Super Thinkers Dissect Super Computing at Pasadena Quantum Computing Event

Connect Week Pasadena Discussion drilled down on new calculating technology holds powerful promise for AI, medicine and finance

Published : Wednesday, October 16, 2019 | 4:41 AM

IBM Research Staff Member Katie Pooley, an Applied Physics PhD from Harvard who joined IBM in 2015, at the Thomas J Watson Research Center, is a process integrator on the IBM Q team. In the photo, Pooley is examining a cryostat with the new prototype of a commercial quantum processor inside. Photo by Andy Aaron, IBM

Consider that the world has seen more technological advances in the last 25 years than in the sum total history of civilization. Now multiply that amount of change by a number that has not even yet been conceived yet. Such could be the eventual impact of quantum computing on our world.

Leading the way in developing this field of “supercomputing” are Dr. Barbara Jones, group leader of the Theoretical and Computational Physics Team at the IBM Almaden Research Center, and Dr. Mark Jackson, Business Development Scientific Lead for Cambridge Quantum Computing.

Both were in Pasadena Tuesday.

The pair addressed a captivated group of tech developers and computer specialists at Cross Campus in old Pasadena, at “Here and There — A Discussion on Quantum Computing,” organized by Catalaize, a local computer networking company which brings together emerging technology companies to develop new marketplace opportunities.

In Old Pasadena, Dr. Barbara Jones, group leader of the Theoretical and Computational Physics Team at the IBM Almaden Research Center, talks quantum computing. Photo by Eddie Rivera

The event was part of Innovate Pasadena’s “Connect Week,” a series of tech-related events and discussions, which runs through October 20.

This was not a discussion for the faint-hearted.

Jones, a super computer herself, received a degree in physics from Harvard University, and a Masters’ degree in Applied Mathematics from The University of Cambridge, where she was a Churchill Scholar; as well as earning a Masters’ degree and doctorate in Physics from Cornell University. She joined IBM at the Almaden Research Center in 1989.

Dr. Jackson is a Theoretical Physicist with with a wide range of expertise in the quantum computing industry. He earned a doctorate of philosophy in Theoretical Physics from Columbia University, with a background in mathematical modeling and computational physics.

Jackson discussed IBM’s latest work in the promising field.

Jones, meanwhile, delved deep into the hammer-and-nails technology of creating superconductors, the tiny calculating engines that help build the current wave of super thinking machines.

As one local computing expert in attendance, describing the work and its impact explained, think about the GPU (graphical processing unit) chips in your computer. They were originally developed to help with the millions of calculations necessary to create smooth motions in computer games and animation, things, like rain, and wind, and the motion of people and furry animals, for example.

Now here’s where it gets technical: “In a regular computer,” explained the expert, “all the data is stored in bits. These bits take the value of either 0 or 1, and that’s how computation is done. A letter, for example, is coded with a certain number of bits, and that would represent letters.”

Think of it as learning to write simple melodies in a musical score.

“Each of these bits in a regular computer can only take two values, and this is called binary arithmetic,” said the expert, who, asked to remain anonymous, “where everything is either 01, or some lengthy combination of that. That’s how you code numbers, for example. That’s the current way that all computation is currently done.”

But now, said the expert, it’s been discovered that if you could have a bit that wasn’t just 0 or 1, but which carried within it, the ability to be any number between 0 and 1, an infinite number could be carried in much smaller, more powerful bits called “cubits.”

“Each bit can now hold a value between 0 and 1, which is almost infinite,” said the expert.

It’s like creating new real numbers between known numbers. Suffice to say this would expand computing power, well, infinitely. Those little melodies are about to become gigantic symphonies of computation.

As Dr. Jones explained in her talk Tuesday, this supercomputing power can be applied to the everyday world in the field of medicine, so that doctors can, for example, infinitely calculate the reactions and interactions of every type of molecule with every other type of molecule, to develop new medicines and therapies.

The new thinking power can also apply to the staggering number of calculations and algorithms necessary for developing artificial intelligence, as well as in creating better financial forecasting for the global marketplace.

“And we are only in the very, very early stages of this field,” the expert said.

As Nardo Manaloto, CEO of Catalaize, explained, his company, along with Innovate Pasadena, which he also helped found, is helping to creating “ecosystems” to develop and maintain new technologies, like work in the field of quantum computing.

“A lot of people don’t understand what emerging technologies are,” said Manaloto. “If we are going to create an innovative city, it’s important to show what these emerging technologies actually are, and secondly, that there is a lot of stuff that can be done, and that translates into a lot of opportunities, and people can see that we can actually create some economic growth.”

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