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Column Peter van der Heiden

Well, Radboud Reflects, congratulations. You did it. You organised a current affairs lecture about a topic that I know really nothing about. Did that stop me from saying yes to your invitation? No, of course it didn’t – I wouldn’t be standing here if it did, would I. Writing and reading columns is a substantial part of how I make my living – as we would say in Dutch, it’s my verdienmodel – so here I am, talking about ahum quantum computers. My mother would have been so proud…

It’s not that I never saw a computer in my life – I even wrote this column on one, and with some pride I may say that I am and was an early adapter. As a student I had that state-of-the-art computer that the older people in the room (about my age, a bit younger maybe too) may remember: a Commodore 64. Come to think of it, I may have even bought it in a store called Kwantum. I was amazed about what that little paperless typewriter could do.

You could program some things in it and then it did some things – at least that’s what I heard because I didn’t have a clue about programming and only typed some lines the manual gave as an example, and didn’t understand why it was not working out because I couldn’t see which mistakes I made in my “programming”.

It didn’t last long before I only used it as a game console, and a slow one at that because programs were loaded into the internal memory (if it had any) by a cassette player. Even my hopes that I could connect it to my synthesizer turned out to shatter, mostly because my synthesizer playing never went further then lesson 1 and the song ‘Boer er ligt een kip in het water’ didn’t do anything for me, rock band careerwise.

My Commodore 64 and my synthesizer, I have to confess, both proved to be not my best investments. The good thing that came out of it was the revelation that, if I wanted to be on a stage – which I desperately wanted –, I had to do something else than playing synthesizer in a band – and here I am, your beloved columnist.

This may be a bit of a long introduction to this column, but I think you really need to know where I am coming from to fully grasp the importance of my evaluation of this quantummy thing, I mean this new supercomputer. It shouldn’t come as a surpise by now, and it might be something of an understatement, but I will say it anyway: I am not the greatest computer expert in the world. But – and here we go: if this new quantum computer is able to do things a traditional computer never can do (let alone the human brain!) – how do we know that this new computer does it correctly? Isn’t it all just a big hoax, or, in modern speaking: fake news? I say: Quantumcomputer, schwantumcomputer!

I invite you all to think about that, while I go home and cash my new quantum pay check.

This column by Peter van der Heiden was part of the Current Affairs Lecture Quantum Supremacy – A New Era of Computing? by digital security scientist Simona Samardjiska.