Tag Archives: Robert R. Tucci

Big Challenges Require Bold Visions

Unless we experience a major calamity resetting the world's economy to a much lower output, it is a foregone conclusion that the world will miss the CO2 target to limit global warming to 1.5C. This drives a slow motion multi-faceted disaster exacerbated by the ongoing growth in global population, which puts additional stress on the environment.  Unsurprisingly, we are in the midst of earth's sixth massive extinction event.

It just takes three charts to paint the picture:

1) World Population Growth

2) Temperature Increase

3) Species Extinction

We shouldn't delude ourselves in believing that our species is safe from adding itself to the extinction list. The next decades are pivotal in stopping the damage we do to our planet. Given our current technologies, we have every reason to believe that we can stabilize population growth and replace fossil fuel dependent technologies with CO2 neutral ones, but the processes that are already set in motion will produce societal challenges of unprecedented proportion.

Population growth and the need for arable land keeps pushing people ever closer to formerly isolated wildlife.  Most often with just fatal consequences for the latter, but sometimes the damage goes both ways.  HIV, Ebola and bird flu, for instance, are all health threats that were originally contracted from animal reservoirs (zoonosis), and we can expect more such pathogens, many of which will not have been observed before. At the same time, old pathogens can easily resurface. Take tuberculosis, for instance. Even in an affluent country with good public health infrastructure, such as Canada, we see over a thousand new cases each year, and, as in other parts of the world, multi-resistant TB strains are on the rise.

Immunization and health management require functioning governmental bodies. In a world that will see ever more refugee crises and civil strife, the risk for disruptive pandemics will massively increase. The recent outbreak of Ebola is a case study in how such mass infections can overwhelm the medical infrastructure of developing countries, and should serve as a wake-up call to the first world to help establish a global framework that can manage these kinds of global health risks. The key is to identify emerging threats as early as possible, since the chance of containment and mitigation increases by multitudes the sooner actions can be taken.

Such a framework will require robust and secure data collection and dissemination capabilities and advanced predictive analytics that can build on all available pooled health data as well as established medical ontologies. Medical doctor and bioinformatic researcher Andrew Deonarine has envisioned such a system that he has dubbed Signa.OS, and he has assembled a stellar team including members from his former alma mater Cambridge, the UBC, as well as Harvard, where he will soon start post-graduate work. Any such system should not be designed with just our current hardware in mind, but with the technologies that will be available within the decade.  That is why quantum computer accelerated Bayesian networks are an integral part of the analytical engine for Signa.OS. We are especially excited to also have Prof. Marco Scutari from Oxford join the Signa.OS initiative, whose work in Bayesian network training in R is stellar, and served as a guiding star for our python implementation.

Our young company, artiste-qb.net, which I recently started with Robert R. Tucci, could not have wished for a more meaningful research project to prove our technology.

[This video was produced by Andrew for entering the MacArthur challenge.]

 

He Said She Said – How Blogs are Changing the Scientific Discourse

The debate about D-Wave's "quantumness" shows no signs of abating, hitting a new high note with the company being prominently featured on Time magazine's recent cover, prompting a dissection of the article on Scott Aaronson's blog. This was quickly followed by yet another scoop: A rebuttal by Umesh Vazirani to Geordie Rose who recently blogged about the Vazirani et al. paper which sheds doubt on D-Wave's claim to implement quantum annealing. In his take on the Time magazine article Scott bemoans the 'he said she said' template of journalism which gives all sides equal weight, while acknowledging that the Times author Lev Grossman quoted him correctly, and obviously tries to paint an objective picture.

If I had to pick the biggest shortcoming of the Times article, my choice would have been different. I find Grossman entirely misses Scott's role in this story by describing him as "one of the closest observers of the controversy". Scott isn't just an observer in this. For better or worse he is central to this controversy. As far as I can tell, his reporting on D-Wave's original demo is what started it to begin with. Unforgettable, his inspired comparison of the D-Wave chip to a roast beef sandwich, which he then famously retracted when he resigned as D-Wave's chief critic. The latter is something he's done with some regularity, first when D-Wave started to publish results, then after visiting the company and most recently after the Troyer et al. pre-print appeared in arxiv (although the second time doesn't seem to count, since it was just a reiteration of the first resignation).

And the say sandwiches and chips go together ...Scott's resignations never seem to last long. D-Wave has a knack for pushing his buttons. And the way he engages D-Wave and associated research is indicative of a broader trend in how blogs are changing the scientific discourse. For instance, when Catherine McGeoch gave a talk about her benchmarking of the DW2, Scott did not immediately challenge her directly but took to his blog (a decision he later regretted and apologized for). Anybody who has spent more than five minutes on a Web forum knows how the immediate, yet text only, communication removes inhibitions and leads to more forceful exchanges. In the scientific context, this has the interesting effect of colliding head on with the more lofty perception of a scientist. It used to be that arguments were only conducted via scientific publications, in person such as in scientific seminars, or the occasional letter exchange. It's interesting to contemplate how corrosive the arguments between Bohr and Einstein may have turned out, if they would have been conducted via blogs rather than in person. But it's not all bad. In the olden days, science could easily be mistaken for a bloodless intellectual game, but nobody could read through the hundreds of comments on Scott's blog that day and come away with that impression. To the contrary, the inevitable conclusion will be that science arguments are fought with no less passion than the most heated bar brawl.

During this epic blog 'fight' Scott summarized his preference for the media thusly

"... I think this episode perfectly illustrates both the disadvantages and the advantages of blogs compared to face-to-face conversation. Yes, on blogs, people misinterpret signals, act rude, and level accusations at each other that they never would face-to-face. But in the process, at least absolutely everything gets out into the open. Notice how I managed to learn orders of magnitude more from Prof. McGeoch from a few blog comments, than I did from having her in the same room ..."

it is by far not the only controversy that he courted, nor is this something unique to his blog. Peter Woit continues the heretical work he started with his 'Not Even Wrong' book, Robert R. Tucci fiercely defends his quantum algorithm work when he feels he is not credited, Sabine Hossenfelder had to ban a highly qualified String theory troll due to his nastiness (she is also a mum of twins, so you know she has practice in being patient, and it's not like she doesn't have a good sense of humor). But my second favorite science blog fight also occurred on Scott's blog when Joy Christian challenge him to a bet to promote his theory that supposedly invalidates the essential non-locality of quantum mechanics due to Bell's theorem.

It's instructive to look at the Joy Christian affair and ask how a mainstream reporter could have possibly reported it. Not knowing Clifford algebra, what could a reporter do but triangulate the expert opinions? There are some outspoken smart critics that point to mistakes in Joy Christian's reasoning, yet he claims that these are based on flawed understanding and have been repudiated. The reporter will also note that doubting Bell's theorem is very much a minority position, yet such a journalist not being able to check the math himself can only fall back on the 'he said she said' template. After all, this is not a simple straight forward fact like reporting if UN inspectors found Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass distractions or not (something that surprisingly most mainstream media outside the US accomplished just fine). One cannot expect a journalist to settle an open scientific question.

The nature of the D-Wave story isn't different, how is Lev Grossman supposed to do anything but report the various stances on each side of the controversy? A commenter at Scott's blog was dismissively pointing out that he doesn't even have a science degree. As if this were to make any difference, it's not like everybody else on each side of the story doesn't boast such degrees (non-PhDs are in the minority at D-Wave).

Mainstream media reports as they always did, but unsettled scientific questions are the exception to the rule, one of the few cases when 'he said she said' journalism is actually the best format. For everything else we fortunately now have the blogs.

Rescued From the Blogroll Memory Hole

During the week my professional life leaves me no time to create original content.  Yet, there is a lot of excellent material out there pertinent to the nascent quantum information industry. So to fill the inter-week void I think it is very worthwhile to try to rescue recent blogroll posts from obscurity.

Very relevant to the surprise that Scott Aaronson came around on D-Wave is Robert Tucci's great technical review of D-Wave's recent Nature paper.  If you are not afraid of some math and are tired of the void verbiage that passes for popular science journalism than this is for you.