On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Waterloo, Ontario, touring the facilities of the independent not-for-profit Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, where he gave a media session to announce the federal government’s 2016 budget allocation of $50 million over five years to Perimeter, a leading researcher in theoretical physics.
That media spot has since gained worldwide attention, not for its stated objective (the $50 million announcement) but for Trudeau’s attempt at displaying his computer science chops. It happened that a reporter prefaced his question on the war with ISIS by saying, “I was going to ask you to explain quantum computing, but …”, a slight attempt at poking fun at Trudeau who, like the rest of us schlumps, supposedly knows not a wit about either quantum or computing.
But Trudeau, being a Trudeau, did not pass on the opportunity to smack down the too-clever reporter, and proceeded to give an (apparently) impromptu lecture on quantum computing, on how it differs from classical binary systems and why he himself is so very chuffed by the whole idea.
For the record, we don’t need our leader to be a physics whiz or a computing genius, we just need him to be supporting those Canadians out there who are.
Media attention has mostly focused on Trudeau’s alacrity and good-spirited engagement not only with the media scrum in front of him but with the subject matter at hand. “A leader who knows something about physics, I say, how refreshing!” And although some have chastised him for the slightly smug and sanctimonious delivery (but again, his father was twice as bad, remember?), the overall reception has been one of praise for Justin’s willingness to give it the old college try.
But on the mini-lecture itself, how did Trudeau do? Science types have been weighing in on that, too, and again, aside from a smattering of complaints about how Trudeau glossed over this or that essential piece of the quantum computing puzzle or that his description fizzled out in a scattering of quantum theory catchphrases like “uncertainty” and “particle and wave”, the general tide seems to indicate that Trudeau did fine at delivering what amounted to a quick and dirty description of quantum computing, one given to a group of reporter laypersons (and now to us wider audience members), one delivered without making huge blunders and, importantly, one made without straying off topic.
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Keep in mind that here is a government that at least appears to be taking action on Canada’s innovation gap, a difficult task set as it is within a policy and trade environment that has, since the country’s birth and beyond, supported commodity-based comparative advantage as our national growth strategy, amen and forever. But in the March 22 federal budget, the government earmarked $800 million over four years towards “innovation networks and clusters”, promised another $1 billion for clean technology development and another $2 billion for university labs and research facilities.
All this is to be part of the government’s new “Innovation Agenda” which will try to change the thinking on how business is run in Canada. This kind of investment is critical, something to be trumpeted as emblematic of where we want to be headed as a country. And so, in getting that message out, even if Justin Trudeau had to blow his own trumpet a little, we shouldn’t be too upset, should we? For the record, we don’t need our leader to be a physics whiz or a computing genius, we just need him to be supporting those Canadians out there who are.
Below: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Explains Quantum Computing