Preparing for what’s next
The Feb. 17, 2014 cover of Time magazine featured a photo of a revolutionary but little-known piece of equipment that promised to, as the headline put it, “solve some of humanity’s biggest problems.” Unfortunately, it continued, “nobody knows how it actually works.”
That article, which focused on an early quantum computer called the D-Wave, was among the first mainstream attempts at explaining the potential promise of quantum computers. Eight years after it appeared, that story’s thesis—that quantum computing holds enormous but as-yet-unmet potential—is still regularly repeated everywhere from news magazines to Reddit threads.
And no wonder. While IBM, the federal government and many companies have been pouring resources into the field in recent years, no one has yet achieved “quantum supremacy”—despite Google’s claim in 2019. The reason? As the Time writer put it back in 2014, the challenge is towering—the “computational equivalent of splitting the atom.”
And the stakes are equally challenging. This technology holds the promise of delivering warp-speed advances in healthcare, manufacturing and virtually every other sector. But it also poses cybersecurity threats. With so much on the line, federal funding is increasingly pointed toward the field, and businesses big and small are pushing R&D dollars in the same direction. But what is needed now more than anything is people.
That’s where Mines come in. As you’ll see on page 18, our graduates, faculty and students are already enlisted in this effort. We have even been asked to enlarge the quantum workforce not just with our own programs but by helping other universities build pipeline programs like ours—for doctoral, master’s and undergraduate students alike. And our alumni are some of the few already working in and helping shape this evolving industry.
It isn’t the first time that Mines has answered the call to help lead—and provision—an important industry. This year, we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mines’ petroleum engineering program (more on that in Mines Magazine’s next issue). Just as we did when we built that department, Mines continues to answer the needs of industry and individuals. We continue to be the place businesses and governments alike can turn to for the knowledge and well-trained personnel they need to answer emerging challenges and make the most of still-materializing opportunities.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Mines Magazine and all the stories it offers about how Orediggers (including you) are continuing to shape the future in important ways.
Paul C. Johnson
President and Professor