Executive spotlight: Google Quantum AI Lab's John Martinis
Last week, a document posted to (and then immediately withdrawn from) NASA’s website revealed that a team of Google researchers at the tech giant’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab had reached a significant milestone: demonstrating “Quantum Supremacy.”
In the race to create viable quantum computing technology, a development that is expected to have serious repercussions for finance, energy and cybersecurity, every step towards actionable breakthroughs sends shockwaves through the market.
Quantum Supremacy is the development point at which a quantum computer is shown to be able to perform a task beyond the capabilities of even the most powerful supercomputer. A calculation that reportedly would have taken IBM’s Summit - the world’s most powerful commercially available computer - around 10,000 years to complete was allegedly cracked in under four minutes by Google’s 53-qubit Sycamore machine. For unknown reasons, the computation wasn’t made with Google’s larger, more powerful 72-qubit Bristlecone machine.
The implications of quantum computing are epoch-defining. “In a discussion of quantum computing at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts this week before news of Google’s paper came out, Will Oliver, an MIT professor and quantum specialist, likened the computing milestone to the first flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk in aviation,” according to the MIT Technology Review, which goes on to explain that “unlike classical bits, which are either a 1 or a 0, qubits can be in a kind of combination of both at the same time. Thanks to other quantum phenomena… quantum computers can crunch large amounts of data in parallel that conventional machines have to work through sequentially.”
The biggest disruption - and why the finance industry is most nervous about a quantum dawn before it’s ready for one - will be in the field of encryption. The increased power stemming from quantum computers’ ability to process computations in parallel - rather than sequentially like conventional machines - is expected to render modern standards of encryption ineffective against a quantum cyber attack (single handedly the coolest three words I’ve ever strung together) potentially laying bare every aspect of the financial sector, the state secrets of world governments and the personal information of billions.
The truth and nature of this breakthrough is still hazy, however. Ongoing research into creating quantum-proof algorithms is proceeding at a breakneck pace (particularly in the cryptocurrency space) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has long been working on post-quantum cryptography. The implications and shape of the next major technological leap still remain unknown, and aren’t likely to affect the day to day lives of the general public for years to come.
Today, though, Gigabit takes a look at the engineer who reportedly led the team that demonstrated quantum supremacy: John M. Martinis.
An alumnus of the University of California, Berkeley, Martinis has been involved in the developing frontier of quantum computing, working for the NIST, where he was involved in understanding the basic physics of the Coulomb Blockade, and worked to use this phenomenon to make a new fundamental electrical standard based on counting electrons. Since 2002, his research effort has focused on building a quantum computer using Josephson junctions - the subject of his PhD.
“He has pioneered many important demonstrations, including entangled states, Bell state violation, Fock and arbitrary photon generation, photon NOON states, and the quantum von Neumannn and RezQu architecture. In 2010, he was awarded with collaborator Andrew Cleland the “Science breakthrough of the year” for the first demonstration of the quantum ground state in a mechanical oscillator system. In 2014 he was awarded the London Prize for low-temperature physics research on superconducting quantum bits. Dr. Martinis was a NIST Fellow, and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. At the University of California, Santa Barbara he currently holds the Wooster Chair in experimental physics. In 2014 he was awarded the London Prize for his pioneering work on superconducting qubits. In 2014, Dr. Martinis joined Google to head up their quantum-hardware effort. The aim of this research is to build the first useful quantum computer,” explains his Google bio.
It would seem that, after this week, Martinis has - along with a cohort of some of the best engineers on the planet - potentially cracked that goal.
ICO warns of privacy concerns on the use of LFR technology
“I am deeply concerned about the potential for live facial recognition (LFR) technology to be used inappropriately, excessively, or even recklessly. When sensitive personal data is collected on a mass scale without people’s knowledge, choice or control, the impacts could be significant,” said Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner.
Denham explained that with any new technology, building public trust and confidence in the way people’s information is used is crucial so the benefits derived from the technology can be fully realised.
“It is not my role to endorse or ban a technology but, while this technology is developing and not widely deployed, we have an opportunity to ensure it does not expand without due regard for data protection,” Denham added.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has said it will work with organisations to ensure that the use of LFR is lawful, and that a fair balance is struck between their own purposes and the interests and rights of the public. They will also engage with Government, regulators and industry, as well as international colleagues to make sure data protection and innovation can continue to work hand in hand.
What is live facial recognition?
Facial recognition is the process by which a person can be identified or recognised from a digital facial image. Cameras are used to capture these images and FRT software measures and analyses facial features to produce a biometric template. This typically enables the user to identify, authenticate or verify, or categorise individuals.
Live facial recognition (LFR) is a type of FRT that allows this process to take place automatically and in real-time. LFR is typically deployed in a similar way to traditional CCTV in that it is directed towards everyone in a particular area rather than specific individuals. It can capture the biometric data of all individuals passing within range of the camera indiscriminately, as opposed to more targeted “one-to-one” data processing. This can involve the collection of biometric data on a mass scale and there is often a lack of awareness, choice or control for the individual in this process.
Why is biometric data particularly sensitive?
Biometrics are physical or behavioural human characteristics that can be used to digitally identify a person to grant access to systems, devices, or data. Biometric data extracted from a facial image can be used to uniquely identify an individual in a range of different contexts. It can also be used to estimate or infer other characteristics, such as their age, sex, gender, or ethnicity.
The security of the biometric authentication data is vitally important, even more than the security of passwords, since passwords can be easily changed if they are exposed. A fingerprint or retinal scan, however, is immutable.
The UK courts have concluded that “like fingerprints and DNA [a facial biometric template] is information of an “intrinsically private” character.” LFR can collect this data without any direct engagement with the individual. Given that LFR relies on the use of sensitive personal data, the public must have confidence that its use is lawful, fair, transparent, and meets the other standards set out in data protection legislation.