Last year was the worst year the world has ever experienced for data breaches and cybertattacks. In fact, cyberattacks targeting businesses nearly doubled between 2016 and 2017. This isn’t an issue that’s going away anytime soon.

The University of Waterloo is working on ways to help, though, and its groundbreaking quantum computing work has the potential to significantly impact the world of cybersecurity. Named Canada’s most innovative university 26 years running by Maclean’s magazine, the institution is also doing some pretty amazing things with supercomputers and big data, and is actively looking at different ways to harness disruptive technologies.

We had the opportunity to speak with Feridun Hamdullahpur, the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Waterloo for Go Magazine. In addition to this, Dr. Hamdullahpur is Chair of the Leadership Council for Digital Research Infrastructure, an ambitious initiative to build a world-leading digital infrastructure ecosystem for Canada. A remarkable individual, he was also awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013 in acknowledgement of his leadership in education and innovation.

GO MAGAZINE: The University of Waterloo hosted a summit last September with some of the world’s foremost thinkers on disruptive technologies. Topics included cybersecurity and climate change, things that are important in the insurance space. Please tell us about the summit and its purpose.

FERIDUN HAMDULLAHPUR: With technology driving change at such a rapid pace, it’s important for business, government and academic leaders to work together to prepare for what’s coming and capitalize on our many strengths. Whether it’s artificial intelligence, quantum technology or cybersecurity, summit attendees were invited to come together to engage with other leaders to discuss how we could best work together to harness these disruptive technologies.

In almost every industry, more and more people are talking about big data, and research and business are increasingly becoming data driven too. The University of Waterloo recently launched Graham – the biggest supercomputer at any Canadian University. How is Graham going to help the university?

It’s definitely becoming a data-driven world. Data is not only impacting our decisions, it’s influencing the way we live and work.

Graham can handle more simultaneous jobs than any other supercomputer in Canada, and ultimately generate more research results at one time. With this capability and the increased capacity to collaborate with other institutions across the country, Waterloo’s new supercomputer will provide expanded resources to researchers and allows us to be a global leader in advanced computing.

Last year the university received $76 million in federal funding to further its quantum computing research. Can you tell us what quantum computing is? We’ve read that it has the potential to change the world.

The research happening at the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo harnesses the quantum laws of nature in order to develop powerful new technologies and drive future economies.

Quantum computing is more powerful than traditional computing. It is essentially harnessing and exploiting the laws of quantum mechanics to process information. While traditional computing uses strings of bits encoded as ones or zeros in their operations, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits. Qubits can be both one and zero at the same time. This results in a computer that has a much greater ability to solve complex problems more efficiently, which could mean operations that currently take years to complete could take a matter of minutes with a quantum computer.

Describe some of the impact of quantum computing or the practical applications it will have on business. From an insurance standpoint we see a huge advantage in the areas of cybersecurity and cryptography.

Quantum computing is expected to have a significant impact in cybersecurity, including opportunities to create more secure communications in the future. In addition to researching the possible benefits of this new technology, considerable work is taking place at the University of Waterloo to ensure that existing systems are prepared for the possible threat that a new disruptive technology could have on information security.

The university is a world leader in quantum information science and technology and is committed to continuing its efforts in this area.

What is the university’s main goal with quantum computing?

With the tremendous potential for quantum technology to disrupt many of the systems the world currently relies on, the University of Waterloo’s goal is to keep Canada at the forefront and continue to be a world leader in this area. This is in keeping with our aspiration, commitment and responsibility to use our collective talents to identify and help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Want to learn more about the University of Waterloo, its programs and the innovative research it does? Check out the university’s website here.

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