Africa is joining the global race in quantum technology to solve certain everyday problems, faster. This next era of computing is opening up new industries and opportunities.
You may never own one in your home. The likelihood of a quantum computer in your office? Also slim. Yet the next ‘big thing’ in computing technology is unlike the everyday machines we know – quantum computers are extremely fragile and have to be kept in rooms where the temperature is a few degrees away from zero.
The idea of quantum technology is intriguing… yet quantum computers are already here and capable of such complex calculations (and at such a rapid speed) that it’s worth getting excited about the potential of quantum technology and what it means for Africa.
“It is important for Africa to be competitive in the field of quantum information science, and that the necessary skill-sets are transferred to the next generation of students so that a quantum technology environment can be established,” says Dr Yaseera Ismail, a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu–Natal (UKZN) in South Africa.
UKZN’s Quantum Research Group is the largest quantum group in Africa, comprising both theoretical and experimental physicists working in the fields of quantum computing, communication, machine learning, biology and open quantum systems.
“By exploiting the fundamental processes of quantum mechanics, quantum computers show potential exponential speed-up for certain applications such as factoring large numbers, solving optimization problems or simulating quantum systems,” says Ismail.
Quantum computing is currently a mix between fundamental research and early-stage technology. It holds the promise of solving complex problems that are insurmountable today with our most powerful supercomputers.
“That’s because unlike conventional computers that are based on transistors and require data to be encoded into binary digits (bits), quantum computers use quantum bits (qubits), that can exist in multiple states simultaneously,” explains Jim Clarke, the Director of Quantum Hardware at Intel Corporation.
“As a result, operations on qubits can amount to many calculations in parallel, which could make certain kinds of computing problems much faster to solve.”
Intel is heavily invested into quantum research and development. Partnering with QuTech (a global quantum computing and internet research lab), the computing giant have also explored silicon spin qubits, an alternative quantum computing technology that resembles Intel’s advanced transistors and may offer a better path to large-scale systems.
Intel ships roughly 400 quadrillion transistors per year so it is to their advantage to explore quantum technologies based on transistor infrastructure. But Intel is not alone – Google AI are also developing quantum processors and algorithms to help researchers and developers solve near-term problems.
“We need to cater to the curiosity of young scientists and offer local centers of excellence where they can dive into exciting research fields,” adds Dr Maria Schuld, also a part of UKZN’s Quantum Research Group. Schuld, however, isn’t convinced that quantum computers are perfectly suited for the African research landscape.
“Fundamental research has few near-term benefits to society… early-stage technology is risky, very costly and has an ultra-fast turnover. With these thoughts of caution, I am still very happy that quantum computing is getting more traction on the continent. We need to be involved in developing the technologies of tomorrow, in order to contribute our perspectives, influence power structures in future markets and to have knowledge readily available.”
IBM are working closely with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg to expand their IBM Q network and make it available to academics across South Africa as well as the 15 universities who form part of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).
“Because Wits are in the education space, they know that they have to ready the next generation of computer scientists and physicists,” explains IBM’s Dr Ismail Akhalwaya. “Quantum computing offers amazing new opportunities for a wide range of industries. This is the time to get everyone excited. This is the time to start learning how to use a quantum computer.”
Akhalwaya believes that beneficiating our own natural resources – in this case, scientific data – is imperative. The exponential nature of quantum technology means that Africa won’t be left behind when it comes to developing Africa-specific solutions. In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, new classes of medication are developed daily with billions of dollars going into research. The result? Only a handful are relevant to African medical conditions.
“What about the diseases endemic to Africa and not the rest of the world?” asks Akhalwaya. “HIV C is prevalent in Africa and the third world but pharmaceutical companies are not investing as much into finding drugs to cure this strand.”
Ultimately, the promise of quantum is about greater efficiency and performance when it comes to handling certain problems, but will quantum computers eventually replace emerging technologies like neuromorphic computing?
“The intent of quantum computers is to be a different tool to solve different problems,” explains UKZN’s Ismail. “Quantum computers will be good for solving optimization problems, however, they cannot replace certain tasks of classical computers such as emails. Quantum computers will also change the way we ensure the security of information.”
The industries that will truly reap the benefits of quantum computing technology are those that have high-performance computing workloads. IBM’s African research lab, at first, will focus on HIV drug discovery, cosmology and molecular biology. The team will also join a study in quantum teleportation, a field pioneered by IBM fellow Charles Bennett.
“There are Africa-specific problems like HIV/AIDS and developing drugs for malaria resistance, urgent problems that need to be solved in order to save lives. As soon as we have technology that will help us solve these problems, there’s almost a moral obligation on us to try. And fortunately, quantum computers fit exactly that bill,” adds Akhalwaya.
“Classical computers changed the world. We as Africans should be paying attention. We want to be part of the next revolution, we don’t want to be left behind.”
‘AI Is A Powerful Tool’
Research forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans. Murat Sonmez, member of the managing board, and Head of the Centre for the WEF Fourth Industrial Revolution Network, expands on the role humans might play.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is at the center of the current economic frontier. In reality, is Africa prepared for such changes?
Moving quickly and being agile are key principles of success in the 4IR. Any country can succeed if they take on this mindset. A few years ago, Rwanda saw the opportunities drones, a 4IR technology, brought to their country.
They helped save over 800 lives by delivering blood to remote villages. To scale this, the government worked with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) drones’ team to create the world’s first agile airspace regulation. Now, we see countries in Africa and around the world looking to the Rwandan model.
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What feasible solutions can artificial intelligence (AI) offer in terms of forecasting natural disasters, droughts food security on the African continent?
AI can help predict diseases, increase agriculture yields and help first responders. It is a powerful tool for governments and businesses, but it needs a lot of data to be effective.
For AI to be all that it can be, countries and companies need to work together to build frameworks for better management and protection of our data and ensure that it is shared and not stored in silos. Data is the oxygen of the (4IR). If countries do not leverage data and have their policies in place, they will be left behind.
There is a growing concern that the 4IR will strip people of jobs, of which there is already a shortage. How true is this?
The world is going through a workplace revolution that will bring a seismic shift in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms.
Latest research from the WEF forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans, compared to 71% being performed by humans today.
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The rapid evolution of machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022.
Consumers have real concerns around the potential harm technology can cause in areas such as privacy, misinformation, surveillance, job loss, environmental damage and increased inequality. What ethical precautions are being considered in the robotics space?
Now more than ever, it is important to incorporate ethics into the design, deployment and use of emerging technology. Innovating in the 4IR requires addressing concerns around privacy and data ownership, while attracting the skills and forward-looking thinkers of the future.
There are big challenges and bigger opportunities ahead. We have seen many companies and countries create ethical and human rights-based frameworks. What’s important is they are co-designed with members of both communities along with academia, civil society and start-ups.
A multi-stakeholder approach will result in a more holistic set of guidelines and principles that can be adopted in many different industries and geographies.
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What changes need to take place for the African continent to be on par with global developments, and are there tangible goals set?
The 4IR provides governments the opportunity to be global leaders in shaping the next 20 to 30 years of science and technology. It is important they create an environment where companies can innovate.
The other tenet is to be open to working across borders and learning from each other. The global health industry has access to mountains of data on rare diseases, but it is trapped within countries and sometimes even within the hospital walls.
If we can build trust and find innovative ways to share the data while protecting privacy, we can employ tools like AI to help us cure disease faster. Countries and companies need to have the right governance frameworks and mechanisms in place for these breakthroughs to happen. It is possible to do these things now, but we need to work together to make it happen.
Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future
With every day that passes by it becomes more apparent that the Earth is deteriorating and time is running out to save it. Scientists have estimated that we have less than a decade to save the planet before it is irreversibly damaged, mainly due to climate change.
Businesses claim the largest percentage of global emissions (at approximately 70% since 1988, according to The Guardian) which is an alarming statistic, especially in a time when the planet’s well-being is being compromised.
Many large business corporations are hastily coming on board with operating sustainably by transforming their practices and placing business ethics at the forefront of their priorities.
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Last week, a round table discussion was held at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel, Sandton hosted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm. Their aim was to discuss how imperative it is for African businesses to get on board with sustainability.
“We have been talking about how to be sustainable for a long time but now it is time for us to do sustainability,” says Thapelo Letete, Technical Director of ERM.
An engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion ensued with representatives from ERM and mining companies, Anglo American and Gold Fields. They emphasized the importance of sustainability being recognized by investors, especially in mining and oil companies that rely solely on Earth’s natural resources.
Civil society has a colossal role to play in ensuring the sustainability of businesses. Due to the law of supply and demand in production, consumers are being urged to be mindful of their buying habits and to make sustainable decisions. These are as simple as minimizing the utilization of plastic straws by replacing them with metal or paper straws and reusable shopping bags and by recycling selected items.
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“Research suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices have the potential to garner more positive consumer perceptions of (businesses), as well as increases in profitability,” according to an entry in Sage Journals published in May.
The advancement of science, artificial intelligence and the rapid growth of the technological industry make it an undeniable fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Many businesses across the globe seem to be well prepared for this change. However, businesses in Africa seem to be vulnerable.
“It is difficult to say that all businesses in Africa are prepared for it. It is not a country specific thing but it does vary across corporations. There will be businesses that are well prepared and businesses that are not so well prepared,” says Keryn James, CEO of ERM.
A large part of sustainability also relies on empowerment and equality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female-owned businesses who contribute a large amount of money towards their respective countries’ GDPs. However, most of these businesses struggle with the issue of scaling.
“Women sometimes underestimate their ability and they don’t necessarily have the confidence that they should have about the value that their businesses present. Women often take less risks than men,” says James.
“The issue of scaling is one that we see globally. One of the issues are access to funding to support in the investment and growth of their businesses.”
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Going forward, the availability of mentorship programmes and skills development opportunities for women, especially black women in business should be encouraged.
According to a study done by the UN Women’s organization, an average of 3 out of 7 women score higher in performance when they are placed in senior managerial positions. Additionally, if more women work, the more countries can exponentially maximise their economic growth.
Women will be empowered when given the correct skills and opportunities to be able to run their own businesses independently which would ultimately lead to the scaling of female-owned businesses in Africa and sustainable development.
The Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards aim to recognize the efforts of businesses that operate sustainably and to encourage other corporations who intend to adopt more sustainable strategies into their practices. Initiatives such as these prove that business value also depends on how sustainable they are.
It is clear that the prioritization of sustainability and accountability in businesses is the only way forward in the midst of this global crisis. With a combination of will and the rigorous work that African businesses have put into sustainability initiatives and strategies, it is easier to be optimistic about our planet’s wellbeing.
Ex-Google Staffer Says After Split With Chief Legal Officer David Drummond: ‘Hell Does Not Begin To Capture My Life’
Former Google employee Jennifer Blakely has written a scathing blog post with allegations about how her affair with chief legal officer David Drummond unfolded.
A former member of Google’s legal team who says she had a child with the company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, has written a scathing blog post about the way that their relationship unfolded within the search engine giant, including that he issued “terrifying threats” to take custody of their child after initially refusing to pay child support.
In a Medium post, Jennifer Blakely says that she was inspired to detail her experience after an explosive New York Times story last fall put a spotlight on how the company shielded top executives from harassment claims and sparked massive employee protests.
“Looking back, I see how standards that I was willing to indulge early on became institutionalized behavior as Google’s world prominence grew and its executives grew more powerful,” Blakely writes.
“Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top.”
While her relationship with the married Drummond was included in the Times story and first reported byThe Information in November 2017, this is the first time Blakely has written about the experience herself.
Drummond is one of several current and former Google executives who has reportedly had relationships with employees or extramarital affairs, including Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Andy Rubin.
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Blakely alleges that after their relationship ended, Drummond had another relationship with a subordinate, which is against Google’s workplace policy. He is still employed by Google and made more than $47 million last year.
Blakely says that she started working in Google’s legal department under Drummond in 2001 and that after he told her that he was estranged from his wife, they began a relationship in 2004. She says the two had a child together in 2007 and that Google’s human resources department then told her that one of them had to leave the department.
She moved to sales, an area where she had no experience, and subsequently struggled with her work. Blakely alleges that after she ultimately left the company at Drummond’s urging in 2008, but that while they were living together in Palo Alto, he broke off their relationship via text message.
“‘Hell’ does not begin to capture my life since that day,” she writes. “I’ve spent the last 11 years taking on one of the most powerful, ruthless lawyers in the world. From that fateful night forward, David did things exclusively on his terms.”
She alleges that Drummond initially refused to see their son or pay child support, and then fought against her in a custody battle. While she says they ultimately reached a settlement and he began paying child support, she writes that “months or years” would go by when he wouldn’t see their son. In 2014, Drummond allegedly showed her an article about Eric Schmidt’s reported history of extramarital affairs during an argument, implying that the executive’s position granted him impunity.
“His ‘personal life’ (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his ‘personal life’ it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child,” Blakely writes.
Blakely’s story is the latest in a string of public posts from former Google employees highlighting issues with the company’s culture and policies (or their lack of enforcement).
One of the women who helped organize last fall’s protests, Claire Stapelton, recently wrote about her experience with retaliation, another employee detailed the disappointing way the company’s human resources department dealt with her harassment reports, and former senior engineer Liz Fong-Jones posted about “grave concerns” with the company’s decision making in general.
The outspokenness of Google employees exemplifies — and has helped spur — a broader activism in the tech sector that has seen workers speaking out against their employer’s internal policies and business decisions.
Blakely’s post also taps into the larger #MeToo movement which has drawn attention to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace across industries.
“Until truth is willing to speak to power and is heard, there’s not going to be the sea change necessary to bring equality to the workplace,” she writes.
Neither Google nor Drummond immediately responded to a request for comment.
This story is developing.
-Jillian D’Onfro; Forbes
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