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Emerging Technologies Symposium: Quantum Computing, Artificial Intelligence, and 5G

June 18, 2019 AT&T Forum

On June 18, the AT&T Policy Forum hosted an in-depth discussion on emerging technologies and the research and development efforts currently underway in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and 5G next-generation wireless networks. The event featured welcome remarks by Margaret Peterlin, Senior Vice President, AT&T Global External and Public Affairs, and included a fireside chat with Rick Perry, U.S. Secretary of Energy, and John Donovan, Chief Executive Officer, AT&T Communications. The fireside chat discussed how 5G and quantum computing are instrumental in delivering the next generation of technological innovations, including wireless broadband service, IoT, and artificial intelligence.

A keynote address followed with Andre Fuetsch, President, AT&T Labs and Chief Technology Officer. 

The event concluded with a panel moderated by Kiran Stacey, Financial Times Technology Reporter.

Panel participants included Maria Spiropulu, Caltech Experimental Physicist; Jake Taylor, Assistant Director for Quantum Information Science, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Soren Telfer, DirectorAT&T Palo Alto Foundry.

Event Recap

What’s the future for mobile wireless communications? It is as vast as exponential data growth and billions of connected devices.  But, to enable that data growth smoothly and seamlessly for wireless users, it will be as a small as subatomic particles – through quantum computing.  Our AT&T Policy Forum event on June 18, 2019, discussed the emerging technologies of quantum computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and 5G wireless communication and the ways in which partnerships, including AT&T’s own partnerships with academic researchers and government, are leading the way to that future.

In her opening remarks, Margaret Peterlin, Senior Vice President, AT&T Global External and Public Affairs, highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships to “deliver human progress together.”  Notably, the Palo Alto AT&T Foundry is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab to develop a quantum network at scale – a radically new and radically different way to send information between processors. It’s an ambitious task that requires not just the resources of a global network operator but also some of the best minds in government and academia.

In the more immediate future, Peterlin noted how AI, too, is growing faster than most people realize.  By 2021, for instance, the AI healthcare market is expected to be $6.6 billion and include such innovations as robot-assisted surgery and virtual nursing assistants.

The event featured a fireside chat between Rick Perry, United States Secretary of Energy, and John Donovan, Chief Executive Officer, AT&T Communications, about how 5G and quantum computing are instrumental in delivering the next generation of technological innovations, including wireless broadband service, the Internet of Things (IoT), and AI.

Both Perry and Donovan agreed that it’s vital for the U.S. to maintain leadership in computing.  Of the ten fastest supercomputers in the world, five are in the United States, and four are associated with the Department of Energy.  Among other work, the supercomputers help the Department make energy more abundant and cleaner.  This advantage has been beneficial as the U.S. changes its energy mix:  As Secretary Perry noted, Texas now produces more energy from renewables (principally wind energy) than the entire European Union.

The $1.2 billion National Quantum Initiative Act, signed last year, will establish new federally funded research centers in quantum information science.  American leadership and the involvement of the public sector are key:  As Secretary Perry said, “you don’t want to come in second in quantum computing.”

This is just one facet of the ways in which the 17 National Laboratories under the Department of Energy touch all our lives.  They help maintain U.S. leadership in both existing and emerging technologies and find ways to move technology from the lab to practical applications.  For instance, in healthcare, DoE’s partnership with the University of California San Francisco is developing new solutions for those, including wounded veterans, suffering from traumatic brain injury.  AI has the potential to lead to many such innovations in the future.

Next, Andre Fuetsch, President, AT&T Labs and Chief Technology Officer, delivered a keynote address on the intersection of 5G, AI, and quantum computing.  All are fundamental enablers for AT&T’s vision of meeting the demands of 21st century communications.

As usage on AT&T’s network has grown 470,000% from 2007 to 2019, with usage of up to 262 Petabytes per day, and with analysts predicting another seven-fold growth over the next five years, it’s clear new network management solutions will be needed.  So much of that data will be video and will be mobile – up to 70% of total data traffic for each in the next five years.

Hardware alone cannot keep pace with this kind of exponential growth.   To stay ahead of demand, AT&T has moved towards a software-defined network (SDN) solution which will be critical to the 5G network now being built.  The SDN is well suited to 5G and will help enable the network to take advantage of 5G’s faster speeds, lower latency, and hyper connectivity (millions of connected devices per square mile instead of the thousands currently available with 4G).

AT&T is now a software-centric company.  But software, too, eventually hits performance limits just as hardware has. Quantum computing is the next solution to enable ever-faster speeds and larger volumes of data.  That’s why AT&T has developed a partnership with Caltech to start building quantum networks and make them a reality for communications uses.

AI is also emerging as a vital part of the AT&T network and network management.  Some uses of AI include to increase automation of the network, to manage its complexity and scale, and to improve job safety and satisfaction among those who maintain and manage the network.  For instance, drones with image-sensing technology can now look for corrosion on towers; as the software in the drones learns more about the systems involved, it can not only take pictures but in fact order and dispatch the parts needed for repair.

Network management is an essential part of network service, and AI will play an increasingly important role in network management in the future.

Finally, a panel of experts, moderated by Kiran Stacey of the Financial Times discussed the potential practical implications of quantum computing and current research challenges.  Jake Taylor, Assistant Director of Quantum Information Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, emphasized government’s interest in promoting the basic “science and technology that will drive the economy of the nation, the foundations upon which other [economic] sectors are built.”  For instance, the development of the atomic clock in the 1950s led to the rise of GPS – but who could have predicted that it would disrupt the taxi industry by enabling the rise of ride-sharing?

Experimental Physicist Maria Spiropulu of Caltech noted that quantum computing is extremely useful in her work and is already changing her life in solving problems in math and physics, but that more practical, widespread applications could only come later when the technology is more advanced.  Soren Telfer, Director of the AT&T Palo Alto Foundry, highlighted the immense potential of quantum computing:  For instance, the volume of information that is gathered and analyzed to search for cures for different diseases could be processed exponentially faster.

First things first, however, Spiropulu noted that there is still an important race to set the standards on which 5G is based, which will help determine the contours of the technology.  And Telfer reminded the audience that there are still many questions about 5G; his objective is simply to get the best technology as soon as possible, even as research begins into technologies of the future, such as quantum computing.

Still, one thing is clear:  As Stacey noted, “in the very near future, our lives will be faster.” The interplay of 5G, AI, and quantum computing will help enable that prediction to come true in ways we can only imagine.

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