Quantum Bayesian Networks

August 2, 2018

Konnichiwa (Hello) Nihon (Japan,日本). Quantum Computing MOOC from Keio Univ. in Tokyo

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 8:41 pm

This week, two of our company’s co-founders, Henning Dekant and Tao Yin, were in Tokyo to attend the Quantum Computing Symposium organized by the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo. An important goal of the trip was to promote: our Bayesforge docker image comprising a vast collection of classical and quantum open source softwares, and our softwares combining classical AI and music.

During our stay, we were honored to meet representatives from various Japanese companies and universities interested in Quantum Computing, such as Fujitsu and Keio University.

Keio University, located in central Tokyo, offers an excellent MOOC on quantum computing taught by Profs. Rodney Van Meter and Takahiko Satoh. (By the way, according to Wikipedia, the term MOOC was coined in Canada to refer to one of the first MOOCs ever offered. Hurray, Canada! I am a passionate advocate of MOOCs)

Prof. Van Meter, who was an undergrad at Caltech where he played a mean game of basketball, is much admired by everyone at artiste-qb.net for his unwavering dedication to teaching. Henning, Rodney, and Tao can be seen below.

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November 16, 2015

I just want to MOOC them All

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 2:50 am

mooc-them-all ( I conceived this poster in response to a friendly argument with CapitalistImperialistPig (that’s his nom de plume). You are a better pig than I am Gunga Din)

October 12, 2015

Caltech Abhors MOOCs

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 4:12 am

I’ve expressed my very favorable opinion of MOOCs many times before in this blog.

Today I visited the Coursera and EdX websites and learned that they are currently offering 1,465 courses and 233 courses, respectively. So MOOCs are alive and well, at least today.

I was curious to see how many MOOCs Caltech is currently offering so I went to a website called “MOOC List”. According to that site, the grand total of Caltech MOOCs since the beginning of time is 5. 😸 Let me copy and paste the full list here:

  1. Machine Learning (Caltech) Self Paced
  2. The Science of the Solar System (Coursera) Mar 30th 2015
  3. Galaxies and Cosmology (Coursera) Jan 6th 2015
  4. Drugs and the Brain (Coursera) Jan 4th 2014
  5. Principles of Economics for Scientists (Early 2013) Jan 7th 2013

Looks like the Caltech Evil Empire abhors MOOCs…

darth-vader-preskill-emperor-palpatine

In a small galaxy called Caltech far, far away from Stanford University, Darth Vader Preskill is informed by Emperor Palpatine that the two co-founders of Coursera, Daphne Koller (aka Princess Leia) and Andy Ng (aka Luke Skywalker), are his offsprings, and that they are threatening the Empire of traditional Universities that Lord Vader has sworn to defend.

The following is a quote from the movie “The Empire Strikes Back”, with some minor modifications. My omissions from the quote are crossed out. My additions to the quote are placed in parenthesis.

Darth Vader Preskill: [kneeling before Emperor Palpatine’s hologram] What is thy bidding, my master?

Emperor Palpatine: There is a great disturbance in the (Educational) Force.

Darth Vader Preskill: I have felt it.

Palpatine: We have a new enemy. The young (Coursera) Rebel(s) who destroyed the Death Star. I have no doubt this boy (and girl are) is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker.

Darth Vader Preskill: How is that possible?

Palpatine: Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You will know it to be true. He(They) could destroy us.

Darth Vader Preskill: He’s just a boy. (They are just children). Obi-Wan can no longer help him (them).

Palpatine: The (Educational) Force is strong with him(them). The son (and daughter) of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.(MOOC Jedis).

Darth Vader Preskill: If he (they) could be turned, he(they) would become a powerful ally.(powerful allies)

Palpatine: [intrigued] Yes… He (They) would be a great asset. Can it be done?

Darth Vader Preskill: He (They) will join us or die, master.

October 29, 2013

After the Seventh Seal, MOOCs

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 1:00 pm

Here is my customary annual Halloween HORROR story. It’s a story about the soon to arrive doomsday for universities as we know them, and about a plague that will soon be unleashed on university professors.

In the Bible, The Book of Revelation speaks of the end days and of the day of judgement. It predicts that a Lamb will open a book with seven seals. Opening the seventh and last seal will unleash seven plagues.

“And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”.[Rev. 8:1]

A young Physicist knight was slowly making his way back home from the Crusades.

The Crusades had been very disappointing to him. He had gone there with the intention of having fun pillaging, raping and beheading all science infidels who dared to question the wisdom of building a new particle accelerator, the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem would be a successor to the LHC, aka the Old Jerusalem, which was by now looking pretty frumpy, after failing to find supersymmetry. The New Jerusalem would be built in Japan. Aligning a machine several kilometers long in Japan, earthquake capital of the world? Priceless. However, the public didn’t agree with the young knight, and wanted to spend their tax money on frivolous things like roads and bridges, and biomedical research. Very disappointing.

What awaited the young Physicist knight at home was even worse than the Crusades…His home town was at that time being racked and decimated by an inexorable, ruthless MOOC-Pox Plague.

At the beginning of the story, a college administrator with a pasty white complexion, dressed in a black hooded robe, tells our knight errant that he is next on the list of profs that will be dismissed to make their university more MOOCish. In a desperate bid to prolong his life, our knight initiates a game of chess with the college administrator, for he realizes that the administrator will not want to fire him until after the chess game is concluded. Deep down, our knight knows full well that he will eventually lose the game to the college administrator, for the administrator is a much better chess player. The college administrator has proven before how adept and ruthless a chess player he is, by granting himself multi-million dollar yearly salaries while paying adjunct professor serfs $300 per course.

The college administrator and our knight continue to play this chess game intermittently as our knight gradually makes his way back to his home town.

At some point, the knight errant witnesses a procession of flagellants (i. e., graduate students and postdocs).

Medieval era  flagellants

Medieval era flagellants

Throughout the story, our young knight keeps wondering why is it that God is so absent and silent in our lives. Oops, then he remembers that he doesn’t believe in God. So that question is pretty silly for him to be asking in this movie.

seventh-seal-feynman

Near the end, our knight knocks down the pieces of the chess game, pretending to do so unintentionally. He then tells the college administrator that he doesn’t remember where the pieces were. The college administrator replies that he has been recording his every move and the game has been filmed by hidden cameras. He quickly restores the pieces to their former positions and wins on the next move. His last move surprises the audience. It consists of moving a rook labeled Feynman Lectures. We then realize that that rook represents a MOOC, put out by Caltech, based on Feynman’s 3 red books and his video-taped lectures. This MOOC will be a killer app, literally. It will make obsolete most university professors that teach the first four semesters of physics.

At the end of the story, we see a “danse macabre”, a human chain of university professors being led by the college administrator over a hill. Presumably, at the other side of the hill, the cruel fate of a non-academic job awaits them.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seventh_Seal
The-Seventh-Seal-Italian-poster

March 14, 2013

Be a QC MOOC-her

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 6:41 pm

In English, “to mooch” means to get something without paying for it. The word “moocher” has been forever seared into American culture and consciousness by the superb jazz song “Minnie the Moocher”, sung by the highly charismatic and entertaining black performer Cab Calloway (Wikipedia entry for song/ lyrics/ youTube of Calloway singing it). “Minnie the Moocher” was sung by Calloway himself in the hilarious movie “The Blues Brothers” (Wikipedia entry for movie).

In a previous post, I spoke about how MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) are revolutionising higher education. You don’t have to pay anything to take them, at least for now, so taking one amounts to mooching.

But can one mooch specifically on the subject of QCs? Yes! There are at least two current MOOC offerings that, in my opinion, are highly relevant to quantum computing:

  • (Coursera) Probabilistic Graphical Models, taught by Stanford Prof. Daphne Koller

    Next Session: Apr 8, 2013 (11 weeks long)

    This course is based on the masterful, 1200 page book on Bayesian and Markov Networks by Daphne Koller and Nir Friedman. (I’ve spoken previously in this blog about their book, here and here). Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, both Stanford Profs., are the founders of Coursera.

  • (EdX) Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Computation, taught by Berkeley Prof. Umesh V. Vazirani

    Classes for current term already started on: Feb 11, 2013

    Very plain and elementary exposition of quantum computing covering only two algorithms (Shor and Grover). This course makes a very strong case for the claim that there are only two known algorithms for quantum computing. 🙂

Daphne’s course never mentions quantum mechanics, but I think that bayesian networks are FUNDAMENTAL to quantum computers. So I enthusiastically recommend her course to all QC aficionados.

I recommend Daphne’s course more strongly than Umesh’s. For one thing, Umesh’s course is very standard and Daphne’s is one of a kind. Besides, Daphne belongs to the Computer Science tribe that believes in applications (i.e., the programmers, the shakers and movers of the internet, the Big Shoulders, the brawny Code Butchers for the World), whereas Umesh belongs to that other CS tribe that uses the word application maybe once every five years (i.e., the complexity theorists). (Quantum complexity theorists are also notable for how slowly they move. Sometimes I suspect that molasses or Heinz ketchup is coursing through their veins. I think the last time a quantum complexity theorist invented a new, mildly useful QC algorithm was before you were born, sonny.)

Another bit of news: Recently, a “symposium” was held to celebrate John Preskill’s 60th birthday. The conference also celebrated the instituti which John founded, the IQIM. (I believe IQIM stands for I-CK-Y M-ashuganas. I believe the IQIMs are very active as a group, and that they are even considering putting out a calendar
power-tools
for selling power tools like electric drills and such, with scantily clad women posing with the tools.)

October 6, 2015

Teaching Quantum Mechanics to Children, the Caltech and Waterloo Univ. Method

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 7:29 pm

I’ve heard some uncouth people, naysayers and sour grapes most of them, voice the extreme, malicious opinion that video games are junk food for the mind.

And what about the recent video games qCraft (by Caltech) and QuantumCats (by University of Waterloo in Canada) which promise to teach quantum mechanics to children? To the naysayers, those video games are poison too, quantum junk food, a way of wasting, piddling away the precious, jam-packed, fleeting years of youth.

It occurred to me that such opinions could be put to the test scientifically. So I was very happy when, while poring over the Lancet, a journal which I read faithful every Sunday, I came across the following article about a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic on this very subject.

Clinical Study of the Effects on Children of Playing Video Games qCraft and QuantumCats
by Mayo Clinic, Oct 1, 2015

Synopsis

quantumcats-evol

We conducted a 1 year study on a group of 20 school children, ages 10 to 18, who showed an early interest in math and science.

10 of the children were our control group A, and 10 were our video gamers group X.

The children from group A were given classroom courses by really good high school teachers in Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, Biology, Physics, Chemistry. They were encouraged to consult Kahn Academy, Wikipedia articles, take MOOC courses and read books on science and math. Those yearning for hands on experience were encouraged to join a Ham radio club or local Hackers club and build their own electrical devices or else join an open source programmer’s group and start writing computer code at an early age.

Group A children were also encouraged to do some physical activity by going to a court or gym and practicing a sport, and joining a youth sport team if possible. Bicycling, swimming, jogging, dancing, etc. were all encouraged

The children in Group X were told that before taking a math or science course, it would be better if they first learned the basics of Science by playing some video games. By practicing how to build a quantum computer out of imaginary Lego blocks or throwing quantum cats with a catapult, they could learn the basics of quantum mechanics first, and then, if after a year or two of that they showed any promise, they would be permitted to take courses in science and math, and consult Kahn Academy, Wikipedia and all those other old-fashioned, boring resources.

If the children from Group X wanted to do some physical activity by playing a particular sport, they were told that it would be better if they first learned the basics by playing a video game about that sport. If after a year or two of that they showed any promise, they would be taken to a court or gym to learn the physical part of the sport.

We found that 95% of the children from group A went to good colleges. 5% never made it to college because they had already started their own high-tech businesses in high school and saw no need to go to college.

We found that 95% of the children from Group X never went to college, because they were recruited by the Army right out of high school as drone plane operators. 5% did make it to college, mostly MIT, where they eventually became professors.

The figure above shows a typical child from Group X, after 0,1,2,3,4 months into the clinical study. His cranial capacity diminished by 15cc after 4 months but we were told by Caltech and Waterloo that if we had run the study for a longer period of time, we would have seen that cranial capacity reaches a minimum after 4 months and then begins to increase. They also pointed out that our study was flawed in methodology and too low in number of children to be statistically significant.

March 9, 2015

The Truth About Einstein’s Bad Grades

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 5:19 pm

It is often said that Albert Einstein had bad math grades in school. There is some truth to that assertion, but unless one delves into the details of Einstein’s life, one might get the impression that Einstein was the most amazing late bloomer in the history of mankind. Not at all.

To begin with, let me emphasize that Einstein was very appreciated and considered a wunderkind by his teachers during his gymnasium, the equivalent of high school. Throughout gymnasium, he got the highest possible grades in Math and Physics. See this NYT article telling us just that. (Einstein did hate French, but who can blame him for that, when he could talk a far cooler language, Italiano, while in Milano with his lifelong buddy, Michelangelo Besso.)

So where does the the myth of Einstein’s bad grades come from? Is there any truth to it? I think so. Albert’s trouble with bad grades started when he reached university. Albert was not a happy camper in college and grad school. Here are some excerpts from the chapter “A very beautiful day” from the book “Reflections on Relativity” by Kevin Brown, available for free on the internet here. I haven’t read Brown’s book, but I highly recommend that you read this small chapter entitled “A very beautiful day”. It’s a very beautiful chapter. Excerpts:

Despite his love of physics, Einstein did not perform very impressively as an under-graduate in an academic setting, and this continued to be true in graduate school.  Hermann Minkowski referred to his one-time pupil as a “lazy dog”. As the biographer Clark wrote, “Einstein became, as far as the professorial staff of the ETH was concerned, one of the awkward scholars who might or might not graduate but who in either case was a great deal of trouble”. Professor Pernet at one point suggested to Einstein that he switch to medicine or law rather than physics, saying “You can do what you like, I only wish to warn you in your own interest”. Clearly Einstein “pushed along with his formal work just as much as he had to, and found his real education elsewhere”. Often he didn’t even attend the lectures, relying on Marcel Grossmann’s notes to cram for exams, making no secret of the fact that he wasn’t interested in what men like Weber had to teach him. His main focus during the four years while enrolled at the ETH was independently studying the works of Kirchhoff, Helmholtz, Hertz, Maxwell, Poincare, etc., flagrantly outside the course of study prescribed by the ETH faculty. Some idea of where his studies were leading him can be gathered from a letter to his fellow student and future wife Mileva Maric written in August of 1899

I returned to the Helmholtz volume and am at present studying again in depth Hertz’s propagation of electric force. The reason for it was that I didn’t understand Helmholtz’s treatise on the principle of least action in electrodynamics. I am more and more convinced that the electrodynamics of moving bodies, as presented today, is not correct, and that it should be possible to present it in a simpler way. The introduction of the term “ether” into the theories of electricity led to the notion of a medium of whose motion one can speak without being able, I believe, to associate a physical meaning with this statement. I think that the electric forces can be directly defined only for empty space…

Einstein later recalled that after graduating in 1900 the “coercion” of being forced to take the final exams “had such a detrimental effect that… I found the consideration of any scientific problem distasteful to me for an entire year”. He achieved an overall mark of 4.91 out of 6, which is rather marginal. Academic positions were found for all members of the graduating class in the physics department of the ETH with the exception of Einstein, who seems to have been written off as virtually unemployable, “a pariah, discounted and little loved”, as he later said.

Toward the end of 1901 Einstein had still found no permanent position.  As he wrote to Grossmann in December of that year, “I am sure I would have found a position [by now] were it not for Weber’s intrigues against me”. It was only because Grossmann’s father happened to be good friends with Haller, the chief of the Swiss Patent Office, that Einstein was finally given a job, despite the fact that Haller judged him to be “lacking in technical training”. Einstein wrote gratefully to the Grossmann’s that he “was deeply moved by your devotion and compassion which do not let you forget an old, unlucky friend”, and that he would spare no effort to live up to their recommendation.  He had applied for Technical Expert 2nd class, but was given the rank of 3rd class (in June 1902).

As soon as he’d been away from the coercive environment of academia long enough that he could stand once again to think about science, he resumed his self-directed studies, which he pursued during whatever free time a slightly lazy patent examiner can make for himself. His circumstances were fairly unusual for someone working on a doctorate, especially since he’d already been rejected for academic positions by both the ETH and the University of Zurich. He was undeniably regarded by the academic community (and others) as “an awkward, slightly lazy, and certainly intractable young man who thought he knew more than his elders and betters”.

The friendship with Besso may have been, in some ways, the most meaningful of Einstein’s life. Michael and his wife sometimes took care of Einstein’s children, tried to reconcile Einstein with Mileva when their marriage was foundering, and so on. Another of the few close personal ties that Einstein was able to maintain over the years was with Max von Laue, who Einstein believed was the only one of the Berlin physicists who behaved decently during the Nazi era. Following the war, a friend of Einstein’s was preparing to visit Germany and asked if Einstein would like him to convey any messages to his old friends and colleagues. After a moment of thought, Einstein said “Greet Laue for me”. The friend, trying to be helpful, then asked specifically about several other individuals among Einstein’s former associates in his homeland. Einstein thought for another moment, and said “Greet Laue for me”.

Seems like Albert got bad math grades, not in high school but at the uni., and not because he was a lazy dog, but because he felt that his university (ETH Zurich, considered then and now one of the best technical universities in the world) addressed very poorly the needs of its students. (Albert also seems to have felt that many university academics were not very moral people. I’ve experienced that myself in quantum computation many times and documented some of it in this blog).

The bad news for us is that universities change at a glacial pace. They are pretty much the same today as they were in the early 1900 when Einstein attended one.

The good news is that MOOCs are going to change drastically the current university system. For more info about my opinion of MOOCs, follow this link.

Some people might say that Einstein was unique, far above the rest of his class, and that he was a self-studier at heart. How could a university satisfy his needs, and those of every other student as well. Precisely. That’s why a modern teaching system like MOOCs can be taken at different speeds by different students, and students can choose teachers from a large pool of possible candidates from all around the world, leading them to find a teacher that thinks the same way they do. Of course, current university systems do none of this, and they are outrageously overpriced too.

August 3, 2014

Quantum Computing says to AngelList: “Louie (Or Naval) I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 9:40 pm

casablanca-front
casablanca-back
Could AngelList help generate soon, in the next few years, a mini-boom in quantum computer angel investment? Maybe, and I sure hope so.

For a long time, I’ve been using this blog to advocate for more private investment into quantum computing.

The Greatest Obstacle to Building a Quantum Computer

I’ve argued that the answer to that trick question “how long will it be before we have (gate model) quantum computers” depends to a high degree on how much the private and public sectors are willing to invest in quantum computing right now to achieve that goal. I gave as an example the Manhattan Project where the US government went full out, no holds barred, and, in just 6 years, went from almost zero nuclear technology to two different A bomb models.

Useful Quantum Computers Are 200 Years Away

I’ve also never hidden from the readers of this blog the fact that I myself would like to start a smallish company writing software for quantum computers. But Academia and old fashioned VC firms have failed me.

Academia alone would take forever to achieve a gate model QC, because those guys have very little incentive to move fast. Why should they. They have their cushy tenured jobs and their old boys network/mutual adulation clubs to assure them stellar evaluations and almost permanent government funding, whether they perform well or not.

Old fashioned venture capitalists like those funding D-Wave, have, IMO, also failed all of quantum computing. They have fixated on their favorite, D-Wave, to the exclusion of all other companies. They have failed to fund any gate model QC hardware or software companies, in any significant way that I am aware of, even in light of certain omens (see references below) that should at least give pause to any prudent investor.(I’m not talking about funding giant multifaceted companies like Microsoft or IBM, I’m talking about funding companies dedicated almost exclusively to QC pursuits)

But maybe now what are commonly and aptly described as “investor/startup social networks”, or “investor/startup matchmakers”, might change all that. The most famous of these seems to be AngelList, a brat, merely 4 years old, but already putting on quite a show. I’ve recently joined AngelList and I bet other QC entrepreneurs will soon be joining too. It seems that AngelList is the new sheriff in San Fran town and it is hell bent (and from the looks of it, succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest dreams) in revolutionizing how angels invest in new companies. AngelList is no doubt putting fear in the hearts of old fashioned VC firms who all of a sudden have had their cozy buyer’s market turned into a seller’s market. It reminds me of MOOCs. As I’ve commented elsewhere in this blog, MOOCs are also forcing a dinosaur, i.e. the present day American University, to change or go extinct.

Ta-Tan, behold World my AngelList link:

https://angel.co/artiste

Dying to hear from you, Larry Page, Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg

References (in fine Wikipedia style)

References on AngelList

Very authoritative references on D-Wave

April 13, 2013

Stephen Wolfram Reviews “Quantum Computing Since Democritus”

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 4:51 pm

Oh boy! Stephen Wolfram just posted at Amazon.com the following critique of Scott Aaronson’s new book, “Quantum Computing Since Democritus”. Apparently these two don’t talk to each other ever since Scott wrote a particularly acerbic review of Wolfram’s book, “A New Kind of Science”. I’m reprinting below the entire Wolfram review of Scott’s book:

Reviewer: Stephen Wolfram (April 1, 2013)

Scott Aaronson thinks that he can derive all of physics from just one silly idea from computer science, what is called cellular automata Rule 110 complexity theory. Good luck Mr. Aaronson!

I think Scott Aaronson has delusions of grandeur. Even the title of his book: “A New Kind of Science, Quantum Computing Since Democritus” sounds a bit pretentious to me. Mr. Aaronson thinks he can write a really fat book about everything under the sun and that everyone is going to rush to read every word of it. Good luck Mr. Aaronson!

Mr. Aaronson could have chosen to write a nice slim volume like Hawking’s “A Brief history of Time”, and just like Hawking, he could have had in his hands a runaway bestseller, very popular among housewives and in their book reading clubs. But no! Instead he chose to write a book which is neither fish nor fowl. Too big and technical to be suitable for housewives, and too sketchy to be satisfying to their scientist husbands. I predict that very few people will buy his book, which has the exorbitant price of $35.99 in paperback.

Even though he has only been trained as a theoretical computer scientist (a hopelessly unemployable and unproductive clan not to be confused with that of computer programmers, to which I belong here at Mathematica), Aaronson honestly believes that he invented quantum mechanics for the first time and that he understands it better than the vast majority of physicists, dead or alive, better even than me, an ex-high energy physicist trained at Eton, Oxford, Caltech and Princeton, and better than other towering figures of 20th century physics like Michio Kaku, Max Tegmark, Sean Carroll or Seth Lloyd.

The cover of Aaronson’s book also sucks. Who wants to buy a book with a portrait of Aaronson (coming out of the shower?) on the front cover. I’m sorry if he is a blind Greek philosopher noted for his bad jokes and for long lists of blog comments, but that’s besides the point. The guy is no movie star. Couldn’t he have substituted his portrait by that of a nice, friendly dog, wagging its tail, or one of a buxom blonde lady in a strapless, for example. I mean, honestly, would you have bought “A New Kind of Science” if I had ignored the objections of my publisher and put a portrait of myself, on its front cover as I wanted?[editor’s note: Think George Constanza]

Before buying, I recommend to the reader that he/she wait until the free MOOC version of the book comes out, or until it can be found at yard sales for 50 cents.

February 27, 2013

My Prediction For 2013: “Professor, I’ll have some fries with that exam”

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 4:34 pm

On January of each year, it has become my habit to post in this blog a yearly prediction. I forgot to make one this year, so here it is.

This prediction is not directly related to quantum computers, but it might be related to them indirectly. The prediction has to do with the future role of universities and their professors in scientific research. Although currently most quantum computing research is done by university professors, this may not be true for much longer. The role of university professors is currently undergoing rapid, drastic changes. In the future, university professors may be so busy teaching or performing clerical duties that they won’t be able to devote sufficient time to their scientific research activities. If you are young and want to do research in quantum computing, maybe you should consider starting a company rather than becoming a university professor.

University level online education has been around for more than a decade, some of it offered by universities themselves. However, most universities, afraid that such modern teaching techniques could spell the end of their highly lucrative racket, have portrayed online education as being only a supplementary educational tool, in no sense to be thought of as a serious alternative to a campus education. But the times, they are a-changing.

The Khan Academy, started in 2006, put universities to shame, showing how just one person can teach Calculus and other engineering subjects FOR FREE to tens of millions of people, in dozens of languages. Meanwhile, famous American universities have continued to increase their yearly tuitions to astronomical levels (MIT yearly tuition for 2012-2013: $42,000).

The newest trend in online education, and one which is catching on like wildfire (Coursera only started 2 years ago and already has had millions of enrollees), is MOOCs, massive open online courses, so called because these courses have “massive” enrolments, sometimes in the tens of thousands of students. Enrollment is free, at least for now. Tests are only of the multiple choice kind and machine graded (like SATs), but you get to ask your questions to thousands of attentive live ears.

Two of the biggest MOOC players are Coursera and EdX. Coursera was started by Stanford profs, and EdX by MIT/Harvard profs. I like to call Coursera the robber baron capitalist team and EdX the Marxist/Stallman-ist communist one. The capitalists have venture capital funding and tout themselves as a startup, whereas the communists were started as an effort to stymie the capitalists, and they have no VC funding (they are funded by charitable grants). The capitalists and the communists are in fierce competition. Currently, the capitalists are trouncing the communists. Here is the score board, as of Feb 2013:

Capitalist Team (Coursera)
62 Universities (https://www.coursera.org/universities).
323 courses.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coursera
https://www.coursera.org/

Communist Team (EdX)
12 Universities but only 3 (MIT, Harvard, Berkeley) currently offering courses.
25 courses.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EdX
https://www.edx.org/

I think that the EdX people are destined to lose the competition and fade away into oblivion. To begin with, their name really sucks. Furthermore, my impression is that their heart isn’t really in what they are doing. Their goal seems to be merely to perpetuate the old thinking that online education is a nice supplement but not an alternative to campus education, and that universities are a not-for-profit institution (that might be true technically, but is it true spiritually?). Nobody believes those fibs anymore.

My prediction: (I’m not saying that this prediction is necessarily what I want the future to be. I’m just saying that I believe that the inexorable market forces will produce this result in the end.)

My prediction is that in future (in the next 10-20 years?), most research will no longer be done by universities but rather by companies or public labs, like Bell Labs, Google, IBM, NIST, CERN, etc. The most prestigious universities will become for profit businesses. Each of them will have dozens or even thousands of frachisees throughout the world (The McDonald’s model). Franchisees will be entrusted with running miniscule (by current university campus standards) outlets where students can take supervised tests. Also, those outlets will be used to give the occasional lab course and to hold social meetups. Students will do most of their learning online. They will no longer have to travel to another country to go to McMIT or McHarvard or McStanford. Most university professors, with the exception of the very few superstars that actually “act” in the training videos, will perform menial roles similar to those of McDonald’s minimum wage employees, and have to ask questions like, would you like some fries with that exam? Most present day university professors are royal peacocks enamored with themselves. This will be quite a blow to their egos.

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