Tools have always been used to power through the limitations on what we can do.
When you hold a tool, the neurons of your brain respond to the tool’s motions, to the forces acting upon it, and to the objects that come close to it.
From a neuroscientific perspective, through proprioception (our awareness of the position and movement of our body), tools become a ‘part of us’ when in our hands. Their usage changes how our brains function, and as such, how we think.
There have been three principal revolutions in our use of tools throughout history – physical, informational, and cognitive.
The first wave of human tool-making was in the Stone Age, some 2.5 million years ago, which gave us physical leverage. Tools such as traps and spears allowed us to gather more food with our hands and live more comfortable lives. These physical tools continued to evolve and extended up to the industrial revolution, giving rise to more modern physical tools.
About 5000 years ago, the second revolution in tool use was informational. Technologies such as writing and reading allowed us to move information from one brain to another over time and distance. And for the first time, allowed us to store information outside of ourselves efficiently.
Psychologists consider this process ‘neuronal recycling’ whereby we’re repurposing parts of our brain to undertake tasks that didn’t exist before, such as reading and writing. And this was what led to the fundamental change in the way our brains function, enabling increases in human group size and social complexity.
The third revolution has occurred in the last two centuries. From calculators to computers, from phones to the internet, the information revolution has accelerated faster than the physical tool use revolution. And as a result, this has also accelerated the evolution of our brains.
Our cognition is increasingly fused with the web, affecting our attention spans, our memory, the way we retrieve and store information, and even how we value knowledge and information.
Anthropologists say that today, our phones are no longer a tool we use but a place where we live. And in changing how we think, they have become a part of us.
Today, cognitive tools such as AI and machine learning, supercharged with annealing, high performance compute, and potentially quantum computing, change the game. Where once we could move information and store it outside of ourselves, today, we can move cognition outside of ourselves,
We’re currently in a cognitive revolution, and quantum technologies are the next extension of our cognitive tools.
To paraphrase tech investor and author Ash Fontana: where our tools once enabled us to leverage land, labour and capital more effectively, today’s cognitive technologies enable us to leverage information more effectively.
By integrating these cognitive tools, we will transform our societies, the competitiveness of our countries and how we do business.
This blog will explore some of the key trends to watch in quantum technologies highlighted at the Fujitsu Quantum Computing Summit this summer.
1. A technological race to develop the first practical quantum computer
The National Security Agency (NSA), one of the foremost users of cognitive technologies, has reported that quantum computing could pose huge and irreconcilable threats to national security if an adversary develops it first. So, there’s a big incentive for countries to prioritise its development.
And industry leaders are already making the necessary moves. For example, PsyQuantum has announced its collaboration with Global Foundries to develop a practical quantum computer that will be ready by 2025. Quantum start-ups Qu&Co and Pascal recently merged and promised a practical quantum computer by 2023. Such ambitious goals should be balanced against the judgement of Intel, which remains bearish, sticking to their view that the first practical quantum computer might be some decades away. But consensus view of just a few years ago, that quantum was too far out to worry about, is shattered.
The probability and timeline for the arrival of practical quantum computing can be debated. Should we succeed, its impact cannot. Recognising that quantum computing could be the most transformative of all technologies, the UK Prime Minister has directed that the UK aim to be the first quantum-ready economy in the world and set the goal to be a Science Superpower by 2030.
In practice, this means building an ecosystem of cognitive technologies now, so we can quickly adopt and diffuse quantum computing capabilities if and when the breakthrough comes. And this starts with a digital transformation strategy and organisational design.
2. Supercomputing will drive the development of the next generation of machine learning tools.
Dr Satoshi Matsuoka, Director at the RIKEN Institute, Fujitsu’s partners in supercomputing, quantum computing and many other areas, recently stated that supercomputing would drive the development of the next generation of machine learning tools. And that the key advantage in doing wouldn’t be just Moore’s law, but massive parallelisation as well.
This will enable machine learning to learn on a data set concurrently rather than sequentially. We can think of it like musicians in an orchestra learning to play a piece all at once, rather than each musician having to learn to play it one after the other, which would take much longer.
Why does this matter in the context of quantum computing? Well, massive parallelisation is fundamentally what quantum computing promises.
When you think about the computational power that supercomputers like Fugaku and quantum computing will bring to parallelisation, you can see that the mathematical breadth and depth that we’ll reach will exceed our ability to understand it.
It’s going to be a cognitive tool that changes how we think and how we think about thinking; and it’s going to change how we make decisions.
For this reason, we need a new model of innovation for the UK and why we’re putting efforts into building our own practical quantum computer.
3. Countries with agile bureaucracies will lead the race in quantum computing
Rob Murray, Head of Innovation at NATO, argues that the companies in countries that will win in this technological race will not be those with the best technology but those with the most agile bureaucracies.
We can look to Japan for some agility lessons. In May of this year, Japan launched Quantum Strategic Industry Alliance for Revolution (QSTAR), bringing together 25 Japanese companies on a single site to constantly co-create new technological solutions to previously intractable and emerging problems. A far better approach than ad hoc workshops and partnerships.
Eleven of these companies, including Fujitsu, are writing Japan’s national strategy for commercialising quantum in consultation with the Japanese Government. This isn’t an avoidance of government responsibility, but rather government as the enabler in directing, shaping and developing the regulation and infrastructure that will allow the rapid commercialisation of new quantum technologies.
4. Co-creating national strategy
The UK’s is 3rd in the world for research, but, as the Government’s Enterprise Research Centre showed in a report last year, lagged at 23rd in the league table of innovation active firms in Europe. The UK must focus on commercialisation and co-creation in technology strategy, like Japan’s Q-STAR, not research divorced from its potential application, or technology strategy in silos. By co-creating national strategy for cognitive technologies, and co-creating cognitive technology solutions on a single site, we’ll develop technology people want to use and that organisations want to buy, turning the UK around on the key Science Superpower metric of the number of new-to-market inventions generated by the country’s economy.
Constant co-creation will allow the public and private sectors to tackle once intractable and new emerging challenges while developing the deep human relationships which enable innovation. You rapidly co-create solutions, train people who can champion technology back in their own organisations, and educate experts in user need. You give people the knowledge and the networks to develop and harness cognitive technologies effectively.
These lessons are prerequisites for a quantum-ready economy.
Click here to learn more about how quantum technologies can enhance your business.
Keith now continues his service as a Group Captain (Reserve) in 601 Squadron, leading on Science, Technology and academic liaison. He is a Chief of the Air Staff’s Fellow, Research Associate at Oxford’s Changing Character of War Programme and Associate Fellow at RUSI - where he guest edited the Special Edition on AI in November 2019.
He speaks widely on AI, Big Data and Decision-Making and was named one of the most relevant voices in European tech by the leading business ‘Big Things’ Conference in 2019.He holds a DPhil in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford. In 2011, he was awarded King’s College London’s O’Dwyer-Russell prize for his MA studies in Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism. He co-leads the Defence Entrepreneurs’ Forum (UK) and was founder and CEO of Airbridge Aviation, a not-for-profit start-up dedicated to delivering humanitarian aid by cargo drones.
Latest posts by Keith Dear (see all)
- Key trends to watch from the Fujitsu Quantum Computing Summit - February 21, 2022
- AI, Art and Creativity – what does it mean for Defence? - September 7, 2021
- Should we be scared by big data, and its ability to manipulate our behaviour? - April 22, 2021