The Author of The Quantum Spy Says Producing World-Class American Students is of National Importance

I’ve discussed one of my favorite authors, David Ignatius, on this blog before. Recently he gave an interview that Wired magazine titled “Why Aren’t There More Smart Americans?” Of course that title caught my eye like the luscious geek click bait it is. In the interview, Ignatius discusses some of what he learned about quantum computing while researching his latest novel. He shared how the experts he spoke with went from “fascinating if it works” to “fascinating when it works” over the course of the book’s development.

As a result, he believes that we will see a viable quantum computer in the next five years. That wasn’t the part of the interview that resonated with me, though. (I know we’ll see a general quantum computer in the next five years. I talk to quantum experts every day.) What captured my interest was the following:

The number of American citizens who can do very high-end research who also can easily get security clearances is limited. The ability of our schools to produce American students at a world-class level, that’s an important national challenge.

Plumbing the Shallows of the Talent Pool

This comment is timely and relevant in the middle of the quantum computing arms race. I’ve asked if the U.S. is falling behind in quantum computing before. Ignatius is talking more broadly when he says “high-end research,” but it made me think about the future talent pool for quantum computing. Will we have enough talent in the near future to build, maintain, and program quantum computers? What about the scientific talent to continue to advance the basic and applied research in the field?  The answer is almost certainly “no.”

It’s obvious that one of the reasons for the shortage is that our public schools, and even some of our universities, have failed to prepare American students for this technology-dominated era. Perhaps the federal government should step in? I don’t expect that the Department of Education will take a keen interest in quantum computing any time soon. But I’ll make myself available to help them if they ever do.

Listen, I have to take a short break from the quantum commentary to address the rumors, e-mails, Facebook messages, tweets, and InMail (and that one snap chat someone sent; you know who you are). You all know by now I’m fascinated with quantum computing, because I never shut up about it.  I figure it’s time to do something about that. Which is why I’m taking a couple weeks off to launch my own entry into the quantum computing fray.

I think we’ll soon see a quantum computer demonstrate quantum supremacy in a way that we can all take to the bank. However, physicists and engineers in labs around the world are still struggling to overcome the hardware challenges. Quantum software applications might as well be an endangered species. Richard Feynman, the physicist credited with the idea for a quantum computer, once quipped, “By golly, it’s a wonderful problem, because it doesn’t look so easy.”

Last week I shared with you that mathematician Gil Kalai doesn’t believe quantum computing is possible. He says the math just isn’t there to ever achieve reliable, practical error correction.  Not that Dr. Kalai is alone in this belief, but there sure are a lot of major players that seem to think we’re on the verge of one of the biggest shifts in computing in the last 100 years.