Quantum Computing

A funny thing happened on my way to Maker Faire

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Normally on Friday mornings, I’d be winding my way up a canyon in the hills south of San Jose to IBM Research – Almaden, where I work as an advisory engineer and scientist for our research in magnetoelectonics, spintronics and related fields. Instead, thanks to an amazing confluence of my IBM work and my outside hobbies, I’m writing this while seated aboard an express CalTrain car, en route to San Mateo where I’ll be part of the group staffing the IBM Q booth at the Bay Area Maker Faire.

Building Bots

I’m also demonstrating the DIY TJBot at IBM’s booth at Maker Faire. It includes libraries that let it communicate with Watson’s public APIs, so this little big-headed bot sitting on your desk has all of Watson’s processing power for voice recognition, language parsing, and image processing. I’ve been building my own Arduino-based bots for fun at home, including my gold-medal winning robotic bartender Thinbot. It just means I have lots of practice demonstrating robots to the public in noisy exhibition spaces.

One of my favorite parts of this job is presenting our work to the general public; I have been giving science talks about spintronics for 15 years, and our big lab is a favorite stop for visitors to Almaden. I really appreciate that IBM still does fundamental science research for the sake of research, not just product technology, and being able to share that excitement is exhilarating and rewarding.

As you might imagine, I enthusiastically agreed to help demonstrate the IBM Q experience, IBM’s free-to-use working quantum computer on the cloud. A chunk of my lab work now also supports quantum computing, so this would also give me a chance to learn about that – via crash courses in the tool. This meant many dives into the Beginner’s Manual, so I can explain to the public how the qubits work. (And perhaps not insignificantly, I had to re-learn the CalTrain commuter system so I could get to San Mateo on time.)

So here I am, on the 8:28 limited, waiting to get off at the Hillsdale station and walk to the Hayward Event Center in time to learn how the newest demonstration works. The gates to Maker Faire open at noon, and we’ll be in the spotlight representing IBM at one of the craziest collection of hobbyists, artists, crafters and hackers in the world.

I can’t wait!

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