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What & Why Quantum Computing?
Episode 223rd September 2021 • Impact Quantum: A Podcast for Engineers • Data Driven Media
00:00:00 00:47:40

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In this episode, Frank and Andy welcome our first guest to the show.

Dr Mark Jackson is a Quantum Evangelist at Cambridge Quantum Computing, which may just be the best job title I have ever heard.

This episode is entitled "What and Why Quantum Computing?" and is rated one and a half Schroedingers. It could be 2 Schroedingers or just one. You will have to observe the entire episode to collapse the wave function.


Cambridge Quantum Computing


00:00:00 BAILey 

Hello and welcome to impact quantum. 

00:00:02 BAILey 

A podcast about quantum computing for developers and engineers. 

00:00:06 BAILey 

In this episode, Frank and Andy welcome our first guest to the show. 

00:00:11 BAILey 

Doctor Mark Jackson is a quantum evangelist at Cambridge Quantum Computing, which may just be the best job title I have ever heard. 

00:00:19 BAILey 

This episode is entitled what and why Quantum Computing and is rated 1 1/2 Schrodinger's. 

00:00:26 BAILey 

It could be. 

00:00:27 BAILey 

Two Schrodinger's or just one. 

00:00:29 BAILey 

You will have to observe the entire episode to collapse the wavefunction. 

00:00:33 BAILey 

Now on. 

00:00:34 BAILey 

With the show. 

00:00:36 BAILey 

But first, here's some dubstep. 

00:00:47 Frank 

Hello and welcome to impact quantum. 

00:00:51 Frank 

The podcast where we. 

00:00:52 Frank 

Explore this new. 

00:00:53 Frank 

Field of quantum computing from an engineer's perspective. Maybe you're a software engineer. Maybe you're a data engineer. 

00:00:59 Frank 

But you keep hearing about this thing called quantum computing, which is going to change everything. 

00:01:04 Frank 

And I happen to believe that it will change everything, and to that end I. 

00:01:07 Frank 

Hey I have my trusty co-host from data driven. 

00:01:11 Frank 

With me Andy Leonard. 

00:01:12 Andy 

Hey Frank, thanks for for bringing me along as folks will quickly learn, you know way more about quantum computing. 

00:01:20 Andy 

Than I do. 

00:01:21 Andy 

So I guess I'm just here for my pretty faves. 

00:01:24 Frank 

Of course, of course we are. 

00:01:25 Frank 

Actually recording this in video on teams, but come with me with us for the first time in impact quantum history. 

00:01:33 Frank 

We have a guest and it's Doctor Mark Jackson. 

00:01:36 Frank 

Uh, who has probably the coolest job title I have heard in about a decade or two? 

00:01:43 Frank 

Welcome to the show. 

00:01:43 Frank 

Mark, you're our first guest ever. 

00:01:45 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Thank you Frank. 

00:01:46 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Thank you Andy. 

00:01:47 Dr. Mark Jackson 

It's great to be here. 

00:01:49 Frank 

Uh, so as Andy said, you know, I do. 

00:01:52 Frank 

When I you know I would use the term knows more as a very relative term part of the if you're listening to the show and you've listened to the archives. 

00:02:01 Frank 

Part of the reason why we haven't had a lot of shows is because I really kind of hit my cerebral limit at the time to talk about so. 

00:02:09 Frank 

Given that quantum is still a relatively new field and there's a shortage of experts in the field, but I think you know we were. 

00:02:17 Frank 

I was blessed to get in contact with Mark where we can talk about kind of this with an expert because he's a quantum evangelist. 

00:02:27 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Yes, it's a. 

00:02:28 Dr. Mark Jackson 

It's a pleasure to be here and I am Cambridge, quantum quantum evangelist. 

00:02:33 Dr. Mark Jackson 

I'm glad you like my title. 

00:02:34 Dr. Mark Jackson 

It's it's pretty unique. 

00:02:36 Frank 

That is very cool. 

00:02:37 Frank 

Uhm so So what? 

00:02:39 Frank 

You know, what does a First off? 

00:02:41 Frank 

How did you get into quantum? 

00:02:43 Frank 

What's your background? 

00:02:44 Frank 

Is your background in quantum physics? 

00:02:46 Frank 

Or computing or. 

00:02:46 Dr. Mark Jackson 

My background is in yes, so my background is actually in superstring theory, if you're. 

00:02:51 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Familiar with that? 

00:02:53 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Yeah, for 15 years I did that. 

00:02:54 Dr. Mark Jackson 

I earned my pH. 

00:02:56 Dr. Mark Jackson 

In string theory from Columbia University under the supervision of Brian Greene, who you might recognize. 

00:03:02 Dr. Mark Jackson 

And then I did it. 

00:03:02 Frank 

In fact, he's the one. 

00:03:03 Frank 

Who's documentaries on string theory I I do enjoy? 

00:03:07 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Yes, I I'm actually in that, uh, I have a very brief cameo. 

00:03:10 Dr. Mark Jackson 

I was a student and and half my face is in it for. 

00:03:13 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Half a second. 

00:03:14 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Oh, very cool, very cool. 

00:03:16 Frank 

That's awesome, you're real selected. 

00:03:18 Dr. Mark Jackson 

So, uh, so, so yes, that was my moment of fame. 

00:03:21 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Uh, back when I was a grad student and so then I I did research in that area for about 10 years and I briefly did a tech startup doing scientific fund raising before I returned to teaching at Singularity. 

00:03:32 Dr. Mark Jackson 

University and that was where I first started hearing about quantum computing. This would be around 2016. 

00:03:40 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Uh so so. Quantum computing only existed academically when I was a student, and so I rarely heard anything at all about it and it was in 2016 people started talking about quantum computing, being commercially feasible, and I thought this was amazing because it was all the things that I I loved about physics. 

00:03:59 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Superposition and entanglement and all these crazy physics concepts. 

00:04:03 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Uhm they they started saying they could actually build machines and do this for you. 

00:04:08 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Whole things, and I thought that was amazing. 

00:04:10 Dr. Mark Jackson 

And so I started trying to get into the field. 

00:04:13 Dr. Mark Jackson 

I was giving presentations about quantum computing to executives, but I felt sort of like a cheerleader on the sides. 

00:04:20 Dr. Mark Jackson 

I actually wanted to be doing it, not just talking about it, and so I tried to get into. 

00:04:24 Dr. Mark Jackson 

The field. 

00:04:25 Dr. Mark Jackson 

And it was a bit frustrating because I didn't. 

00:04:28 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Have a background in quantum computing and I didn't know too many people in it, but I was very lucky that a friend of mine, a math professor at Berkeley where I was living. 

00:04:37 Dr. Mark Jackson 

He made an introduction to our CEO. 

00:04:40 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Ilyas Khan and it was very well timed because Cambridge Quantum was about three years old and everyone at the time was in the UK. 

00:04:51 Dr. Mark Jackson 

As the name might suggest, were basically virgins like. 

00:04:53 Frank 

Yeah, wasn't shared with Cambridge, England or Cambridge. 

00:04:55 Frank 

Massachusetts 'cause it could go either way. 

00:04:58 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Yeah, it's it's actually the old school, Cambridge, our company Origin story is is quite amazing. Ileus was chairman of the Stephen Hawking Foundation and in in 2014 Hawking told him I think quantum computing is going to take off. You should get into this business and so that's how we started because of Stephen Hawking. 

00:05:18 Frank 

That's amazing. 

00:05:19 Dr. Mark Jackson 

And so yeah, we we have one of the coolest origin. 

00:05:22 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Stories ever and so in fall of 2017 I I joined as one of the first American members of the team. 

00:05:31 Dr. Mark Jackson 

And so I've been there about four years, and it's been an amazing journey. 

00:05:35 Dr. Mark Jackson 

I I can't think of any other technology that's. 

00:05:38 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Advanced this rapidly. 

00:05:41 Frank 

I I will. 

00:05:41 Frank 

Say it's just even in the last, maybe 8 to 10 months. 

00:05:46 Frank 

The pace of innovation has gone through the roof like you start hearing these news and you know whenever I would look on YouTube for you know recent videos and you filter by like you know you'd have to look for like oh in the recent month for quantum anything about quantum computing. 

00:06:01 Frank 

Now it's the point where something new gets published every couple hours like. 

00:06:05 Frank 

It's it's it's. 

00:06:06 Frank 

It's just exploded. 

00:06:08 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Yeah, it's it's almost every week we some we see some new major announcement about a. 

00:06:14 Dr. Mark Jackson 

There's a new commercial project. 

00:06:15 Dr. Mark Jackson 

There's a new company being founded. 

00:06:17 Dr. Mark Jackson 

There's new investment. 

00:06:19 Dr. Mark Jackson 

There's there's some new technological advance. 

00:06:21 Dr. Mark Jackson 

It really is developing very quickly. 

00:06:23 Dr. Mark Jackson 

It's tough to keep up with with everything. 

00:06:26 Dr. Mark Jackson 

When I started four years ago, I remember some of my physics friends being a little skeptical. 

00:06:30 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Was quantum computing really a thing? 

00:06:32 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Was this a wise career decision? 

00:06:35 Dr. Mark Jackson 

And no one is questioning it. 

00:06:38 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Now there. 

00:06:39 Dr. Mark Jackson 

There's so so much money and so much talent being put into this. 


It's not. 

00:06:43 Dr. Mark Jackson 

It really is amazing. 

00:06:45 Frank 

Yeah, I mean it's funny because you you know you'd said you didn't have a background in when you when you look to get into this in quantum computing, but I'm thinking like. 

00:06:54 Frank 

Who does? I mean? There are people, obviously, but I mean I could probably. I mean going back, maybe the 2000. 

00:07:01 Frank 

14 When Stephen Hawking kind of had his, you know, had his say and created your you know kind of inspired the launch of your company. 

00:07:10 Frank 

I would say there's probably maybe a dozen people worldwide would would would be in quantum computing, at least commercialization of it and not just the research. 

00:07:18 Frank 

So I find that I find that interesting because a lot of folks, when they look to to to get into a new career, even though I guess technically you're still heavy in. 

00:07:30 Frank 

In in, in the deep sciences I would call. 

00:07:33 Frank 

You know people, still you know with your pedigree. 

00:07:37 Frank 

Having worked under Brian Greene and even being in one of his documentaries, even if it's for a half a second I I mean you face that challenge. 

00:07:46 Frank 

So I think I think it I think for anyone here who's looking to transition into a quantum career, know that you know you are going to face skepticism, but I also think that there will be an inflection point and mark. 

00:07:56 Frank 

And tell me this has happened. 

00:07:57 Frank 

Now where the demand is going to be far outstrip the supply, that as long as you kind of know more than the average Joe or Jane on the street, I think that there's still good opportunity. 

00:08:11 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Right, you are correct that even a few years ago there were very few people doing quantum computing as a specialty, so quantum computing was first suggested about 40 years ago by Richard Feynman. 

00:08:23 Dr. Mark Jackson 

This physicist, when he pointed out that there were a lot of problems that we never could hope to solve using normal computers and a prime example is. 

00:08:31 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Is chemistry doing molecular simulations? 

00:08:34 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Is very difficult for a computer. 

00:08:35 Dr. Mark Jackson 

We can only simulate only the very simplest model. 

00:08:38 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Schools and so he pointed out we have to build a new type of computer, one based on quantum physics. 

00:08:44 Dr. Mark Jackson 

This was about 40 years ago and no one knew how to do this at any feasible level, and so there was there was academic progress, so research labs and such would work on this, but it wasn't anywhere close to being commercialized for many years. 

00:08:59 Dr. Mark Jackson 

And then it was. It was around 2014 that started to change. 

00:09:02 Dr. Mark Jackson 

So it's only in the past few years that quantum information science, the academic term for this. 

00:09:09 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Really emerged, so there are now several universities offering degrees in quantum information sciences, but that's a relatively new development. 

00:09:19 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Most of the people. 

00:09:21 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Kind of the older people just had to pick it up on the street. 

00:09:25 Dr. Mark Jackson 

They were there or their physics professors. 

00:09:27 Dr. Mark Jackson 

So like very few people who really did this or there are people who came from other areas of science and technology who were able to pick up enough. 

00:09:37 Dr. Mark Jackson 

For example, I'm not even on the scientific team. 

00:09:39 Dr. Mark Jackson 

I'm on the business team, so even though my background is in theoretical physics, I actually don't know enough that I could. 

00:09:46 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Be a scientist in this area. 

00:09:50 Frank 

Interesting, I see a lot of parallels with kind of how traditional computer science had kind of evolved, right? 

00:09:57 Frank 

First you had to be an electrical engineer. 

00:09:59 Frank 

Or have that kind of a pedigree? 

00:10:02 Frank 

Then then you know, as computational. 

00:10:07 Frank 

Well, computer science kind of came out into its own as an active separate academic discipline. 

00:10:12 Frank 

You know there was there, you know it kind of evolved from there. 

00:10:15 Frank 

And I I see. 

00:10:17 Frank 

You know, obviously we're we're pretty early, so we don't know how the movie is going to end, but I kind of seen this story structure before in that regard. 

00:10:25 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Yeah, that that's actually a very good analogy. 

00:10:27 Dr. Mark Jackson 

The computers that we have now look a lot like the computers from the 50s and 60s. 

00:10:32 Dr. Mark Jackson 

That there there are these big machines in big rooms with wires hanging out and you do have to be a specialized engineer fiddling with things and it changes on a day to day basis which parts are working or not. 

00:10:45 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Things are very experimental, they're very expensive to use. 

00:10:48 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Uh, only a few people really know how to use them. 

00:10:51 Dr. Mark Jackson 

There are some differences in that back then you had to be physically there next to the machine, whereas now we have the Internet. 

00:10:58 Dr. Mark Jackson 

So fortunately people can access it from anywhere. 

00:11:02 Frank 

Which is great in the pandemic. 

00:11:04 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Which is great during the pandemic that we can access these quantum computing machines, but but they are still experimental and engineers have to be on site to fiddle with them. 

00:11:12 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Things in a few years, though that probably won't be the case. 

00:11:16 Dr. Mark Jackson 

There will be a few people. 

00:11:18 Dr. Mark Jackson 

Uh, specialized in them, but a lot of people will be able to use them without having to be. 

00:11:23 Dr. Mark Jackson 

An expert in them, right? 

00:11:24 Frank 

So I mean, there's definitely this. 

00:11:26 Frank 

This evolution that's happening, and it's it seems to be picking up pace. 

00:11:31 Frank 

But what's...





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