The New School at SXSW: The Art, Design, and Social Good of Quantum Computing
Quantum computing is like a program you’d find at a technology-focused university, like MIT or Stanford, not a school known for its design, music, and social science programs. But understanding that this new technology is positioned to shape and change the world, The New School has embarked on an initiative to explore the applications of quantum computing in art, design, education, business and social justice. Recently, the people bringing quantum computing to The New School spoke at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festivals to discuss how this emerging technology can be integrated into the creative arts and applied to advance the social good.
During the panel, Lin Zhou, senior vice president and chief information officer at The New School; Sven Travis, associate professor of media and design at Parsons School of Design; and Maya Georgieva, Senior Director of the New School’s Center for Innovation, discussed the importance of engaging artists, designers, and social scientists in the early development of quantum computing.
“It’s extremely rare for creatives to have access to technology in the early days of development. One of the things we hope is that quantum evolution can happen in a different way than, for example, artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Travis said. “We can go back to a number of technologies over the past two decades where we have access to them or generally commit to them after the technology is fairly fully developed.”
The computing we are used to, which drives laptops, desktops, websites and smartphones, absorbs information encoded like the value 1 or 0. In contrast, quantum computing can absorb information that exist in more than one state, such as a 1 and a 0 at the same time. Combining The New School’s strength in liberal arts with this cutting-edge technology makes the new course unlike those in traditional university STEM programs.
Although quantum computing is still an emerging field, the importance it will have has prompted the university to be proactive in bringing this subject to students. “Whenever there is a technological breakthrough, the main uses are usually not in the liberal arts. If you think about artificial intelligence [AI], the main uses of AI are in financial technology, cybersecurity, and facial and voice recognition. The liberal arts are usually an afterthought. When these problems are solved, then they say: “And the music? What about the design? What about fashion? Zhou said. “It has to stop, because arts, music and design have an impact on people’s daily lives. Whenever we have new technology, the liberal arts should be one of the frontrunners as the new technology is adopted.
Many liberal arts and design colleges see computer coding as the new literacy, but Zhou explained how creatives, social scientists and technologists should take a more holistic view of technology. “In the past, when we talked about literacy, we usually talked about reading and writing. But for this century, it is not enough. When we talk about literacy, we actually mean that everyone should be able to create harmony with technology. Quantum, as the next emerging and revolutionary technology, has a profound ability to solve problems that the conventional computer cannot solve today. So, from the perspective of all higher education institutions, we have an obligation to help society embrace technology,” Zhou said. “We know that if we don’t get it right with privacy, with social justice, these issues, which seem very simple, will backfire on us.”
Part of Georgieva’s mission is to engage the community with emerging technologies. “The opportunity for us is to create events where people can come together, so students can have a real conversation about their own ideas. It’s important for us to give them that space, access to tools and opportunities to play,” Georgieva said.
“Bringing emerging technology, cutting-edge technology and code as language into a creative setting is truly fascinating and opens up imaginative projects that don’t necessarily take place in a lab. We want to see that impact. We want to help explain what it would mean to live in a world where quantum computing and art are one expression,” she adds.
Citing the university’s history of innovation and commitment to social change since its founding, Zhou believes the new school has an important role to play in the development of quantum computing. “With The New School, over the past 100 years we have produced world-class thinkers, designers and social justice doers. We will continue to focus on harnessing quantum computing, this wonderful technology , on the social front, and on harnessing technology to improve the human condition,” Zhou said.