Romi Lifshitz, quantum algorithms developer at PASQUAL and quantum machine learning researcher at the University of Toronto, explains how we can use the laws of quantum mechanics to make a positive contribution to the mobility transition. In our interview, she talks about how quantum computing can help us find new materials and fuel cells, and how optimization problems in the context of smart cities can be successfully solved with quantum computing.
What will happen if we don´t shift our mobility behaviour?
RL: If we don’t shift our mobility behaviour, we will likely see negative effects on the earth, which will affect humanity and nature as a whole. For example, pollution and carbon emissions will continue to worsen climate change. What are the consequences? Natural disasters will continue to rise, humans will continue to be displaced, animals will continue to go extinct, and much more. Beyond ecological harms, many current transportation systems have been criticized by experts as not economically sustainable due to the increasing price of everyday transportation. Further, probably most evidently, if we don’t innovate our mobility behaviour, we will remain the same. There is so much space for innovation and creativity in mobility and our city designs. It’s time to start changing it.
You just mentioned that now is the time for a change in mobility. What impact do policies have on this transformation? What do we have to radically invent, improve or change to realize the turnaround in transport policy?
RL: I think that there is often a lag between technological advancements and their integration into policy. While there may be many innovative inventions for improving mobility, policy often needs to be updated in order for these inventions to be implemented and widely adopted. This update process can be lengthy because policy makers need to ensure, importantly, that the safety and privacy of all city residents is upheld. Therefore, I think that in order to achieve smart cities and improvements in mobility in the near future, we need to invent safe, quick methods for integrating new technology into policy.
The transformation within mobility and urban living is nowadays a widely discussed topic with many different opinions in society. What is the most hyped buzzword in terms of mobility which has in your opinion no impact on the real issues of mobility?
RL: ‘Smart’ is a buzzword that you often hear but it does not really have a single definition that I have heard of so far. What is included when you say a ‘smart’ city? I think some people may have different understandings of what they want to include in a smart city and understanding these needs and desires will be key for creating a city that is targeted towards everyone.
Let’s now take a look into the future. What will be the most important thing associated with ‘mobility’ that comes to your mind 10 years from now?
RL: With the onset of climate change crisis, in 10 years I think that ‘mobility’ will be largely associated with the displacement of people due to weather-related disasters. According to organizations such as the United Nations and UNICEF, such disasters have increased five-fold over the past 50 years and have resulted in more than 2 million deaths and $3.64 trillion losses. At this rate, in 10 years these issues are likely to become more widespread and to increasingly occupy our concerns. However, it is up to us to help solve these problems so that hopefully, in 10 years, these problems won’t be on our minds!
You are a scientist researching quantum computing and exploring the application areas of it in the field of mobility and smart cities. Why is quantum computing fundamentally important to shape the future of mobility and in the context of smart cities?
RL: Quantum computing is a new way to perform computations using the laws of quantum mechanics. The new computers that are being built, quantum computers, are incredibly sought after because they can solve problems that our computers would take millions of years to do, in just a few hours or even seconds. The topic of mobility comes into play because it is an incredibly difficult challenge which requires tasks of immense computational power. Think about all the people who navigate a city during a pandemic, all the buildings in a city that use an energy grid, and all of the different routes that one can take to get to work. Designing a system which considers all of these parameters and optimizes the city’s performance likely requires large-scale optimization, consideration of a plethora of constraints, and an understanding of patterns inherent in large and complex datasets. Quantum computing is foreshadowed to have an exponential speedup in computational times of difficult problems, and so it is exciting to explore how this technology can help overcome the challenges needed to realize something as complex as a smart city.