My Quantum Computer Wrote a Podcast: Podcasts about Quantum Computing

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Alexis Kirke introduces some of the podcasts that are available on Quantum Computing, explaining the different angles they take and who their prospective audiences might be.

Quantum computing — that topic that so many have heard about but so few understand. When it comes to quantum computing, trust no one without at least 7 letters after their name, and 5 letters before. And even then, don’t trust them. In fact, don’t trust Schrodinger, Bohr, Heisenberg, Einstein — or any of their modern day versions. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed individual rules, to paraphrase a famous quotation. Some people are amazing at the math, have astonishing physical intuition, and can communicate everyday implications with aplomb. But no one really understands quantum mechanics, or quantum computing, in terms of how it relates to our human experience. It could almost be said to be a philosophical problem.

This combination of philosophy, and of a bleeding-edge technology that some say will change the world, is thus ripe for journalistic interpretation and enlightenment. At first sight, it may seem that podcasts are not the most suitable format for such a mathematically complex topic — one that so often uses visualisation to help with understanding. But there are in fact three quantum computing podcasts out there, that regularly provide three very different takes on quantum computing. They both entertain and inform — to different degrees of entertainment and informativeness. Let’s take a look at all three, with their respective “scores”.

“Meet the MeQuanics”: Entertainment 7, Information 10

Meet the MeQuanics, hosted by quantum hardware pioneer Simon Devitt, was the first quantum computing podcast, and is now up to episode 50. It wins hands-down in terms of information score because it allows time for detailed discussion, and taps into experts worldwide, providing extended interviews. Simon aims to interview in a way that is accessible to non-experts, and has included such key figures as Jeremy O’Brien, Simon Benjamin, Austin Fowler, Lev Bishop and Seth Lloyd, to name a few. The real power of the podcast is in its detail and long-form interviews.

Some may find it harder going, not because it is always highly technical, but because of the detail provided. It is not produced to be entertaining in the normal sense, but informative and listenable and perhaps field-forming. This in itself makes it entertaining. For those who have had their fill of the standard popular quantum fayre, or those working in and around the field, this podcast is the gold standard.

“Stupid Qubit”: Entertainment 9, Information 7

Jim Mortleman and Stuart Houghton host this podcast, aimed very much at the non-expert. This is an ambitious production which has perhaps lead to its rather slower rate of publication (it is currently on episode 2 after a number of months). It has a number of signature elements. Firstly the podcast is stuffed full of interview quotes and audio provided by leaders in the field — for example Jerry Chow, one of the leaders of IBM Q, and the earlier mentioned Simon Benjamin from Oxford. This gives the podcast a real solidity.

However for experts it may be too basic in terms of its information content. But just as Meet the MeQuanics could put off those with only a passing interest in quantum computing, Stupid Qubit is definitely a place to go for those who want to learn more about the basics of quantum computing, and in a format designed to be more entertaining for the general public. It even has a humorous electronic song produced for each episode and sung by one of the hosts. Be warned! The humour in general is quite British (which of course I appreciate)…

“My Quantum Computer Wrote a Podcast”: Entertainment e², Information i²

Unfortunately, e² and i² must remain undefined here, because “My Quantum Computer Wrote a Podcast” is produced and presented by the writer of this article. So it would not be fair to attempt to evaluate them, as modesty M demands undervaluation of those scores, and self-promotion P demands overvaluation. In a future article I will develop a mathematical model which will enable e² and i² to be calculated based on an approximate probability distributions for M and P.

“My Quantum Computer Wrote a Podcast” involves Alexis Kirke (me) discussing his experience and feelings about quantum computing. It bills itself as talking “about quantum computing, AI and the entertainment business, with the occasional co-host of a quantum computer.” Though it has not involved much discussion about the entertainment business yet. It is pitched somewhere in between Stupid Qubit and Meet the MeQuanics in terms of audience, and is a more personal take on quantum computing.

A hardware quantum computer (the IBM Melbourne Q14) runs in the background during the recording of the first two episodes “Schrodinger’s Brexit” and “Quantum Pornography”. In Episode 1, the quantum computer creates two superpositions while Alexis is talking, then it observes them to select one of four topics: “Pro Brexit”, “Anti-Brexit”, ”Pro-Quantum Computing Hype”, and “Anti-Quantum Computing Hype” and Alexis then has to argue for the topic for a random number of minutes selected by a computer. In episode 2, the computer is also running live in the background but this time uses entanglement to select a point at which Alexis should tell a joke. In between these required jokes, Alexis tries to explain for the layman how entanglement and superposition emerge from the basic axioms of quantum mechanics, and what their philosophical implications; and encourages listeners to get their hands dirty and play around with an IBM quantum computer themselves.

In addition to the three podcasts above — which can all be subscribed to on iTunes-there are other podcasts about quantum physics in general. Simply search on “quantum” in iTunes and you’ll get a list (including some new age podcasts about quantum spirituality and so forth, if that floats your boat).

Happy quantum listening!

Alexis Kirke is a screenwriter and quantum/AI programmer. He has PhDs from an arts faculty and from a science faculty. http://www.alexiskirke.com