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Justin Trudeau’s understanding of quantum computing isn’t correct. But that’s okay

understand quantum computing

Justin Trudeau QuoraIs Justin Trudeau’s understanding of quantum computing correct?

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 his understanding 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.

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

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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  1. The point is not whether or not he understands quantum computing; it was obviously a staged question and answer. The point is that our prime minister thinks his job is to fly around the country going to photo ops and trying to make headlines. What about the two Canadians held hostage in the Phillipines? He had a terrible record of showing up to work when he was an MP, I wonder if he has even seen the inside of his office. Anyone that knows what youtube is could have given that answer.

  2. What ever their accomplishments, whatever their political stripes, whatever their education, whatever their disability – Canadians excel at crticising, dragging down and destroying any useful work, word or deed. We despise success in others – our friends, our children, our leader everyone. If they do not think politically exactly like us – we hate them and seek to tear down anything the try and create. No wonder people with positive attitudes have to leave the country to make it big.

  3. Largely agree with the article’s opinion and that of the first two comments, below, but it’s also worth noting (and correcting) that the previous government was the revolutionary one when it came to funding innovation. And the Perimeter Institute was where Stephen Harper announced his government’s bold new funding moves, 9 years ago. That led to record spending in science across Canada, at universities and associated clusters. They were covered by the media, of course, but just not with drooling fandom. Quantum computing is something of a Holy Grail that requires human brainpower to achieve; hence when Harper met with Stephen Hawking at Perimeter in 2010 to announce $45 million worth of Fellowships over the following 5 years, it was significant. What the media doesn’t offer today is context and perspective, just !!squirrel!! headlines. BTW, every PM has briefing notes that lets them answer such questions. Trudeau just does it as though he invented the concept.

  4. Prime Ministers are the face of the government. The more impromptu photo ops are refreshing from Harper’s staged extravagance. It’s also nice to see a PM who can go off of script, unlike the previous one.

  5. “Nice” and “refreshing” are not terms associated with good leadership.
    If PM’s are the face of our gov’t, than our gov’t is really nice looking, yet another important part of being a leader.

  6. He prompted them to ask the question then literally gave a scripted answer. That is not “off script”

  7. Well, they can be terms associated with good leadership. But in this case, they are less associated with the leadership of the current Prime Minister, than with a disdain for the poor governing qualities and incompetence of the previous PM.
    PMs are the face of government. You don’t think they run the entire country by themselves, do you? The Harper ad of him sitting at the desk was very misleading in that sense. 😛

  8. It was not strictly orchestrated. Which is why I referred to it as a “less impromptu photo-op”. He was showing off a bit of know-how, and still answered the question he was asked (although that really isn’t what has been reported).
    The question was encouraged. It was not planted. That’s a far cry from a planned photo-op. Try to understand a little better.
    If this qualifies as a staged photo-op, then all I’m saying is that the much more extravagant photo-ops of the previous government must have made your blood boil.

  9. The question was encouraged and when the reporter didn’t take the bait, Justin answered the scripted question with a scripted answer.

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