back to article 'Quantum computer algorithms are linear algebra, probabilities. This is not something that we do a good job of teaching our kids'

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that quantum computers will exist in some useful fashion in the not too distant future. And if that is the case, fundamental changes will be needed in education, supply chains, and national policies for us to use the machines to solve complex problems, panelists said a forum hosted by R …

  1. redpawn

    Almost Time to replace

    my iridium sponge, just 15 more years. I'm losing count of my half lives.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How fast does a force propagate?

    "Sorry, yes, we're assuming they will eventually work."

    urrgghhhh... I'm sure I can pierce that crap if I try enough ways. So lets try a different approach:

    How fast does a force propagate?

    You have a force, e.g. electric. It propagates at some fixed speed, e.g. "speed of light", which means it has a fixed function relative to time #1. And time is fixed relative to the oscillations in the nucleus of an atomic clock #2. So the force must also be an oscillating force. #3.

    So it's *oscillating* electric force, not some constant force.


    So now you have a concept of all of your forces as oscillating, then you're no longer measuring the position of something, you're measuring its position relative to the current oscillation of the *observer* matter.

    So your quantum computer is not going through alll possible states, and only getting its position set when you measured it, it's just that when you measure it, you're determining the unknown state of the observer relative to the observed.

    You're just filling in the unknowns in your equation by measuring values you didn't previously know. Hence all your magic QE and Quantum Teleportation crap.... when things appear to be set when you measure it, because you've defined your equations as if the observer is constant.

    #1 you already know time changes by the 2x atomic clock, so you could rewrite your formulaes in terms of position instead of time, and you'd have an oscillating function.

    #2 It's relationship to time is constant, yet time changes so its relationship tracks those changes. i.e. one is function of the other.

    #3 To get from an oscillating function to a non-oscillation function, at best you'd need the inverse (inverse of an oscillating function must also be oscillating). Hence the function based on position must also be an oscillating one.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: How fast does a force propagate?

      "How fast does a force propogate?" - OK, you've fixed that for us - thanks.

      Now, here's one that's been bugging me since I was a kid. "How many beans make 5?".

      1. ortunk

        Re: How fast does a force propagate?

        Also photon pairs or electron/positron pairs communicate faster then light

        1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

          Re: Also photon pairs or electron/positron pairs communicate faster then light

          There is no scientific evidence, nor any widely accepted physical theory, that says that information can travel faster than lightspeed.

          Of course, if you like hidden-variable interpretations of quantum mechanics, then you are forced to say that some sort of influence travels faster than lightspeed ... but you *still* cannot use that "influence" for sending information faster than light.

        2. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

          Re: How fast does a force propagate?

          "Also photon pairs or electron/positron pairs communicate faster then light"

          No they don't. Assuming you are taking about entangled pairs, there is no information transferred between the particles at the time of resolving the state of one. The only information that exists is encoded at the moment of entanglement, the entangled particles are then moved apart (at less then the speed of light).

          It's tempting to view the moment at which one waveform is resolved as sending a message faster than light to the other pair particle to reveal the"hidden message" encoded in the entanglement, but that's not what happens. The information was always there and was transferred at less than light speed.

        3. the small snake

          Re: How fast does a force propagate?

          Entangled pairs do not communicate faster than light any more than shoeboxes do when you open them to find left or right shoe. Is very easy to show that if information can be sent faster than light this leads to causality violation. That has a name: time machine, and is time machine that we could build quite easily. Particular kind of time machine that could be built this way would enable person to send information into their own past. For instance financial information. Person who can do this can win the stock market. Amount person would be willing to spend to be able to do this? A lot: perhaps whole wealth of planet. But look, no-one does it.

          And this is because quantum mechanics does not, in fact, allow transmission of information faster than light, despite the woo-woo spooky people (who never are physicists).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How fast does a force propagate?

      I’m going to take a guess that you have never taken even one course in Quantum Mechanics. Or if you did, you flunked it…

    3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: How fast does a force propagate?

      Ivor? Ivor Catt? is that you?

      1. the small snake

        Re: How fast does a force propagate?

        Oh it could be! Friends of my parents told me about him as pre-internet crank & I read some of the old Wireless World madness. His Wikipedia article is interesting and obviously was written by someone whose initials were I.C.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: How fast does a force propagate?

        That would be Ivor Catt Inaboks

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    A high level approach

    > "The language of quantum algorithms are linear algebra and probabilities. This is not something that we do a good job of teaching our kids

    All that will be necessary is to teach "kids" how to use the AI that will program the quantum computer.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: A high level approach

      Well certainly if you have to operate at the level of wavefunctions to program a quantum computer then they might as well not exist. Only a handful of people will *ever* be able to program them.

      Sure, thousands of people each year get degrees which require them to be able to compute the answers to simple QM problems, like atomic orbitals or geometrically trivial scattering problems. (I was one of them once. Not sure if I could do it now. It's been a few decades since I had to.) However, that's the equivalent of "Hello, world!", inasmuch as the form of the problem is completely standardised and all that changes are the values of mass, velocity, etc. You are conceptually miles away from solving a problem that no-one has ever tackled before. That sort of thing is research-level QM and the number of people who ever master it is probably about one in a million of the population. (I'm guessing there may be several thousand alive on the planet right now. I'm pretty certain there aren't several million.)

      1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

        Re: A high level approach

        However, teaching kids the basic principles of probability and even some linear programming might really help their critical thinking and day-to-day analytic skills.

        Keep it qualitative, non-numeric for those uncomfortable with numbers, but empower people with some simple tools for understanding what is going on in the world.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A high level approach

          Indeed. (Mind, even the lowliest bog-standard engineer takes linear algebra but I have encountered CSC-MSc graduates who have never heard of basis change.)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They won't have time to learn to program quantum computers

    as they'll be too busy figuring out how to use all that fusion power.

  5. trevorde Silver badge

    Fatima's next job

    Linear algebra and probability - how difficult can it be?

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Fatima's next job

      Fatimah's next job is HGV driver.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I couldn't help thinking that this article is some kind of joke when I read that the name of the company is Arse Treat Institute.

    1. the spectacularly refined chap Silver badge

      I remember going back to my desk one day to see phone message taken by a colleague, fortunately non-technical. It asked about using Arse, Inc for backups.

      1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

        Did you pull an answer out for him/her?

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Teach linear algebra and probabilities? Why not include critical thinking as well?

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      "Why not include critical thinking as well?"

      Probably because you can't impart it in four days of powerpoint slides followed by a two hour computer marked multiple choice pub quiz.

      I consult in business risk, and it's hard to get anyone to realise (even at 'expert' level) that the basics of probability theory are merely a description of how things occur in the real world, and to ignore them is to ignore reality.

      The typical business risk assessment is "I think it's a three" - "that sounds about right".

      Not surprising that surprises keep happening, is it?

      1. Robert Helpmann??

        Re: "Why not include critical thinking as well?"

        The typical business risk assessment is "I think it's a three" - "that sounds about right".

        For a fun experiment illustrating how the population as a whole fails to grasp these concepts, ask any large group of adults how many think they are above average drivers. Except in very rare circumstances, most will assess themselves as above average. People are generally crap at risk assessment and management.

        1. nautica Bronze badge

          Re: "Why not include critical thinking as well?"

          "...Lake Wobegon. Minnesota, where all the women are strong, all the men are beautiful, and all the children are above average..."

          --Garrison Keillor

        2. captain veg Silver badge

          Re: above average drivers

          This apparent paradox is easily explained.

          Since the meaning of "above average driver" is never quantified, each respondent is free to interpret it according to their own reference. Since hardly anyone is likely to volunteer that they are crap at driving (whatever that might mean) then they will frame it in terms that make them above average.

          Some might fancy themselves as Lewis Hamilton and judge that their perceived ability to drive fast makes them "above average". Others might realise that they are not able to drive fast without endangering themselves and everyone else and so consider that their driving well within their more honestly appraised abilities makes them "above average". Still others might consider that driving as slowly as possible is both safer and less environmentally damaging. So they equate that with "above average".

          In other words, no one deliberately drives badly, so the assessment of "above average" boils down to "what I do already".

          I'd make everyone resit their test every five years.


        3. ColonelDare

          Re: "Why not include critical thinking as well?"

          And 99.99% of the population have an above average number of legs*

          * Not a smutty joke but statistically true, give or take a few decimal places.

          1. captain veg Silver badge

            Re: "Why not include critical thinking as well?"

            For a particular value of the word "average". I'm pretty sure that my tally of two put me bang on the mode.


            1. ColonelDare

              Re: "Why not include critical thinking as well?"

              yes, but I mean.

            2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: "Why not include critical thinking as well?"

              >For a particular value of the word "average"

              The most common first name is Mohammed

              The most common surname is Zhang

              Therefore the most common name is Mohammed Zhang (and not Ford Prefect)

          2. bombastic bob Silver badge

            Re: "Why not include critical thinking as well?"

            statistically true, give or take a few decimal places

            lies, damn lies, and statistics

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Why not include critical thinking as well?

      what and upset big tech's evil plan?


      (brainwashing can be done on a much smaller budget... with more predictable results.)

      Seriously though...

      I had a linear algebra class in college. It was a lot like high school algebra II class, but more in depth. And statistics and probabilities define the core of nuclear physics where EVERYTHING is a probability, and is often measured in 'barns' (as in hitting the broad side of one). When you get above the noise level of entropy, the numbers start to look very consistent and predictable. It's how a fission reactor works, essentially, the probability of neutron reactions based on fission rate, fuel load, geometry, temperature, and neutron absorbing materials (and in many cases, fission products that emit them i.e. delayed neutrons).

      It may simply be a mindset, not an actual knowledge deficiency, with linear algebra and probabilities defining it. Still if you can use matrices to calculate things based on probabilities, maybe THAT is what quantum computing would do best at?

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      >Teach linear algebra and probabilities?

      You don't need to teach maths any more - everybody has a computer with them all the time !

      1. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge


        Leftist shouting hysterically

  8. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "Starting now, education needs to be better ..."

    "Starting now, education needs to be better for people to take advantage of the quantum processing breakthroughs"

    Starting yesterday, education needs to be better for people to be able to write conventional software that isn't a heap of bug-ridden s**t. Until we get that right, all else is pretty much peripheral to progress in the digital domain.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here I was thinking …

    Yes - why not teach Quantum mechanics to 5 year olds? Seems pointless to wait until the second year of University.

    Also, if kids complete their PhDs by 10 it’ll save a lot of money on University tuition.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Here I was thinking …

      Given where Quantum computing really is - namely still playing around with a handful of qubits, I think the 5 year olds you are referring to are the children of today's 5 year olds...

      Quantum Computing - come back when you've got something equivalent to an Intel 4004.

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Here I was thinking …

      Because J will shoot them.

      Eight-year-old white girl. Middle of the ghetto. Bunch of monsters. This time of night. With quantum physics books. She’s about to start some shit. She’s about eight years old, those books are way too advanced for her. If you ask me, I’d say she’s up to something.

  10. RichardBarrell

    Teaching kids linear algebra may be a good idea. It's not harder than geometry (way easier than calculus) and pretty useful.

  11. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Wish you luck

    I didn't understand much of this, way outside my fields.

    But education policy I do understand. There is more chance of building a quantum computer by Christmas than there is of getting Maths education in the UK (or USA) to adapt to the modern world.

    Current education policy is overwhelmingly dominated by making schools more like what they were back in The Good Old Days. And if you think about the fact that the UK political establishment isn't too wedded to the metric system even. (And the USA never seems to have adopted it anyway).

    1. nautica Bronze badge

      Re: Wish you luck

      "...But education policy I do understand...

      "...Current education policy is overwhelmingly dominated by making schools more like what they were back in The Good Old Days..."

      ...Oh, you mean that 'current education policy' is NOW '"overwhelmingly dominated" by going back to the teaching of the the "three Rs", as in "Reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic"; and to the demanding that students read, understand, and write reports on The Great Books?

      And, since you brought it up, let's include an absolute, healthy dose of the teaching of, and insistence upon, discipline; and respect for teachers, and all authority.

      What alternate universe do you live in?

      You have indicated, in the most stark of terms, that you most definitely understand nothing of "...current education policy...".

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Wish you luck

        Where there are two things: schools and what is taught. I think the original poster was implying that the Eton educated Conservatives see state schools as only needing to teach pupils how to be proles; failing to see that it is Eton that hasn't moved on since the days of empire...

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Wish you luck

          It's that and the emphasis on Behaviourist rote learning and testing regimes of items that were on the curriculum 50 years ago, because they were on the curriculum 50 years ago. The obvious example is in mandating teaching multiplication tables, which is a good thing, except they make it a high stakes test item - putting kids under pressure which makes a significant proportion less able to learn something that is quite simple if it's taught in a relaxed way and could be worked round for the significant number of kids who really do struggle with rote learning. But also mandating to 12x12. Teaching to 10x10 and teaching partitioning for >10 is essential. No one needs to learn the 12s (at least not until they bring back feet and inches).

          1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

            Re: Wish you luck

            One problem with the metric system is its easy, it does not require the brain to be switched on. Lots still fail.

            1. stiine Silver badge

              Re: Wish you luck

              But using metric doesn't teach you anything, except how to multiply by 10 (hint, add a zero).

              1. Korev Silver badge

                Re: Wish you luck

                Estimating and appreciating orders of magnitude is useful.

          2. the small snake

            Re: Wish you luck

            Agree with you. But making people functionally numerate is I think important, however it is to be done. Is easy to say that well, we have calculators now and we do not need to be, but I have spent too much time having to carefully avoid stealing from people who could not properly calculate change quickly. And these were not stupid people (whatever stupid person means which is nothing) they were just people for whom part of their education had failed.

            If people were functionally numerate they would, for instance, be able to see through many lies told by your glorious yellow-haired emperor. So of course splendid emperor does not really want functional numeracy (do you need functional numeracy to be HGV driver of fruit-picker or servant of kleptocracy? probably no). Yellow emperor is anyway functionally innumerate of course.

            PS am mathematician / mathematical physicist. But still aware I am not numerate enough (very bad at statistics).

            1. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

              Re: Wish you luck

              As opposed to the current gray, balding, senile Emperor!? Whose lies are not subtle or boastful but flat out lies that anyone of any relative intelligence should be able to see. i.e A $3.5T spending bill cost $0!

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Wish you luck

        On the contrary - you've just demonstrated an appalling set of prejudices and incomprehension about education past or present. Your comments do not suggest that you are currently, or have ever been, in an educational role, let alone at senior level.

      3. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

        Re: Wish you luck

        Well, "Current education policy" in the USA is to teach them nothing of any value and turn them into political tools!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wish you luck

      > Current education policy is overwhelmingly dominated by making schools more like what they were back in The Good Old Days.

      Hardly, education policy is about making sure that the grades achieved are better this year than last year so those in power this week can claim they are doing a better job than those in power last week.

      My youngest was being taught stuff in A Level maths a couple of years back that I was taught in juniors. Seems that for a lot of maths they are being taught "this is hard" where in the past it was a case of learn this or we'll hit you hard.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Wish you luck

        That's practice rather than theory. And I truly don't believe that your daughter is learning A level Maths that you were taught in Juniors. Since I've seen enough 'A' level maths exam papers to know that they're far harder than anything I learnt when I was doing 'O' level decades ago, or taught when I was a year 7/8 Maths teacher a few years later on for that matter. And my daughters' Maths GCSEs were no easier than the ones I'd done almost 50 years ago.

        But maybe you've seen her doing an introductory module to something.

        1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

          Re: Wish you luck

          --Since I've seen enough 'A' level maths exam papers to know that they're far harder than anything I learnt when I was doing 'O' level decades ago,--

          You may find that's because you've forgotten a few things in the passing decades. Not using knowledge tends to make it drift away.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Wish you luck

          Back before pocket calculators we were taught to use log tables, sure we weren't taught how to derive Napier logs or the significance of e, but we were taught that the base of the log wasn't important to the theory of how they worked. Once you're in the book of 4 figure tables then it makes sense to "do the rest of the them". So as well as logs were did a lot of trig and geometry. Yes at least one question from a past paper was stuff we did aged 8 or 9, I saw it as it was one they and their teacher had struggled with (they were trying a more complicated solution) and I happened to ask how things were going.

          Sure they were taught things that weren't covered when I was younger, but necessity is the mother of ... and no electronic calculators meant learning other solutions, hence logs and slide rules. And back then rulers tended to have inches on both sides so it was easy to put two together and see them add up and so understand that was all a slide rule did. But how could you convince young kids that logs made their life easier now when they know they can type any arithmetic into a calculator and the answer will just pop out.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wish you luck

      Actually it’s a good thing that schools are using all the whizzy modern teaching ideas…

      …it’s how the private schools make money by offering a real education. You know by writing essays and doing tests with pen and paper…

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Wish you luck

        And you really think state schools don't do that? Haven't (mostly) always done that? Or that there haven't been "innovative" (and bloody expensive) private schools that haven't, because being private they don't have to?

    4. ITS Retired

      Re: Wish you luck

      They Teach to the Test now. The do not teach comprehension of the subject. All they want are the "correct" answers on the scheduled tests. Correct, meaning currently politically correct answers.

      The Powers That Be do not want thinkers, comprehension of the subject, or much real understanding of the subject. Only correct answers on the standardize tests.

      The United States has gone from one of the world leaders in education, to approaching 3rd world status in many cases. Privatizing our public schools, i.e., corporate owned, Charter schools hasn't helped any either.

      "You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And now they're coming for your Social Security money. They want your f**kin' retirement money. They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street."

      ― George Carlin

      1. Dark Eagle

        Re: Wish you luck

        In short, India.

  12. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Let's say, for the sake of argument, that quantum computers will exist in some useful fashion in the not too distant future.

    They certainly will exist. And they certainly won't exist. We just have to look into the box to find out which it is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      or will it be the case that once they've been invented that they will always have existed?

      1. Swarthy Silver badge

        Using Quantum computers to implement Roko's Basilisk?

  13. RLWatkins

    Arrrgh! When did we stop teaching science to science writers?

    (1) The process using "linear algebra probabilities" is quantum annealing. That isn't the only way quantum computers are built, although it is a very useful one. Quantum computer programs for, say, factoring use entirely different techniques.

    (2) A quantum bit cannot store multiple arbitrary classical bits of information. Saying, "Oooh, ahh, we can store much more information here because it's quantum bits" represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the technology.

    We may have made a mistake by calling these things "computers". It's as if we still called modern computers "difference engines". It limits our thinking so severely as to cause many people to completely miss the point.

    1. the small snake

      Re: Arrrgh! When did we stop teaching science to science writers?

      All of QM is built on linear algebra, is the point, with the interpretation of various things being probabilities (or the square roots of them). That's why early Heisenberg-picture QM was called 'matrix mechanics' (and why Dirac was so clever when he showed that matrix mechanics and wave mechanics were same thing). So any computer which uses QM is concerned both with linear algebra and probabilities, or it is not in fact using QM.

      But is not school linear algebra as is necessarily the case that the vector space concerned is infinite, because general function ('wave function') is vector in infinite-dimensional space, not finite-dimensional. So this is no longer school linear algebra: is actually now quite hard. For instance in finite dimensions is always the case that vector with finite components has finite norm, but this is not true in infinite dimensional: must impose norm (this is same thing as saying functions concerned must be square-integrable). Similarly is not immediately clear that basis is countable even (it is in fact). And so forth.

      It may be the case that quantum computers can be restricted to finite-dimensional spaces where things are now easy but I doubt that in fact.

  14. martinusher Silver badge

    Covid reveals the flaws in the argument

    Covid is just one modern example of the difficulties we face dealing with probabilities in everyday life. We all know by now the probabilities of being infected, of getting seriously ill and dying, the effects of vaccination and so on -- at least the information is widely available. But its probabilistic. There just is no 100% black or 100% white. So we get an awful lot of noise springing up about it, a lot of it actually quite well reasoned. (See the "OffGuardian" web site for readable examples)

    So the answer to our future problems is to further dilute the school curriculum with abstract subjects that will, at best, be covered extremely superficially? I suggest that we start fixing our current reality, starting with the systematic undermining of education over the best part of a half-century. We've now got supposedly educated people talking about "science" as just another belief system (caused, IMHO, by too much emphasis on subjects you can get teachers for at the expense of subjects that are 'hard' and so difficult to recruit teachers for).

    As far as I can see the only reason for the froth about quantum computing is that it promises a way to break encryption systems. I don't know much about it but it does seem to be an exotic form of analog computing, trading accuracy for speed, a tool for generating a lot of potential answers to a problem, assuming you can pick the correct answer out of the noise. Quite likely a valuable tool but not one that's going to be truly revolutionary in the near future.

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