May 9, 2017
(Too Stupid For) Quantum Computing
A while back, the Oxford University quantum physicist David Deutsch, the founding father of quantum computing, delivered a series of lectures on the subject and posted them online. These lectures cover a range of subtopics, beginning with the most basic, "The Qubit". That's the video I've chosen.
Now, I must immediately say that it's preposterous for me to watch such a video. There was never any way I was going to be able to follow it. Still, the topic is fascinating, and I understand the high-level explanation, courtesy of Deutsch, of how these computers are supposed to work. The mathematical formalism, however, is far beyond me. (When it comes to mathematics, it doesn't take much to end up in that space).
The video, sadly, is of terrible quality. I'm not sure what went wrong there. Maybe it's due to the fact that I'm watching this on YouTube, and only later realized there's a version on DD's personal website, although, since I already watched the video, I haven't actually checked to see if it's a better rendering than the one I saw.
Still, the very notion of seeing a lecture of this kind online, with no relevant credentials, no germane educational history, and no chance whatsoever of fully absorbing the lesson, is an indication of something. MOOCs are opening opportunities that could revolutionize the way we think about education. In fact, I would be quite surprised if that didn't occur.
The traditional university model seems to be increasingly outdated, to me. The structures, formalisms, and all-around rigmarole of universities just seems far too stiff and (increasingly) antiquated to meet all the criteria that we shall continue to evolve for what constitutes "an education".
Watching this lecture online by DD represents the following opportunity: for anyone with internet to learn from top people on any topic. That's an incredible situation, and I can only imagine it becoming more amplified with time (in some form, if not the YouTube one -- presumably virtual reality will transform this conception considerably).
I should say at this point that this wasn't a MOOC in the sense of being an opportunity to participate in the lecture, which adds an entire new dimension to the experience. In this case, I was just an observer (although not an entirely passive one). The importance of participation in MOOCs is further reason to expect virtual reality to potentiate this phenomenon.
The siloing effect of traditional approaches to education (you study Chemistry, or you study History, or whatever) is being broken open rather dramatically with the proliferation and increasing power of information technologies. That, I think, is a beautiful thing. The boundaries between different domains of human knowledge are, in my opinion, largely illusory. If knowledge consists of good explanations for phenomena (whatever they may be, historical, sociological, biological, etc.), and if we live in a comprehensible universe (which we seem to), then we should expect our best knowledge in different fields to become increasingly unified with increasing depth and scope.
Therefore, although specialization may well remain a feature of intellectual life, our general understanding of things will likely become less fragmented. This effect, which I conjecture will continue, matches the MOOC style of learning much more than the traditional university style. The challenges, however, are many.
How, for example, to establish some kind of standard measure by which individuals can be assessed, becomes a tough problem when education is diffused across many domains and platforms, and people are educating themselves largely on their own. On the bright side, I'm confident all such problems have solutions. We just need to create them.