflection on what makes us human and what makes a computer a computer may be exactly what we need.

Ideal World:

We millennials know what we’re doing just about as much as everyone else.  I think the difference lies in the fact that we want to change that.  Maybe I’m young and naïve and we’re all young and naïve.  There are better ways of doing things though and with the access to technology we now have those better ways are more possible than ever.  In my mind, a perfect world includes the cooperation of millennials and the generations before and after to use the brilliant tools we have at our fingertips to get us that much closer to zero marginal cost.  That’s what we all want, right?  More leisure time without having to sacrifice standard of living.  Between expertise of the generation and the amazing advancements in things like AI, blockchain, and quantum computing I believe that we can get close within our lifetimes.

That’s it for today everyone.  I know that was a bit different what I’ve done the last few weeks but trust me, it fits into the puzzle.  Every society needs early adopters and now there is a whole generation of us.  Next week we talk about the data storage revolution, because where else are we going to put all this information we’re creating? Til next week!

All the best,

Amanda

 

References:

Episode 3: Quantum Computing

Subscribe in a reader

Transcript of Audio:

Hello and welcome to episode 3 of Three Deviations Out.  If you haven’t been following along, I’m Amanda and I love outliers.  I have a passionate belief that outliers of any kind are the sparks of this world, good or bad.  Like a bit of sriracha on literally almost anything, they make life a little spicier.  Last week we talked about blockchain and how it is so much more than a digital currency for drug traffickers and people with weird fetishes.  This week we’re going to talk about quantum computing; the tech, the players, the impact.  First, let’s start with the key points:

What: Quantum computing is the idea that using quantum bits, qubits, instead of regular binary bits a user can take advantage of unique attributes of electrons when they become entangled and are in superposition. It’s alright if you didn’t understand some or a number of the words in that last sentence, I didn’t either when I first started looking into this technology.  We’ll be going over the various quantum properties here in a minute.

Who: IBM, D-Wave, Google, Accenture, Atos, Rigetti Computing, NASA, The Republic of China, Russia, The University of New South Wales, and every researcher who has committed their lives to studies that further quantum theory including Albert Einstein, who first noted quantum properties of small particles, and Erwin Schrödinger, well known for his famous cat.

Why: Quantum computers have the potential to be highly influential in operational efficiency, chemical calculation, and machine learning.  To put that in perspective, those three areas cover nearly all aspects of computing outside of productivity applications and web browsing.  Not to say that quantum computing won’t influence the Internet.  You just won’t use a quantum processor browsing for kitchen supplies on Amazon.  Everything from climate change and world hunger to cancer research and the eradication of disease could be addressed through the power of quantum processors.  That is why I see quantum computing as an outlier.  This is a technology that could exponentially advance our society in ways that only a handful of major technological breakthroughs in recorded human history have.

Okay.  So, now that everyone knows exactly what quantum computing is and how to use it and how to code while taking superposition into account, let’s get into the complicated stuff.  Raise your hand if you have any questions.  None?  Great, let’s move on.  I will warn you that in the support there will be fewer use cases and less hard evidence than I was able to present with blockchain, simply because on the product development cycle quantum computing is an infant while blockchain is more of an adolescent.  Keeping that in mind I want to hit a few points:

  • How it works
  • The differences in hardware/GTM approaches
  • Potential implications
  • Use cases: Things we’ve seen so far
  • The weird stuff, because yes, it does get weirder
  • Idealized world in Amanda’s head

The first thing I’ll note is that in the great scheme of things, quantum processors are not an outlier.  Like, if we look at all of human history this is what we tend to do.  We develop tools that make our lives easier or enable us to do things faster.  The impact any of those tools has is its ability to scale and the amount of people it touches.  Last week I compared blockchain to the widespread adoption of the printing press.  Quantum is more similarly associated to the widespread adoption of agriculture.  Yeah sure, foraging for berries and hunting antelope with spears got the job done but isn’t it just so much easier to sit back feeding this cow hay until its big enough to eat?  Calculations that would have taken hundreds of years on a classical (binary) computer, even one that would be considered a supercomputer, would take days, hours, or even minutes with a quantum computer that has reached supremacy.  Supremacy is the ability of a quantum computer to outperform the highest functioning classical computer, thought to be reached at 50 qubits.  Google has pledged to have a 50-qubit processor by the end of 2017, and a research group led by Harvard professor Mikhail Lunkin announced in June they were the first to build at 51-qubit universal quantum processor.

How it Works:

Quantum entanglement is a property that occurs when the attributes of one particle gives information about the attributes of another particle.  This is important because the nature of quantum particles means that observing them implicitly changes them.  Using this theory, we can say that a particle both is and is not any given thing at any given time. This idea, that a particle could exist in multiple states at once, is superposition.  So, the exchange of the information about particle attributes is entanglement and the idea that these particles exist in multiple states at once is superposition.  Both of these states need to be achievable for a quantum computer to function, along with a number of other variables.  When these states are reached with a quantum processor, the hardware is able to do exponentially more calculations at once than a traditional computer with the equivalent number of bits due to the two properties we just discussed.  Consider it this way: A traditional bit thinks in binary which is either one or zero.  A qubit can consider either one or zero or one and zero all at the same time.  These properties are influential across a number of applications including cryptography, telecommunications, teleportation of photons and the decentralized internet, but today we will mostly stick to processors.

Differences in hardware/GTM approaches:

There are a number of quantum computing companies that span services, hardware, and software.  Today I will be featuring IBM, D-Wave, and Rigetti Computing because these are the companies I am familiar with.  If you are interested in other quantum computing companies and you think I should know about them please feel free to leave a comment.  If you are part of an effort working on some aspect of quantum computing and want to talk shop, I’d love to.  Because of the depth and overall newness of this topic I expect I will cover it more than once and would love to have guests next time.  IBM, D-Wave, and Rigetti are all in the quantum processor business but each approach both hardware and GTM in different ways.

D-Wave currently has a 2,000-qubit version of its annealing processor available for the low low price of $15M with an open source quantum language, Qbsolv, available on Github.  The company currently only offers an on-premises hardware option with cloud access available in certain instances, but not for public use.  An annealing computer is a type of quantum processor that solves a very finite set of problems.  Also, instead of harnessing the power of quantum mechanics it is instead just along for the ride.  Essentially it is like the difference in using a broken horse to plow a field or trying to hook a wild mustang up to the plow and make that work.

IBM is working with a slightly different GTM and hardware approach.  Big Blue currently has two versions of their universal quantum computer, a 16-qubit available for public use and a 17-qubit for only commercial use.  Both are available over the cloud and don’t worry, you don’t have to learn to code in quantum just yet.  The company has built an API that allows you to develop in Python directly on the quantum platform, and there is a growing community on Github using the curated tool kit.  However, if you did happen to be interested in learning a quantum language IBM may not be the place for you as their root language code has not yet been open sourced.  As far as I am aware IBM has not commercialized a hardware package, making their quantum processor only available on the cloud.

Finally, Rigetti Computing is like the cooler younger sibling of the quantum computing heavy hitters.  The company started only a few years ago, going through Y Combinator Startup School, and now resides in a warehouse in Berkeley CA.  Offering quantum computing through the cloud, Rigetti has both a Python based API and an open source quantum language called Quil for their beta program, Forest 1.0.  Users are able to build and simulate algorithms on 30 qubits along with running them on an actual quantum chip.  The company has developed 8 qubit chips as of August 2017 and are using a new two-qubit gate scheme making the abilities of the chip more scalable than previous iterations.  Rigetti is currently working with universal quantum chips, the most powerful type of quantum processor.

Potential implications:

I want to preface this section of the recording by saying that quantum computing is still in its infancy especially when compared to technology like microchip processors.  So, while potential implications are well researched, they are well researched only to the extent that a technology until the last few years existed only in peer reviewed papers can be well researched.  With that asterisk, I will say that the potential of quantum computing is large.  What we’ve seen so far is that the technology is able to more effectively calculate operational and chemical algorithms than classical computers.  Operational calculations span from traffic optimization to supply chain to law enforcement enablement algorithms.  Chemical calculations include determining the best way to influence climate change, how to best grow and distribute crops to influence global hunger, and genome sequencing that could influence any number of disease prevention.  This is because, according to Andrea Morello, “the number of operations it takes to get to a result is exponentially smaller”. That means that any large variable algorithm, any you can think of, can be made faster and more effective with quantum computers.  The concept becomes difficult because there is little testing and real-world application to the theory, but as you will discover in Amanda’s idealized world I think the potential is high.

Something quantum computers will be great for and have already proven the ability to do is break encryption.  The basis of most encryption is factoring using enough variables that classical computers could never brute force their way in.  Quantum computers however have very different calculation approaches through the superposition attribute.  Encryption of today would be and currently is no problem for a quantum computer.  In fact, quantum processors have already solved Shor’s algorithm, a factoring algorithm that cannot be solved by classical computers and was comparatively a breeze for a quantum processor.  What this means is that current encryption is useless with quantum processor availability.  And because there are quantum cloud offerings, barriers to entry of achieving encryption breaking techniques does not include the steep prices of hardware.  There are companies such as Post-Quantum and ISARA Corporation that are attempting to safe guard from potential quantum attacks.  So far there has yet to be a hack that is specifically attributed to quantum decryption but I only have public knowledge available to me.  If you know differently I would love to hear about it, please reach out through my contact page, comments, or the number of social accounts I have.  For now, the best approach I recommend is try your darnedest to go post-quantum as quickly as possible if you consider yourself a high-level target.  Otherwise, I don’t see wide scale quantum hacking in the ilk of WannaCry or other massive malware to happen soon.  For all our sakes let’s hope I’m right.

Another area where quantum computing has potential impact is the field of Artificial Intelligence.  Some humans may find this terrifying but personally I find it enthralling.  I’ll spend an entire episode on AI but I’ll take a minute now to cover some of the things that have been accomplished already before getting into how quantum will influence the space.  Most people know Watson, Siri, and Alexa.  These are all artificial intelligence programs that, I don’t know about you, but the humans I know talk about as if they are people themselves.  Instead of calling Siri ‘it’ she is referenced as a female.  There is the sentiment about wanting to ‘meet’ Watson, as if you could actually shake his hand.  Beyond the programs whose names we know, there are the robo-dials that are oh so common now, an artificial intelligence program meant to speak over the phone often as a cold call salesperson or customer support.  AI does more than just talk to us though.  There are new methods of sleep study that use AI to be more effective, along with medical treatment, handwriting and facial recognition, journalism, and creativity.  I know that sounds farfetched but just check out the piano piece in the link below built by an AI.  AI uses deep learning to understand the complex theory and neural networks designed to ‘think’ like the human brain.  Quantum has the potential to increase exponentially the amount of information an AI program can process at a time because its very nature is processing and understanding variables.  Being able to run more variables that can have more cross-relationships across the network will only increase the efficiency of machine learning, giving us humans more effective and efficient machines that can make decisions better than we can in almost innumerable fields.  We will see the first great novel written by an AI program, and it won’t be uncommon to see an AI program on a corporate or philanthropic board.  Many knew the AI revolution was coming, and in some ways, it has already snuck into our lives.  Quantum computing is just speeding up that integration, and in my opinion, that is just fantastic.

The last area I will touch on is operational efficiency which you already know from last week is a personal favorite of mine, mostly because I’m lazy and don’t want to exert any extra energy if I don’t have to.  Quantum computing has already shown a few uses in operational efficiency that reach beyond potential into the real world.  Operational algorithms are perfect for quantum computing because they start out with a lot of variables and try to define every conceivable relationship between any of those variables to create the most optimized process.  Because quantum computing is able to define relationships between variables by the qubits equaling 1, 0, and 1 or 0 at the same time, those variable relationships can be determined much quicker to allow for some significant real-life applications.  One of the use cases we will be getting into revolve around this idea of operational efficiency in real time, and allow for better use of a human’s resources to get a job done because there are fewer or more effective steps in the process than there were before.

Use cases:

So, on that note we will get into those use cases I talked about.  We’ll be covering two today:

  • Real time traffic route optimization
  • Unsupervised machine learning

D-Wave and Volkswagen teamed up to understand how quantum computing could influence traffic route optimization, a process with a high number of variables that change at a high rate. Using a dataset of 418 taxis en route to the Beijing airport, the team built an algorithm of 1,254 logical variables to represent the problem and optimized by running a hybrid classical/quantum solution.  Before the optimization was run there was a relatively small number of routes being taken with heavy congestion on nearly all.  Correcting for queue wait times, the researchers concluded that with a dedicated D-Wave quantum annealing processor the route optimization could be run in 22 seconds across 50 randomized routes to clear congestion for the 418 vehicles on their way to the airport.  The amount of time needed to complete the problem is expected to diminish as the number of qubits in a machine increase.  The group of researchers plans to continue their work in traffic optimization with quantum, as well as understanding other real-world applications of quantum processing technology, so keep your eyes peeled and I will try to keep you as up to date as possible.

In the first quarter of 2017, four researchers at Los Alamos University tested the influence of quantum annealing on machine learning.  The researchers tested their hypothesis, that matrix factorizations are more efficient with quantum chips than classical chips, on D-Wave hardware.  They tested their experiment both on the D-Wave quantum annealer as well as two different classical computers.  Each processor was attempting to process 10, 100, and 1,000 faces across a number of tests to develop a facial recognition program.  After all tests were run the team concluded that while the quantum processor was better at very fast solutions, the ability for it to actually reach those solutions were sporadic and while many times were very fast there was a large variability of time with some processing tests taking up to 10 minutes. The classical computers on the other hand were at times slower than the quantum processor but were more consistent in processing time across all tests.  The group concluded by saying that there was really no clear winner because while a modification to the calculation had the potential to make the classical computer quicker, they also noted the relative immaturity of quantum technology and that with work both on the algorithm used and the D-Wave hardware speed and consistency could be improved.

There you have it, two very technical use cases of quantum computing. Most at the moment are being reported in peer-reviewed papers, so sites like arxiv.org are great for browsing if you are interested in keeping up to date on new quantum use cases.  If you know of any other use cases that have been tested, please comment about them I would love to learn more.  In the meantime, I will try to keep you up to date on the latest articles both here and through my Twitter feed, @greaterthanxbar.

The weird stuff:

The concept of quantum computing is already kind of weird, with the idea that particles can communicate with each other and be in any number of places at the same time.  However, these qualities allow for much weirder things than just quantum computing.  Three such technologies include quantum teleportation, quantum communication, and the quantum Internet.

Quantum teleportation relies heavily on the attribute of entanglement.  Currently experiments and tests have been successful in teleporting photons of light across long distances.  A hang up with quantum teleportation is that quantum energy is easily disrupted and moving through the relatively dense and noisy air of the planet means a photon can only go so far before it’s distracted.  A research group associated with the Republic of China has recently tried to subvert this distance challenge by launching a satellite designed specifically for use in quantum mechanics and bouncing the entangled photons off of that.  This allowed the photons to travel 870 miles, decimating the previous record of just over 60 miles.  Granted, this test is just proof of concept and you won’t be making the daily commute Star Trek style anytime soon but the relatively quick growth in the technology is exciting nonetheless.

Quantum communication, while similar to teleportation in that it relies on entanglement properties and light photons, is a bit more approachable.  In fact, it is being implemented in Jinan, Beijing, and Shanghai as China strives to be a global leader in next gen tech.  The most prominent driver of quantum communication is the security benefits that come from the quantum attributes.  Because quantum states are fragile, if a communication is intercepted the state is interrupted and this change can be seen by any user with access, revealing the invader.  There are also technologies such as quantum key distribution that are considered post-quantum security measures.  So, while quantum communication operates on fiber like boring ol’ telecom of today, the implications it could have on secure communication in a quantum world could be far reaching.

The last weird thing we’ll talk about, besides what goes on in my brain, is quantum internet.  I’m not going to spend a ton pf time here because, like AI, in a few weeks I’ll be spending an entire episode on how this and a number of other technologies can join forces to build a new and better Internet.  You heard that right, this isn’t just something that happens on hilarious tech sitcoms.  For now I’ll keep it short and simple.  Right now, the internet uses radio waves to send information around the world.  A quantum internet would use quantum signals through a network of entangled particles.  This has implications in the speed of quantum processing over the cloud and increasing the security of sensitive data.  You won’t be using it for everything though, like listening to this podcast or checking out Trump’s latest social media blunder.  Estimates state a global network will be functional by 2030.

My Idealized World:

There are still a lot of things we don’t know about how quantum computing could change our lives and disrupt problems written off as unanswerable.  There are few applications written for quantum computers and even fewer programmers who develop directly in a quantum language.  Universal quantum processors have only reached supremacy with a few research groups so far, though I expect more will follow soon.  To me, the things I’ve seen accomplished in testing and what I know about the underlying hardware and theory is enough to convince me of the potential merits.  As I see it, quantum processors will begin uncovering answers to both every day and global problems.  Not too long from now you may have an app on your phone being fed traffic advice translated from a quantum computer.  Or you may find that the weather forecasts you see are both more accurate and more detailed.  A drug commercial may come on the television and you note the striking lack of side effects because chemical compositions will be able to be synthesized more effectively.  Changes will at first be small, because often those problems will be the easiest to solve and implement.  Not long after that though you’ll see both private companies and public institutions using the technology to unlock the secrets of everything from how best to solve world hunger to the most effective strategies of war.

That’s all for today folks.  I hope it was informative and enjoyable.  Leave any comments, questions, concerns, or corrections in the section at the bottom of the page.  Next week we talk about millennials and their relationship with technology.  Disclaimer: I’m one of them.

Have a greater than average week!

Amanda

 

References:

Episode 1: The Manifesto

Contact Us

Subscribe in a reader

Transcript of Audio:

Hello everyone.  My name is Amanda.  This is Three Deviations Out.  The term comes from statistics, where it is used to track outliers and generally discard them to create a more normalized sample set.  Normalized sample sets drive good, economic decision making.  Here I plan to explore those outliers, what makes them so fascinating, and what their impact on the world is.  Because while the majority drive global trends, the outliers cause revolutions.

On Three Deviations Out you will mostly find technology, because like it or not it is ingrained in nearly everything we humans do these days.  The focus will sometimes be on the tech and sometimes be on how the tech is allowing for socioeconomic change.  However, as the proprietor of this establishment I I maintain full rights to talk about absolutely anything I want.  My mom says I’m fairly cool and interesting so hopefully I don’t disappoint.  If I do, feel free to let me know in the comments below.  I am also open to suggestions for topics you see as outliers, and may or may not end up exploring them here.  I hope my lack of commitment doesn’t drive you away.

Most of these posts are going to be podcast style with transcripts, as is here, but I will also be posting infographics, data graphs, and videos of my dog explaining quantum mechanics.

On a last note, my opinions are my own and should not be taken as financial, technological, or any other kind of advice.  I am a specialist of nothing.

Next week we will be talking about blockchain technology: how it came about, what the tech behind it is, and how it can impact our institutions.

All the Best,

Amanda