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Quantum Computers: Bigger Than AI?

Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and others have been warning about runway artificial intelligence, but there may be a more imminent threat: quantum computing. It could pose a greater burden on businesses than the Y2K computer bug did toward the end of the ’90s.

Quantum computers are straight out of science fiction. Take the “traveling salesman problem,” where a salesperson has to visit a specific set of cities, each only once, and return to the first city by the most efficient route possible. As the number of cities increases, the problem becomes exponentially complex. It would take a laptop computer 1,000 years to compute the most efficient route between 22 cities, for example. A quantum computer could do this within minutes, possibly seconds.

Unlike classic computers, in which information is represented in 0’s and 1’s, quantum computers rely on particles called quantum bits, or qubits. These can hold a value of 0 or 1 or both values at the same time — a superposition denoted as “0+1.”  They solve problems by laying out all of the possibilities simultaneously and measuring the results. It’s equivalent to opening a combination lock by trying every possible number and sequence simultaneously.

Albert Einstein was so skeptical about entanglement, one of the other principles of quantum mechanics, that he called it “spooky action at a distance” and said it was not possible. “God does not play dice with the universe,” he argued. But, as Hawking later wrote, God may have “a few tricks up his sleeve.”

See also: The Race to Quantum Computers  

Crazy as it may seem, IBM, Google, Microsoft and Intel say that they are getting close to making quantum computers work. IBM is already offering early versions of quantum computing as a cloud service to select clients. There is a global race between technology companies, defense contractors, universities and governments to build advanced versions that hold the promise of solving some of the greatest mysteries of the universe — and enable the cracking open of practically every secured database in the world.

Modern-day security systems are protected with a standard encryption algorithm called RSA (named after Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman, the inventors). It works by finding prime factors of very large numbers, a puzzle that needs to be solved. It is easy to reduce a small number such as 15 to its prime factors (3 and 5), but factoring numbers with a few hundred digits is extremely hard and could take days or months using conventional computers. But some quantum computers are working on these calculations, too, according to IEEE Spectrum. Quantum computers could one day effectively provide a skeleton key to confidential communications, bank accounts and password databases.

Imagine the strategic disadvantage nations would have if their rivals were the first to build these. Those possessing the technology would be able to open every nation’s digital locks.

We don’t know how much progress governments have made, but in May 2016 IBM surprised the world with an announcement that it was making available a five-qubit quantum computer on which researchers could run algorithms and experiments. It envisioned that quantum processors of 50 to 100 qubits would be possible in the next decade. The simultaneous computing capacity of a quantum computer increases exponentially with the number of qubits available to it, so a 50-qubit computer would exceed the capability of the top supercomputers in the world, giving it what researchers call “quantum supremacy.”

IBM delivered another surprise 18 months later with an announcement that it was upgrading the publicly available processor to 20 qubits — and it had succeeded in building an operational prototype of a 50-qubit processor, which would give it quantum supremacy. If IBM gets this one working reliably and doubles the number of qubits even once more, the resultant computing speed will increase, giving the company — and any other players with similar capacity — incredible powers.

Yes, a lot of good will come from this, in better weather forecasting, financial analysis, logistical planning, the search for Earth-like planets and drug discovery. But quantum computing could also open up a Pandora’s box for security. I don’t know of any company or government that is prepared for it; all should build defenses, though. They need to upgrade all computer systems that use RSA encryption — just like they upgraded them for the Y2K bug.

Security researcher Anish Mohammed says that there is substantial progress in the development of algorithms that are “quantum safe.” One promising field is matrix multiplication, which takes advantage of the techniques that allow quantum computers to be able to analyze so much information. Another effort involves developing code-based signature schemes, which do not rely on factoring, as the common public key cryptography systems do; instead, code-based signatures rely on extremely difficult problems in coding theory. So the technical solutions are at hand.

See also: Dark Web and Other Scary Cyber Trends  

But the big challenge will be in moving today’s systems to a “post-quantum” world. The Y2K bug took years to remediate and created fear and havoc in the technology sector. For that, though, we knew what the deadline was. Here, there is no telling whether it will take five years or 10, or whether companies will announce a more advanced milestone just 18 months from now. Worse still, the winner may just remain silent and harvest all the information available.

The Race to Quantum Computers

While much of the media attention has been focused on the race among nations to develop the most powerful artificial intelligence systems, an equally crucial race has been heating up: the race to build the first working quantum computers.

As progress in the field accelerates at an exponential rate, 2018 should see an avalanche of breakthroughs. It is a race for “quantum supremacy,” when a quantum computer demonstrably and markedly outperforms a classical supercomputer for any class of problems.

Booth Google and IBM, two leaders in quantum computing, have laid out plans to achieve this goal. Intel  also has a horse in the race, announcing a new 49 qubit neuromorphic chip designed for quantum computing research.

See also: Digital Transformation: How the CEO Thinks  

The stakes are enormous. Quantum computers promise to set a new paradigm for solving some of the hardest math and computing problems today—problems such as analyzing the interactions of multiple genes in health outcomes, modeling the energy states of chemicals and predicting the behavior of atomic particles. They also might make the internet inherently insecure by quickly cracking modern cryptography used to lock our IT infrastructure and the web.

One thing is for sure: The era of quantum computing is coming on soon, and the world will never be the same.

Put simply, quantum computers use a unit of computing called a qubit. While regular semiconductors represent information as a series of 1s and 0s, qubits exhibit quantum properties and can compute as both a 1 and a 0 simultaneously. That means two qubits could represent the sequence 1-0, 1-1, 0-1, 0-0 at the same moment in time. This compute power increases exponentially with each qubit. A quantum computer with as few as 50 qubits could, in theory, pack more computing power than the most powerful supercomputers on earth today.

This comes at a timely juncture. Moore’s Law dictated that computing power per unit would double every 18 months while the price per computing unit would drop by half. While Moore’s Law has largely held true, the amount of money required to squeeze out these improvements is now significantly greater than it was. In other words, semiconductor companies and researchers must spend more and more money in R&D to achieve each jump in speed. Quantum computing, on the other hand, is in rapid ascent.

One company, D-Wave Systems, is selling a quantum computer that it says has 2,000 qubits. However, D-Wave computers are controversial. While some researchers have found good uses for D-Wave machines, these quantum computers have not beaten classical computers and are only useful for certain classes of problems—optimization problems. Optimization problems involve finding the best possible solution from all feasible solutions. So, for example, complex simulation problems with multiple viable outcomes may not be as easily addressable with a D-Wave machine. The way D-Wave performs quantum computing, as well, is not considered to be the most promising for building a true supercomputer-killer.

Google, IBM and a number of startups are working on quantum computers that promise to be more flexible and likely more powerful because they will work on a wider variety of problems. A few years ago, these flexible machines of two or four qubits were the norm. During the past year, company after company has announced more powerful quantum computers. In November 2017, IBM announced that it has built such a quantum machine that uses 50 qubits, breaking the critical barrier beyond which scientists believe quantum computers will shoot past traditional supercomputers.

The downside? The IBM machine can only maintain a quantum computing state for 90 microseconds at a time. This instability, in fact, is the general bane of quantum computing. The machines must be super-cooled to work, and a separate set of calculations must be run to correct for errors in calculations due to the general instability of these early systems. That said, scientists are making rapid improvements to the instability problem and hope to have a working quantum computer running at room temperature within five years.

And here’s where the confluence of quantum computing and AI looks so promising. As we are seeing the first major impacts of wide-scale artificial intelligence, we are also realizing that classic semiconductor-based computing limits our ability to solve the biggest problems that we had hoped artificial intelligence could tackle. They expect quantum computers to start performing very useful calculations well before they’re ready to leave the freezer.

See also: 7 Steps for Inventing the Future  

Quantum computing promises to step into that breach and provide the rocket fuel needed to solve these grand challenges. Precisely targeted medical treatments, radically cheaper energy production and new types of super-strong materials are all breakthroughs that quantum computing could make possible by performing billions and billions of calculations simultaneously in a relatively small package. Google researchers demonstrated the promise when they used quantum computing to simulate the electron structure of a hydrogen molecule, a key step toward moving chemical design from empirical measurement and educated guesses to more proper engineering and simulation. (This will also work for drug discovery.)

The perils of quantum computing are also real. Quantum computers will be able to easily crack most forms of encryption in use today (although security experts are already at work on creating codes that are not crackable by qubit attack). Should Russia or China, for example, gain quantum computing dominance—which is entirely possible—they could use their advantage for even more sophisticated hacking and decrypting of encoded communications.

Between governments, big companies, startups and university labs, some of the brightest engineering minds are rushing toward quantum supremacy. This literally could shift the global balance of power.

This article was written by Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever.

Forget ‘Intel Inside’; It’s Now AI Inside

I am sure we are all familiar with the Intel slogan, “Intel inside.” This has been a very powerful tagline and one that has helped Intel become the dominant PC chip supplier. (I know I was very influenced by the slogan and very rarely bought a non-Intel PC as a consequence.)

But I believe that this slogan will be rapidly replaced by “AI inside” because I believe we are almost at the point when ALL future apps will include elements of AI. I also believe there is a very good chance that Amazon’s Alexa might become the de facto automatic speech recognition platform that will sit in front of (outside) every single app in the future.  (My rationale is here.)

Why do I say this?

First, you need to recognize that AI is not one singular, all-embracing technology. Rather, it is a set of technologies that hope to emulate the way a human interprets and acts upon information — albeit at the speed of light and (we hope) without error, on a 24/7 basis. As such, AI includes technologies such as natural language (voice) processing (NLP), semantic analysis and cognitive processing.

Second, these technologies have become pervasive. The CEO of IBM recently announced at Davos that Watson (a supercomputer and a collection of AI APIs) is now having a (positive) impact on the lives of some billion people (about 1/7th of the world’s  population). I don’t know how many Echo and Dot units have been sold by Amazon (it must be tens of millions, at least) but each unit gives you access to Alexa, which uses both voice recognition and processing.

See also: 10 Questions That Reveal AI’s Limits  

Third — and most important — you don’t need to have a degree in AI (any more) to deploy AI.

AI was notionally conceived by Alan Turing in 1936 (but, in one sense, you can trace the origins of AI all the way back to Archimedes!). I was taught elements of AI at university in the early 1970s, but I didn’t have a chance to develop an AI app until the mid-1990s when I was a consultant for the Nationwide Building Society. We had just finished a ground-breaking piece of work that involved the development and deployment of the world’s first touch-screen-driven, customer self-service system. This system was a huge success on all measures, so the client I was working for at the time asked me:

“How far can you take this idea? Could you, for example, develop a system that’s as good as — or even better than — our best sales person?”

Without knowing it at the time, he was asking me to develop our first AI system. Fortunately for me (because I am certainly not an AI expert), Accenture had just hired an authority on the subject. He was swiftly assigned to my project team, and we stepped once more into the unknown world of innovation.

We started by gathering a team of the client’s top sales people. We then sat them down with our AI expert, who had been carefully briefed on the rules governing the sale of regulated products. We also called in the services of a user experience designer to obtain a better understanding of people’s risk appetites and option requirements. Last, but certainly not least, we asked a group of customers to help us develop the system that would be designed for their stand-alone use.

The result blew everyone away.

It even won the support of the U.K. Financial Services Authority (FSA), which agreed to assess the system for compliance. The FSA tested and analyzed every aspect of the new application — and then signed off. It was the first time the FSA had ever approved a sales platform that removed the need for a sales person.

Remember, this happened in the early ’90s — long before Java, Windows 95 and the first PlayStation were launched. Our system is a tribute to a client who not only had the vision to see the possibilities but also had the courage to take on the challenge — as well as the very real risk of failure.

However, there is a sad but rather revealing postscript to this story.

What happened to this ground-breaking system? Well, it was lauded, feted and widely acclaimed — and then quietly shelved. The building society decided to focus on building its Systems of Record (SoR) rather than its Systems of Engagement (SoE). And, sad to say, that was not an uncommon fate back then. Real innovation is often too radical for most risk-averse management to stomach. Sometimes it takes time to build an appetite for the truly ground-breaking. And maybe — just maybe — 20 years later, that time has come.

There was another problem: I only had one AI programmer at my disposal, and there weren’t that many more in the U.K. at the time. Given this, it would have taken a considerable amount of time to build an industrial-strength application that could have been put into the hands of any customer. But now we don’t have that problem.

One of the firms we at Clustre represent is an AI consultancy that is AI-technology-agnostic. It conceives, designs and builds AI-driven customer and employee apps that use a variety of AI technologies — as appropriate. It was recently asked by a loyalty card operator to show how AI could be used to allow a card holder to get an answer to a query without talking to a human or having to scour through FAQs (which I think are generally pretty useless). The firm created a web-based chat bot that used Watson to help recognize and understand the question and used another product to drive the Q&A process and, ultimately, answer the question.

So clever is the bot that it can easily handle misspellings and allow the questions to be phrased in a variety of ways and still operate properly. I would hazard a guess that this tool could handle at least 50% of all customer queries (the rest would be handed off to a human to resolve). That’s a lot fewer calls that need to be routed through to a human.

See also: Why 2017 Is the Year of the Bot  

So, you may ask, how many days did it take our AI consultancy to design and build this AI-driven chat bot? Just five.

Five days to design and build a tool that could potentially reduce call center volumes by around 50%!!!

AI has truly arrived, and everyone should be looking at how you are going to deploy it NOW!

productive

15 Habits of Ultra-Productive People

I recently interviewed more than 200 ultra-productive people: seven billionaires, 13 Olympians, 20 straight-A students and more than 200 successful entrepreneurs. I asked them a simple, open-ended question: “What is your No. 1 secret to productivity?” After analyzing their responses, I coded their answers into 15 unique ideas.

SECRET #1: They focus on minutes, not hours

Average performers default to hour and half-hour blocks on their calendar. Highly successful people know where each of the 1,440 minutes in a day goes, and they know there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed. Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller told me, “To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” You must master your minutes to master your life.

SECRET #2: They focus only on one thing

Ultra-productive people know their Most Important Task (MIT) and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. Tom Ziglar, CEO of Ziglar Inc., shared, “Invest the first part of your day working on your No. 1 priority that will help build your business.” What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goal? What accomplishment will get you promoted at work?

SECRET #3: They don’t use to-do lists

Throw away your to-do list; instead, schedule everything on your calendar. It turns out only 41% of items on to-do lists are ever actually done. And all those items that aren’t done lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and work and live from that calendar. Jordan Harbinger, co-founder of The Art of Charm, advises, “Use a calendar and schedule your entire day into 15-minute blocks. It sounds like a pain, but this will set you up in the 95th percentile.”

SECRET #4: They beat procrastination with time travel

Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are “time inconsistent.” We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week, then we throw out rotting green mush in the future. I bought P90x because I thought I would start exercising vigorously, yet the box sits unopened one year later. What can you do right now to make sure your future self does the right thing? Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future and come up with a solution to defeat your future self.

SECRET #5: They make it home for dinner

I first learned this secret from Intel’s Andy Grove, who told me, “There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.” Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, they value work, but what else should they value? There is no right answer, but, for many, values include family time, exercise and giving back. They allocate their 1,440 minutes a day to every area they value (i.e., they put it on their calendar), and then they stick to the schedule.

SECRET #6: They use a notebook

Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn’t have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes. In one interview, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down…That is a million-dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!” Ultra-productive people free their mind by writing everything down.

SECRET #7: They process email only a few times a day

Ultra-productive people don’t check their email throughout the day. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has intruded into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their email quickly and efficiently. For some, that’s only once a day; for me, it’s morning, noon and night.

SECRET #8: They avoid meetings at all costs

When I asked Mark Cuban to give me his best productivity advice, he quickly responded, “Never take meetings unless someone is writing a check.” Meetings are notorious time killers. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander in their topics and run long. You should get out of meetings whenever you can and hold fewer of them yourself. If you do run a meeting, keep it short.

SECRET #9: They say “no” to almost everything

Billionaire Warren Buffett once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” James Altucher colorfully gave me this tip: “If something is not a ‘hell, yeah!’, then it’s a ‘no!’ ” Remember, you only have 1,440 minutes in every day. Don’t give them away easily.

SECRET #10: They follow the 80/20 rule

Known as the Pareto Principle, in most cases 80% of outcomes come from 20% of activities. Ultra-productive people know which activities drive the greatest results, and they focus on those and ignore the rest.

SECRET #11: They delegate almost everything

Ultra-productive people don’t ask, “How can I do this task?” Instead, they ask, “How can this task get done?” They take the “I” out of situations as much as possible. Ultra-productive people don’t have control issues and are not micro-managers. In many cases, good enough is, well, good enough.

SECRET #12: They create themes for days of the week

Highly successful people often “theme” days of the week to focus on major areas. For decades, I’ve had “Mondays for Meetings” to make sure I’m doing one-on-one check-ins with each direct report. My Friday afternoons are themed around financials and general administrative items I want to clean up before the new week starts. I’ve previously written about Jack Dorsey’s work themes, which enable him to run two companies at once. Batch your work to maximize your efficiency and effectiveness.

SECRET #13: They touch things only once

How many times have you opened a piece of regular mail—a bill, perhaps—and put it down, only to deal with it again later? How often do you read an email and close it, leaving it in your inbox to deal with later? Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or 10 minutes—whatever it may be—they’ll deal with it right then and there. This reduces stress because it isn’t in the back of their mind, and it is more efficient because they won’t have to re-read or reevaluate the item in the future.

SECRET #14: They practice a consistent morning routine

My single greatest surprise while interviewing these more than 200 highly successful people was how many of them wanted to share their morning ritual with me. Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning, told me, “While most people focus on ‘doing’ more to achieve more, The Miracle Morning is about focusing on ‘becoming’ more so that you can start doing less, to achieve more.” While I heard about a wide variety of habits, most people I interviewed nurtured their body in the morning with water, a healthy breakfast and light exercise. They nurtured their mind with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading and journaling.

SECRET #15: Energy is everything

You can’t make more minutes in the day, but you can increase your energy—which will increase your attention, focus, decision-making and overall productivity. Highly successful people don’t skip meals, sleep or take breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. Instead, they view food as fuel and sleep as recovery, and they pause with “work sprints.”

Tying It All Together

You might not be an entrepreneur, Olympian or millionaire—or even want to be—but their secrets just might help you get more done in less time and help you to stop feeling so overworked and overwhelmed.

How to Avoid Paying for Hospitals’ Errors

There’s been a lot of talk lately about value-based purchasing and price transparency in the U.S. healthcare system. With the proliferation of high-deductible health plans, consumers and payers are now actively chasing “value”— high-quality care at the right price. But what happens when “value” calculates to a grand total of zero—or even less than zero?

Only in healthcare is that even possible. “Zero value” occurs when healthcare is harmful—and you, the patient or purchaser, pay extra for the privilege of that harm. This is the issue currently facing employers and other purchasers paying out of their own pockets when a hospital commits an error that results in injury, infection or other harm to a patient. It’s backwards and incomprehensible, but healthcare purchasers are at the mercy of these zero value “hidden surcharges.” The payer gets the bill for the added length of stay and treatment of the infection or the medication error, even if they were preventable. This is common, and it’s not cheap.

The Leapfrog Group created the Hidden Surcharge Calculator, which estimates that, on average, an employer pays approximately $8,000 per hospital admission for errors, injuries, accidents and infections. The calculator was recently awarded  a “Certificate of Validation Seal” by the Care Innovations Validation Institute, an organization established by Intel and GE to rate healthcare tools, plans and vendors to help industry consumers make educated choices. The Hidden Surcharge Calculator is free and allows plans and employers to determine surcharges they pay for their covered lives.

To build on the findings from the calculator, Leapfrog crafted additional tools to help purchasers apply their leverage with hospitals in their communities, communicate effectively with their employees about patient safety and try to reduce some of these shocking surcharges. So we launched the Hospital Safety Score Purchaser Toolkit, also free, created with the support of a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The toolkit is being released at a crucial time of year—the beginning of open enrollment season. We know that employers want to help their employees make the best decisions about their healthcare, and we hope that our toolkit will foster genuine conversations on these issues.

We include downloadable “plug-and-play” communications, including newsletter articles, internal memos template emails and even sample tweets. Messages educate employees about the problem of patient safety and what they can do to protect themselves and their families. It provides background and instructions for using the Hospital Safety Score, letter grades that assess the safety of general hospitals. There’s also a series of whiteboard videos that explain the issues in plain language and can be downloaded at no cost.

Just as importantly, we want to encourage purchasers to use their own leverage to effect change. Despite the harm to employees and expense to the bottom line, patient safety is rarely observable in claims data. Purchasers have to rely on hospitals to voluntarily report on safety to the Leapfrog Hospital Survey. By putting pressure on hospitals to publicly report to Leapfrog, healthcare purchasers can ensure that transparency and accountability are at the top of every hospital’s agenda. The toolkit offers suggestions on joining local business coalitions on health to maximize regional leverage, communicating with hospitals and getting needed provisions in contract language with plans.

Value-based purchasing is nonsensical when value is less than zero, so plans and purchasers need to be more aggressive on patient safety. Otherwise, payment reform loses its raison d’etre.

Because the safety problem is so large and hard to pinpoint, many payers just give up. The Purchaser Toolkit, Hospital Safety Score and Surcharge Calculator are meant to provide them with concrete steps that will make a difference immediately.