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‘Don’t get me started’: Trudeau gives quick quantum computing lesson

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, receives at video message from Stephen Hawking before making an announcement at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., on Friday, April 15, 2016.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Self-described geek Justin Trudeau seized an opportunity with both hands Friday to deliver an impromptu lesson on quantum computing to some of the country's smartest theoretical physicists — and possibly some not-so-smart reporters.

Speaking at the Perimeter Institute, where he was making a funding announcement, the prime minister said he was excited by what he had learned earlier in the day on the topic.

"When we get to the media questions later, I have to tell you: I'm really hoping people ask me how quantum computing works," Trudeau said.

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A reporter from The Canadian Press, with no knowledge of the topic, obliged. Trudeau wasted little time getting to it.

"Very simply: Normal computers work by ..." he began, sparking laughter and applause from the appreciative audience.

"Don't interrupt me," he chided with a smile. "When you walk out of here, you will know more — no, some of you will know far less — about quantum computing."

The former teacher, who had been welcomed to the institute by renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking via recorded video, then picked up the thread with obvious relish to deliver a mini-lesson to his erudite audience.

"Normal computers work ... either there's power going through a wire or not. It's one or a zero. They're binary systems," he lectured.

"What quantum states allow for is much more complex information to be encoded into a single bit."

Like any good teacher, Trudeau then repeated the information and elaborated — just in case of any misunderstandings.

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"Regular computer bit is ether a one or a zero. On or off. A quantum state can be much more complex than that because, as we know, things can be both particle and waves at the same times and the uncertainty around quantum states allows us to encode more information into a much smaller computer.

"So that's what's exciting about quantum computing," he said as the audience burst again into applause.

"Don't get me going on this or we'll be here all day. Trust me."

The prime minister then went on to answer questions about the Islamic State and the Supreme Court ruling on Metis rights among other weightier matters.

He also announced $50 million over five years for the institute.

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