Sunday, April 17, 2016

Prime Minister Trudeau Reveals He's Not Just A Pretty Face

A reporter, apparently, jokingly asked  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to explain quantum computing, as a preface to really asking a question on policy, at The University of Waterloo.  Instead of going for the policy question, Trudeau answered the quantum computing question.  Here's how Fortune described it.  
"At a press conference on Friday at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, a journalist jokingly half-asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to explain quantum computing, before moving quickly on to a policy point. Instead, the young PM offered a quick and clear answer to the first question. “Very simply…normal computers work, either there’s power going through a wire or not—a one, or a zero.
They’re binary systems,” said Trudeau, triggering a wave of surprised applause. 'What quantum states allow for is much more complex information to be encoded into a single bit…a quantum state can be much more complex than that, because as we know, things can be both particle and wave at the same time.'”
[It's more impressive on the video (below) as he easily and articulately explains.]

The people in the audience were impressed and a lot of people have looked at the video.  It would be nice to see more of our politicians able to respond so coherently to technical questions.  To any questions really.

But Fortune plays down his response.  The subtitle was:
"But should we really be so impressed by a politician’s grasp of basic science?"
Maybe not, but given the level of discourse we're hearing today, this was definitely impressive.

The writer then goes on to say quantum physics was "conclusively established" in 1964.
"In other words, this is kind of like being impressed by Thomas Jefferson demonstrating a basic understanding of gravity."
First of all, Trudeau wasn't explaining quantum physics, he was explaining quantum computing.  Though you could say he was, sort of, doing both - applying quantum physics to computing.

And I suspect that by comparing him to Jefferson, the writer already destroys his own case.  I can't think of any current American politicians who could reasonably be compared to Jefferson.

But maybe the real standard should be how many people in the room and watching the video could explain quantum computing themselves if asked, and how many of them know enough about it to evaluate Trudeau's answer, as opposed to just being impressed.

The the writer tells us that Obama is something of a nerd himself.

So is the niggling because the writer disagrees with Trudeau's liberal policies?  Is it merely concern that the US looks bad in comparison - thus the Obama reference?

In any case, I'd like us to start using Trudeau as the new standard for judging politicians' knowledge and fluency.   Here's the video:

[I'd note:  It did occur to me that this might have been a set up.  But the way he answered suggests that at the very worst, he was asked a question that the reporter knew he could answer.  I'd prefer to belief it just happened.

Another question  - was this just a ruse to avoid answering the question about ISIL?

As I looked for an answer about the ISIL question, I came up with a Huffington Posr Canada piece that  answers the first question as well.

1.  Apparently the quantum computing lesson was part of Trudeau's tour of the institute that morning and there was even a link to the University of Waterloo's Quantum Computing 101 webpage.   So it seems the reporter knew this and was checking, cheekily, on what the Prime Minister had retained.

2.  The post also says that he also did respond to the ISIL question.  The Huff Post Canada post has a video of Trudeau talking about Canada's response to ISIS, though it looks like this was another time and place.

Finally a thank you to my physics advisers for their guidance on this post.]


  1. Actually he did prove he was just a pretty face. Trudeau had earlier prompted for such a question with "I’m really hoping people ask me how quantum computing works — I was excited to deepen my knowledge of that this morning," The reporter was not taking that bait and had a more serious question. But pretty boy wanted to show his stuff and totally failed at his own question. No a qubit does not store more information than a regular bit. It too is binary and only interpreted as a 0 or 1 at the end of the computation. No a qubit is not designed to store more info in a smaller space. Also, no the purpose is not to design smaller computers. So he pretty much screwed up everything. Now it may be that was what he was told to say and he was just parroting it but that only makes him a parrot, not smart.

    1. Brian, thanks for your comments. Though I think you're being a little harsh. As I read the Quantum Computing 101 link and this other link that seems to deal with the issues you raise, quantum computing does allow the computer to do more complex computations than the simple binary computer. His words may not have been 100% correct, but the idea is right.
      But that's neither here nor there. He's a layperson, talking to physicists. Sort of like a president throwing out the first pitch at a game. If he even gets it over the plate, that's pretty impressive. Though I guess you'd say he didn't get it over the plate. And as a non-physicist, I can't argue with you on that.
      And I bet he could have done it in French as well as English.


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