More Quantum Questions With Whurley

The keynote speaker for Tuesday, March 13 at 2:00 pm at SXSW is Whurley (pictured above in Indiana Jones gear), who will focus on the “Endless Impossibilities of Quantum Computing.” A serial entrepreneur who grew up in Temple, Texas and is now based in Austin, William Hurley launched Honest Dollar at SXSW three years ago and this fin-tech startup was one of the biggest winners at the 2015 event. He’ll try to replicate that magic next week with his new venture Strangeworks. Read more of Whurley’s insights via two previous interviews we have done with him on this site, one in early January and another from July 2017. Also, view the recently-released three-minute profile of him on the new video series called the SXSW Creative Fix. In preparation for his March 13 keynote, we checked in with 10 more questions on the current state of the quantum computing industry.

Why does it make sense to have a keynote about quantum computing at SXSW?
Encompassing music, films, and technology, SXSW is and has always been about showcasing what matters and what’s next. In the coming years quantum computing will definitely be one of the next big things that really matters across our industry.

Microsoft just opened its quantum development kit to macOS and Linux. What do you make of this development?
This is exactly the type of announcements I want to see as we all work towards building a stronger, more diverse, and more democratized quantum computing ecosystem. I know there were complaints that this wasn’t done in the initial release, but hey they did it, and they deserve credit for trying to get quantum computing into the hands of a larger developer community.

Blockchain has certainly gained a ton of attention in the last six months (and will be a big focus at this year’s SXSW). Yet, this technology has been around since 2008. Given how long blockchain took to develop and gain mainstream buzz, what does the length of the runway look like for quantum?
Well, it’s really not an apples to apples comparison and the concept of cryptographically secured chain of blocks was dates all the way back to 1991. So it’s not like blockchain just popped up out of nowhere in 2008. But aside from that point, the main reason this isn’t a fair comparison is that blockchain has something quantum computing doesn’t…mass access. Meaning I’m sure quantum computing will take off faster as more people get access to quantum computers and the technology matures.

The mathematician Gil Kalai has emerged as one of the most prominent members of a group of mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists who argue that quantum computing is something of a mirage. What do you make of his criticisms?
I wrote about this on my blog recently. In his own words, there are potential issues with his theory. He proposes that he doesn’t need to be certain, he can simply wait and see. Gil believes the effort required to reduce the error rate to a useful level will increase exponentially with the number of qubits. He also believes that 20 qubits are enough to test his prediction; I’m not so sure about that. If that’s true the theory could be tested on IBM’s 20 qubit machine, or possibly Rigetti Computing’s 19 qubit machine and then either be fact, or just yet another theory about quantum computing that didn’t pan out. Don’t get me wrong his argument has merit, but I think there are a number of things not being taken into account.

In addition to putting together your keynote speech for SXSW, you’ve also been working on a couple of quantum-related books. What are these titles and when will the be released?
There are two books. The first “Quantum Computing for Babies” is available for pre-order now, and will officially release on April 3rd. The second “Endless Impossibilities” is slated to be released later this year.

Austin has emerged as a strong center for artificial intelligence related startups. Do you see the same thing happening with quantum startups over the next few years?
I would hope so. I mean nothing would make me happier. We do have a great program that’s just started at the University of Texas, and there is a strong meet up community in town so the foundation is there. I think the difference between the two is that AI smells like easy money to entrepreneurs…and with good reason. Quantum computing, on the other hand, might take a few years to get to that point/mindshare.

You will also be celebrating the launch of your new startup Strangeworks at SXSW. What do you hope to achieve with this startup in 2018?
We will be making not only an announcement about the company but also be making several major partnerships as well. Most of these will be focused on the ecosystem for developers interested in the quantum computing, but at least one of them illustrates the type of company we want to build, one that empowers everyone we can. I can’t say who that partnership is with until we hit SXSW, but it will be awesome.

Is anyone making money in quantum at present?
Sure, but primarily in consulting. DWave has obviously sold several versions of their quantum computer, but a lot of the money up until this point has been around consulting.

Aside from quantum, what other technology interests you most these days?
Biohacking and robotics. I’m very interested in both of those. Biohacking holds such promise, and regardless of what people think, we haven’t even scratched the surface of robotics.

Ester Perel’s keynote at SXSW will focus on the relationships between humans, while your keynote will focus on the relationships between particles. Which session will be more interesting?
Well I think Ester’s talk is going to be extraordinary. But aren’t we all exhausted from talking about our interpersonal relationships? Wink. wink.

You served as one of the first innovators to be featured on the SXSW Creative Fix video series. How was that experience?
The experience was amazing. I even posted a shot of us cutting up during the taping. It was a great team and an amazing conversation. I’m excited to see how it all turns out.

Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.



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Hugh Forrest

Hugh Forrest


Celebrating creativity at SXSW. Also, reading reading reading, the Boston Red Sox, good food, exercise when possible and sleep sleep sleep.