Quantum Computing at the University of Illinois Springfield

Quantum computing was once the sole purview of science fiction writers. Today, however, it’s fast becoming a reality that higher education can get on board with.

Ray Schroeder, Associate Vice Chancellor of Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield and Founding Director of the National Council for Online Education, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss what the advent of quantum computing means for higher education.

What Is Quantum Computing?

“Shohini Ghose has a quote that I just love,” Ray said. ‘If you’re confused about the quantum computer, don’t worry, that means you’re getting it.”

Even Einstein called quantum computing spooky. We’re accustomed to computing in binary digits, bits, ones, and zeros. That’s the way in which we do all of our coding and all our computing.

Quantum computing, however, uses cubits, which are quantum bits. The difference between binary bits and cubits is that cubits can represent one or zero, but they can also can represented as one and zero. In some cases, there can also be a direction or phase quantity added to that. 

“So there are multiple states for every cubit,” Ray said, “whereas, for every bit, there’s just a zero or one. And usually, these are held on photons or electrons or some other subatomic particle or wave.”

You can call them either a wave or a particle because they behave both as waves and as particles. So with a cubit, we can do much more because we’ve got three or four different representations for every cubit. That allows us to process information much, much faster. In fact, in a quantum computer, works about 10,000 times faster than the standard supercomputer today.

But there are more aspects and very strange ones, indeed, that press our understanding and what we learned of Einstein’s relativity in high school. That’s that spooky aspect. 

You can entangle two cubits. So imagine putting them together and entangling them and then separate them and take one and put it on a spaceship and send it off into orbit, as the Chinese have done. Then with the one remaining here on earth, you can do something to it. You might change the phase or change it from a zero to a one, and instantly, it changes in space — faster than the speed of light. That’s bizarre and spooky as Einstein says.

It’s referred to as teleportation.

How that happens, we don’t know. But because we don’t know, it feels like the ultimate security potential because no one knows how that happened. And how do you intercept that?

Well we don’t know. So right now, as at this level, we’re beginning to look at applications. We see that the security potential is phenomenal. IBM has the first cloud accessible computer, the IBM Q version one. There’s much more to come.

In brief, quantum computing is far faster. It has enormous security potential, and it will allow us to solve problems that currently take 20 years in about 20 seconds.

The Influence of Quantum Computing on Higher Education

Quantum courses have been around for a while, but today, the theories are becoming reality. 

The idea has already bubbled up in technical areas such as computer science, management of information systems, physics, and computer engineering. But there are also futuristic curricula that need to take into account the advantages of quantum computing. 

“The computers do exist,” Ray said. “Probably in the near term, they’ll be in the cloud, and we will pay for a millisecond or a second or five seconds of use of the computer at most, so it probably won’t be sitting on your desk.” 

It will, however, work in tandem with your binary computer. So you might do your inputs using a binary computer, and then the quantum computer will take the inputs and run them at the speed of light.

How Quantum Computing Could Affect University Data Mining

Without breaking stride, a quantum computer will let us handle massive datasets, and it’ll organize those data and help us make inferences and predictions. 

“We’ll be able to run far more sophisticated algorithms,” Ray predicts. “We’ll be able to make more nuanced predictions over time. So that when we’re looking at predicting success of students or if we’re doing adaptive learning or if we’re simply trying to judge the prospect of success for a student who applies to a program or a discipline, all of those are trivial problems for a quantum computer.”

Quantum computing could be the engine for AI, too. Take the algorithms of AI and put them on hyper drive, and they could provide sensational results in three seconds. That means quantum computing could allow for that highly personalized learning we consider the holy grail in education. 

“When we teach class now,” Ray said, “we kind of aim at the middle and those more advanced students get bored and the less advanced students get frustrated. Well, what this will allow us to do is to personalize learning for each student and do much more sophisticated assessment of a learner, their deficits, and their needs.”

Next-Steps Advice for Other Colleges and Universities Leveraging Quantum Computing

“Although it’s confusing,” Ray admitted, “I think quantum computing is something we all have to try to understand.” 

It could be as simple as Ted talks. It could be basic lectures. It could be reading a book, but we in higher ed need to try to get a basic understanding of what’s going on and build some on-site expertise on our campuses. 

“Provide professional development for faculty and staff members,” Ray told us, “so that they’re aware of what quantum computing and entanglement. Test the cloud-based quantum computers and see how they operate.”

Some quantum computers will give a university a few seconds at low cost or no cost, so test them out and get a sense of how quantum works. Begin to plan ways in which you’ll apply quantum computing in administration, teaching, and learning. The possibilities are endless.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Ray Schroeder from the University of Illinois Springfield. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.