Quantum This! 10 Questions With Whurley
William Hurley (who most of us affectionately know as whurley) will cover the massive possibilities of quantum computing when he keynotes at SXSW in Austin in March 2018. Buy your badge when registration opens at 10:00 am CDT on Tuesday, August 1 to attend his session. And learn more about the man behind the beard by reading his answers to these 10 questions.
In 20 words or less, explain quantum computing such that folks who aren’t PhD-level engineers can understand what it means.
Computers that take advantage of quantum-mechanics. And by doing so, are exponentially faster at certain tasks than today’s “classical computers.”
What’s easier to explain — quantum computing or blockchain?Blockchain. Without a doubt, blockchain. I mean blockchain doesn’t require a physics degree. You can easily describe blockchain as an open distributed ledger. Whereas with quantum computing, you have to start with quantum-mechanical phenomena.
For people who want to try to better understand what is going on here, what do you recommend as the best resource to learn more about quantum computing?
Whether you have a physics degree or not, getting your head around quantum computing can be easier than it seems. I always recommend two things. First, Kurzgesagt’s excellent video; “Quantum Computers Explained.” Second, Jason Palmer’s article in the Economist: “Quantum Technology Is Beginning To Come Into Its Own.” There are plenty of resources available — but not all are at the quality level of these two, imho.
One of the two books that you are releasing at SXSW 2018 in March is called “Endless Impossibilities.” This book brings the realities of a quantum future into the present, exploring the inevitability of quantum computing and its impacts. So what will quantum computing do for the average user?
It’s not going to make cute animal videos faster, but it could do some pretty cool things. For example, help dramatically improve the ability of researchers to develop new drugs, and cures, for some of the most challenging diseases we face today.
While you’ve never served as a keynote speaker at the event before, you certainly participated in SXSW in many different ways over the last 20 years. What are your favorite South By memories?
Man that’s a long list. SXSW has always been a part of my career and has helped to shape my personal journey. Obviously the infamous “runaway battlebot” incident still comes up almost 10 years later. But if I had to name my favorite memory it would be hosting President Obama on the Friday of SXSW 2016 and then announcing the sale of Honest Dollar to Goldman Sachs the following Monday. That was an insane experience and probably one of the craziest weekends of my entire life.
When did William Hurley become whurley? Is there a creation story on this particular transition?
Sebastian Hassinger is the first person to ever call me “whurley” and originally it was derogatory (he and Mike Erwin teased me relentlessly in my early days at Apple). But around 2006 it had become my handle online and I had built a reputation. It was about this time I received the first job offer of my career mentioning me calling myself “whurley” as part of the job. So then, I was like “why yes, I am whurley.” Truth be known, I’ve never cared what people call me Will, William, whurley; as long as they don’t call me Bill or Billy.
For the various times that you have met President Obama, what did he call you?
Whurley. In fact, what’s funny is that when he was on stage at the rally he held just after his keynote at SXSW 2016, he said “I want to thank whurley.” By saying that, he did more to cement people calling me that than everything else put together. Ever since then, entrepreneurs, reporters, investors, and even my mother-in-law all default to calling me “whurley.”
From your perspective, why should the city’s tech community care about the Texas Legislature’s efforts to pass a Bathroom Bill?
It should be more than just the tech community. I think everyone should care about this legislation. But the tech community has several advantages in their reach online, and their influence in the community. So when you’re in a position like that I feel like it’s important to get involved.
You’ve talked about your vision of the future in various locations around the world. Aside from Austin, what’s your favorite city with regards to forward-thinking technology and why?
I really like so many… I mean Berlin has an amazing startup scene; Tel-Aviv and Haifa have pretty cool scenes as well. I’m also a huge fan of London, and we should never discount Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley in New York. But if I had to pick a place right now, it would be Sydney, Australia. There’s so much advanced material science and quantum mechanics work going on there right now that it’s at the top of my list of places to visit.
Your oldest son Brooks now runs a startup in Austin called Chilligence. Is there a gene for entrepreneurism?
Only time will tell. He’s off to a great start, and has huge interest from investors and more importantly customers, but he’s making his own way. To me this is his college, this is where he’ll hone whatever natural entrepreneurial skills he has. We’ll have to see how he does. But no matter what I am immensely proud of him.
Whurley photo above from South by South Lawn in October 2016.
Hugh Forrest tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they cover specific current events. When not attempting to wordsmith or learning to meditate, he serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW in Austin.