Shannon Mujera Spearheading Quantum Computing Research in Kenya
On a beautiful warm afternoon last November an outgoing young computer scientist received an unbelievable call to attend the first-ever quantum computing summer school in Africa. What’s more, it was being held in the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa and being facilitated by IBM. She would be part of the student research community network.
Like a diamond, she is multifaceted. She has been wearing many hats. Her active involvement in tech projects and developer communities has caught the eye of tech-giants and they want a piece of her brilliant mind. She has been the president of Strathmore University IT Students Association (SUITSA), an Ambassador of the Women Tech Maker (WTM), participated in and won several hackathons such as the Microsoft Ladies Leap Hackathon (2nd runners-up), and the Konica Monilta Augmented Reality competition (emerging 2nd nationally).
During the 2019 Annual Research Month, she presented a research paper on Leveraging technology for public participation process in Kenya. She is currently working in partnership with the county government of Nakuru for the pilot programme. She will be presenting this project at the Africa Innovation Week taking place between 9th and 13th November 2020. She has already presented it at the Africa Vs Virus Challenge and been shortlisted in the top 100 out of the 7,500 projects presented from Africa. She hopes to make it to the final 20.
In a field known for brash tech gurus, she comes off as cool, poised, but very bold. She displays fervent enthusiasm in her many projects. She still has the energy to work on a Blockchain anti-corruption and whistle blower protection system at the East Africa Blockchain hackathon for UNODC, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Her final year project is on Big data sentiment analysis to see the impact of the Government response to COVID 19 on citizens.
Shannon Mujera is an immediate former President of the Student Council. Currently in her 4th Year of Bachelor of Science in Informatics and Computer Science, Shannon prides herself in being an avid researcher, innovator, and mentor. She is now actively looking for partners to support her research work in quantum mechanics. We profile her for our series of the Annual Research Month outstanding research projects.
“The University of Witwatersrand in partnership with IBM is spearheading the quantum research in Africa. I am glad to be part of the network of dedicated scientists and research who believe in the future being Africa, says Shannon.
Taking a trip down memory lane, we get to know that each wave of new computational technology leads to new kinds of systems, new ways of creating tools, new forms of data and so on. In computing, when new technologies emerge, they not only replace their predecessors but also envelop them completely by creating richer and more efficient platforms. This can be seen from the explosion of the internet, to the emergence of artificial Intelligence, Internet of things, blockchain and cloud computing, to the advancement in machine learning and deep learning. The evolution of technology is a series of revolutions as it ushers a new era every time. From the traditional programming where programs were based on hard-coded algorithms to modern programming techniques of self-learning of patterns from data and using it to gain experiences.
Like its other predecessors, quantum computing is the next global disruptive technology which will usher in a new era. Quantum computing is focused on developing computer technology based on quantum theory, which explains the behavior of energy and material at atomic and sub-atomic levels. Classical computers that we use today can only encode information in bits that take the value of 1 or 0. This restricts their ability. Quantum computing, on the other hand, uses quantum bits or qubits. It harnesses the unique ability of sub-atomic participles that allows them to exist in more than one state, that is, a 1 and a 0 at the same time.
Superposition and entanglement are two features of quantum physics on which these supercomputers are based. This empowers quantum computers to handle operations at speeds exponentially higher than conventional computers and at much lower energy consumption. On October 23, 2019, Google announced that it had achieved “Quantum Supremacy,” meaning that they had used a quantum computer to quickly solve a problem that a conventional computer would take an impractically long time (thousands of years probably) to solve.
Quantum computing has great potential in various fields. From cybersecurity, to pharmaceutical research, to finance. My research in quantum computing is in its application in cybersecurity. Classic computers rely on cryptographic algorithms which are designed around computational hardness assumptions such as integer factorization. The assumptions are based on the impractically long time the classic computers would take to decode the mathematical formulas.
To simplify this, think of two large numbers, for example, and multiply them together. It’s easy to come up with the product, but much harder to start with the large number and factor it into its two prime numbers. A quantum computer, however, can easily factor those numbers and break the code. This means the unprecedented factorization power which quantum computers have would severely undermine common internet encryption systems. Researchers and experts are now working round the clock to develop quantum-resistant algorithms. Approaches to mitigate the quantum threat are being made as with any other security vulnerability: by deploying a defense-in-depth approach, one characterized by multiple layers of quantum-safe protection.
Unlike other decades where African countries were just beneficiaries of emerging technologies, now is the time for the African continent to pioneer ground-breaking innovations in the quantum space. In Kenya, several higher learning institutions have introduced quantum computing courses and the pace is picking up. Research in quantum computing and mechanics just gives a glimpse to the future. The future is quantum!”
This article was written by Shannon Mujera and Francis Kabutu.
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