Justin Trudeau’s quantum leap

Before Trudeau surprised reporters by explaining the basics of quantum computing, he stunned physicists in Waterloo with his understanding of their field

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes an announcement at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., on Friday, April 15, 2016. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes an announcement at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., on Friday, April 15 (Nathan Denette/CP)

Raymond Laflamme knows the drill when politicians visit the Perimeter Institute. A photo op here, a few handshakes there and a tour with “really basic, basic, basic facts” about the field of quantum mechanics.

But when the self-described “geek” Justin Trudeau showed up for a funding announcement on Friday, the co-founder and director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo wasn’t met with simple nods of the Prime Minister pretending to understand. Trudeau immediately started talking about things being waves and particles at the same time, like cats being dead and alive at the same time. It wasn’t just nonsense—Trudeau was referencing the famous thought experiment of the late legendary physicist Erwin Schrödinger.

“I don’t know where he learned all that stuff, but we were all surprised,” Laflamme says. Soon afterwards, as Trudeau met with one student talking about superconductivity, the Prime Minister asked her, “Why don’t we have high-temperature superconducting systems?” something Laflamme describes as the institute’s “Holy Grail” quest.

“I was flabbergasted,” Laflamme says. “I don’t know how he does in other subjects, but in quantum physics, he knows the basic pieces and the important questions.”

When the tour was over and a media Q&A ensued, a journalist jokingly asked the Prime Minister to explain quantum computing, before asking a more serious question about ISIL. Trudeau jumped at the opportunity to answer the quantum question first.

“Normal computers work, either there’s power going through a wire or not. It’s 1 or a 0. They’re binary systems,” Trudeau explained. “A quantum state can be much more complex than that because, as we know, things can be both particle and wave at the same time, and the uncertainty around quantum states allows us to encode more information into a much smaller computer.”

And he’s right, an impressed Laflamme said when asked to fact-check Trudeau’s words. But as he tells every Prime Minister he meets: “Quantum physics is easy,” Laflamme says. “Running a country, that’s complex.”


Justin Trudeau’s quantum leap

  1. The trolls will have a tough time figuring out his comments.
    Quantum computing is where the planet is heading.
    It’s a joy that the Prime Minister is so enthusiastic about this.
    He should have briefed his audience on AI as well.

    • Said the PM:
      “Normal computers work, either there’s power going through a wire or not. It’s 1 or a 0.”

      Well, I think the above statement is wrong as the 1 or 0 is associated with the binary state of a memory cell (for RAM), not at all whether there’s “power going through a wire or not”. Permanent storage doesn’t require any power to maintain state, so I assume he was referring to RAM.

      Trudeau also said (not shown in the article): “What quantum states allow for is much more complex information to be encoded into a single bit.”

      Well, a bit is a bit is a bit (much like a Canadian (*)), and a bit, by definition can only have a value of 0 or 1. “Bit” is in fact short for *binary* digit.

      So, w.r.t. traditional computing, Trudeau picked up enough info to sound knowledgeable to folks who don’t know a bit from a byte, but he was just wrong about at least some of what he was saying. I know zippo about quantum computing, so I’ll leave it at that.

      (*) not so much for Canadians with US citizenship, but that’s a whole different story.

      • You’re being overly pedantic. His explanation of what a bit is is essentially correct, despite the fact that sometimes bits are presented as magnetic spin, for instance (on a HDD) rather than a difference in voltage level.

        And a quantum computer operates on qubits, which, while not bits, are analogous.

        • I’m only guilty of being accurate.

          There’s no “wire” involved to denote a bit’s value in a traditional computer.

          And a bit can only have one of two values – full stop. So it cannot have “much more complex information” encoded into it. If the PM had referred to qubits, that would be a different story – but he referred to bits.

          If the PM wishes to sound like he knows what he’s talking about, he should be accurate. The man was a teacher at one point, so I’m sure he can appreciate the desirability of accuracy in description.

          • So…how does the “bit” acquire its value, Jim? Electricity in wires or nano fabricated wires in silicon wafers?

            I suppose the dimmer light switch brought the same semantical conundrums…

          • @Austin So
            There’s nothing semantical about the incorrectness of stating that the value of the bit is determined by whether there’s “power going through a wire or not”. Computer memory just doesn’t work that way. If Trudeau had talked about, for examples, transistors and capacitors, then he may have been onto to something – but not wires.

    • When I first watched this on the news, my immediate thought was, “This was planned, a set up, to make Trudeau look smarter than he really is”

      In effect, it was a set-up.

      And then today, I read this:


      So yeah, the media were complicit in trying to make an intellectual lightweight look smart. In fact, Trudeau visited this institute earlier in the day, was given an explanation about quantum computing, and then regurgitated (with some errors) what he heard that morning.

      Prior to it being explained to him a few hours earlier, Justin knew diddly about quantum computing.

      Colour me “not surprised”

  2. At long long last, a PM who can discuss quantum computing!

    • You can train a monkey to do tricks and someone trained this monkey on quantum computing. And he looked so pleased with himself!!

      • Stop being a partisan ass, he did fine.

        • Too bad he doesn’t know anything about being a prime minister – it’s not in the genes.

          • I’m with you BLACKTOP.
            And Emily I’m not partisan at all. I just can’t stand shallow narcissists of any stripe.

          • Then I guess neither of you liked former PM dumbo…he could handle neither the economy nor any kind of computer.

            even all his phones had cords.

        • I agree….

          He almost memorized the info he was fed just prior to the question being asked.

          You have to forgive him for his little errors, after all, who can remember what was said two hours before the question was asked.

      • Yes, and he showed Harper and the cons how a Quantum leap worked last October 19th\2015, 184 seats, from 34, and now the government. That was quit the Quantum Leap.

  3. The writer has got to be kidding.

    Anyone who has watched the “Big Bang Theory” knows about Schrodingers’s Cat and Quantum Physics.

    Even Penny. So if I want to be nice then Justin is about as smart as Penny.


  4. I remember being told about wave-particle duality by my physics teacher when I was in grade 10. Similarly about binary code-based computers, by my maths teacher. So there is absolutely nothing miraculous about JT’s little skit. That Trudeaumania thing is increasingly turning otherwise decent, intelligent journalists—and now even scientists—into childish, swooning groupies who make themselves artificially stupid, convinced that their fatherly PM knows best and, therefore, has the answer to everything. As JT indulges in the cult of his father’s personality, so does the Trudeau-adoring crowd indulge in the cult of JT’s personality. How scary.

    • His father was an extreme socialist who went on such a spending spree he amassed debt to a level we had never seen in Canada. And along with that mortgage rates rose to 19%. That’s quite a legacy and it appears that his light weight son is trying to emulate the results his father achieved. While I generally find the government process in the U.S. dysfunctional, this is one time I wish we had some way in Canada to block the wasteful spending Trudeau is doing. He can completely ruin Canada over his four year term.

  5. Proud of you Justin; your Dad’s intellect lives on! Your ability to conceptualize quantum mechanics and its application to quantum computing will stand you in good stead as you navigate the complexities of Canada’s economic challenges. Canada is with you … stay the course!

    • I’m confident that he has his father’s arrogant swagger but his mother’s shortage of intellect.

    • Grant Tucker:

      I’m assuming your real name is Gerald.



      • Members of the scientific gave him a warm standing ovation … are they, too, sycophants? I am old enough to recall his father’s multicultural policies which brought a lot of immigrants to Canada; these immigrants have done much to enhance Canada’s economy and society. My name is not Gerald but I am aware of the Gerald to whom you refer. Discuss the issue in whatever vein you choose but please stick to the issue.

  6. My cat and I had a lengthy, thoughtful discussion on the matter. My cat sat in her box and I sat in mine. We concluded, at the same time mind you, that the question posed and the answer given were planned in advance. My cat said, this time out loud: “You are truly funny, you humans”.

  7. It is obvious our Roi Soleil is a dim bulb, that’s why everyone is amazed Trudeau can talk about science for a few minutes. We know Roi Soleil is not an actual scientist doing quantum computing research so he’s just had scientific advisers inform him of basics and he’s gone out and parroted what he was told. It is like how parents are impressed with their two year old being able to do anything, Canadians are amazed that our Roi Soleil can walk and chew gum at same time.

  8. That this went “viral” only demonstrates the general level of ignorance of basic science knowledge in the general population and in the media.

    Why should one be impressed that Justin has a general understanding of what a quantum bit is? Every high school student should know that. Most of the media covering that supposedly have a university degree. How can they not know that?

    Our schools and universities are failures. That is what this demonstrates.

    • I’m not sure the boy even finished high school-he seems to have never stuck to anything for more than a year. Wish that was the term of his time as P.M.

  9. I think it’s pretty obvious that Trudeau doesn’t actually have any real understanding of quantum computing and that the reality is he likely just memorized a few things that he read online in an effort to sound intelligent and knowledgeable about the topic. What’s concerning to me is what this says about our prime minister; namely that he is an insecure narcissist. Trudeau doesn’t come from a science background, so no one, including his most ardent detractors, would hold it against him for being ignorant on the subject. Yet, it is his absurd obsession with being all things to all people that saw him put on this ridiculous display of theater in an attempt to make people think that he is well versed in quantum computing, and is therefore a lot smarter than many have given him credit for. Wanting everyone to like you is the key to failure, not success, and it will not only be Trudeau’s undoing, but all of ours as well if he doesn’t grow up and focus on governing rather than how the public perceives him.

  10. I suggest confirming with other media sources, that reported a more transparent series of events. PMJT was briefed that morning about quantum computing. Before the media scrum began, he baited journalists to ask him about quantum computing. Unsurprisingly, a journalist bit, and gave PMJT the chance to look like an incredibly wise fellow. Which he may be.

  11. He is in the job for at least 3 and 1/2 years so for all our sakes, I hope he is intelligent and has a lot of common sense.

    • On that part we can actually agree Gage, G.

      I think Trudeau is an intellectual lightweight (even his supporters know it), but as the PM of Canada, I hope he grows into the job. I actually WANT the pm to do a good job, no matter what party they belong to.

      crossing fingers.

  12. Wait, Mr. Hutchins. You’re quoting the director of the Perimeter Institute in order to “fact-check” the PM? The same PM who just sent fifty million taxpayer dollars to that same institution?

    Do you think Laflamme is a lunatic who would bite the hand that just fed him?

  13. Can’t wait to hear Maclean’s wax rhapsodic on Justin’s 18 holes-in-one and the faultless on-the-spot advice he gives every manager and worker he meets.

    • Luke 2:46-52: “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. (…) After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. (…) ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (…) Then he went down to Nazareth with them (…) and Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

      Trudeau’s following is become more and more cult-like.

      • He’s a popular leader, there is nothing cult-like about

        • Nothing cult-like? How else to explain Laflamme being “flabbergasted” at what he heard JT say? Nothing there but vague generalities—high school physics class stuff, well within the reach of any average tenth-grader. “I don’t know where he learned all that stuff.” Oh really? Either Laflamme is sycophantically applauding his admittedly generous federal funder, or he truly views Justin Trudeau the way his brother Sacha famously praised Fidel Castro in the Toronto Star back in 2006: “Fidel is the most curious man that I have ever met. He wants to know all there is to be known. He is famous for not sleeping, instead spending the night studying and learning. His intellect is one of the most broad that can be found. He is an expert on genetics, on automobile combustion engines, on stock markets. On everything. Combined with a Herculean physique and extraordinary courage, this monumental intellect makes Fidel the giant that he is.”

        • He’s popular because of two things.

          who he is…..and who he is NOT.

          1. He is the son of Pierre Trudeau.
          2. He is NOT Stephen harper.

          that is the extent of his accomplishments.

          but go on Emily, just keep worshipping him at the altar you have set up in your home.

  14. This story has gone global

    Canada has arrived in the Knowledge Age with a splash!

    • I truly wish it was his brilliance that brought JT international acclaim. Unfortunately, I believe it is something much more superficial….his good looks. If he were plain looking, he could be an astronaut and he wouldn’t get in Vanity Fair or have young girls running after him sighing about how wonderful he is. Marc Garneau sadly would never have garnered the same attention for Canada despite the fact that he is a rocket scientist. We live in a shallow world.

  15. Pretty obvious he knows squat about quantum computing. He threw out a comment about quantum physics one could get from watching an episode of Nova. He could go on all day about it because he doesn’t know what on earth he’s talking about. What’s next, his 18 holes-in-one playing golf?

  16. Regardless of what anyone says in any of the comments, one thing is true….PM Trudeau attended this event and was properly briefed and was well prepared personally for the event and that is a credit to him and his team and frankly to Canada. Give credit where it is due. ddc

    • Actually, you do make a point.

      I”d rather folks outside of Canada mistakenly believe Trudeau is intelligent; than to correctly believe he is an intellectual lightweight.

  17. Listen people, as PM Justin Trudeau isn’t required to be a subject matter expert on things of this nature. Why can’t his basic account of quantum computing be taken simply as the PMO’s public acknowledgement of its significance, and an expression of interest in its development? After Harper, it is heartening to hear the PM reach out to the long-marginalized Canadian scientific community. That points to the bigger picture of revitalizing our scientific community, the notion of which is apparently lost on the assorted pedants in this forum.

    • Emily,

      As has been mentioned on this board already, are these the same scientists who Trudeau just gave $50 Million?

  18. It’s commendable that the prime minister is prepared to take more than a cursory interest in the research that the institute is leading. If his apparent savvy was mostly the result of skillful briefing, no matter. If, as some commentators claim, he was reciting things that educated people should know but don’t these days, then it’s good that he at least is bucking this trend.

    What is bothersome — as was the case with Mr. Trudeau’s father — is not the prime minister, but the credulity and adulation that he gets from much of the media. (Had Steve Harper said all that, the same journalists would have set about looking for holes to pick.)

    • No, they would have been amazed….. Former PM DUMBO didn’t know a computer from a typewriter.

      • Emily,

        Harper would lose more IQ points banging his head; than you possess.

        Even his opponents wouldn’t question Harper’s intellect. Here is a safe assumption for most of Harper’s critics:

        Harper, is smarter than you.

        • James

          Harper was an absolute failure as PM

          If you consider that as a high IQ, I suggest you go play in traffic LOL

    • That’s because if Harper had discussed a topic this complex, no one would have been surprised.

      And frankly, Harper would not have had to have the same scientists who later praised his comments, give him a brief beforehand.

      Of course the scientists asked to assess the explanation were in approval….after all, how can you criticise the information……If you are the group who provided it to Trudeau just a few hours earlier.

  19. Trudeau asked the media to ask him about qc. Why does this and so many Canadian articles fail to mention that? #mediafail

    • Since they were at the Perimeter Institute getting the journalists to talk about it was the logical next step

      why would this be a problem?

      Most of you guys are just partisan nitpickers

      • Emily,

        the problem is not asking a question of the PM.

        The problem is feeding a set of information points to the PM, then setting up a question and answer session with the same PM, and asking him what you have just explained to him in order to make him appear to be something that he is not. (intelligent, in this case)

        I’ll explain it in layman’s terms just for you Emily.

        They played you for a fool……….and of course, you fell for it.

        • LOL try reading what I posted on the link

          Those are people smarter than you James…You don’t know a computer from a typewriter either.

          • It is okay Emily. We know your boy has had his challenges with making some really foolish statements. He deserves to ha

          • He deserves to be briefed and get regurgitate it in a scrum like Paul Wells explained where he wins and looks intelligent. The scientists should applaud him. He listened to their briefing. He repeated what they said verbatim and he gave them a big donation. Good for him. Now, you haven’t had much to say on here Emily. JT didn’t get the right to die bill quite how you wanted it. The First Nations people are in crisis and Dion told an apparent fib about the arms sales to the Saudi’s. You and your friends deserve this moment when you can tell yourself that JT did something great. By the way, if you have some pull with him, can you ask him about at least decriminalizing cannabis. Quite a few people are still being arrested. He did run on a platform to legalize it. If he can’t get that done, how about decriminalization? With his majority govt. That should be a snap.

    • Dave,

      The media’s failure to mention it is entirely predictable. The entire point of the question asked was to contradict the common understanding that Trudeau is a mental midget.

      The Canadian media is not interested in the truth. I thought this would have been obvious by now.

      Why do you think no thinking Canadian believes what Canadian media reports?

  20. Why did Macleans cut out the preceding seconds of the video? They didn’t show him daring reporters to ask him about quantum computing and the report actually asking about ISIS, then Trudeau starting his prepared speech on computers anyway.

    • I think Paul Wells explained that in his article about the scrum. Sometimes reporters let the PM look good. It is apparently good for the relationship.

  21. Anyone who thought this was anything but a PR stunt is, well, misled. Trudeau wouldn’t let something like a legit question regarding ISIL get in the way of an opportunity to perform…..the real stuff had to take a back seat for a minute for the Justin Show. I’m shocked there wasn’t a yoga pose in there for effect. But hey, it played well for those in his base that just eat this kind of thing up like so much pablum.

    Good grief.

  22. He asked to be asked this question. Hardly a surprise.

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