Thursday, February 5, 2015

Guest Ghost Post: The Future of QIP: To parallelize or not?

This year’s Quantum Information Processing conference (QIP) was held in the beautiful and vibrant city of Sydney, Australia from the 12th to the 16th of January. Close to 225 researchers from across the world attended the conference. The talks were hosted at University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Runyao Duan led the local organizing committee, and its members were from UTS, University of Sydney, Macquarie University and University of Queensland. They did a splendid job in ensuring that the conference was a grand success.

The 18th edition of QIP featured about 40 talks and 150 posters covering various important advances in quantum information processing over the past year. A detailed summary of all the talks presented at QIP can be found on the Quantum Pontiff blog, where Aram Harrow and Steve Flammia were “live-blogging” the conference. In this report, I shall focus on the things not covered by Aram and Steve, especially on the business meeting.

A lot of buzz and anticipation prevailed around this year’s business meeting at QIP. This was largely due to the pending decision on the question of whether “to parallelize or not parallelize” QIP.  Here is some background on the issue. QIP, as it stands today, is a single session-track conference featuring two kinds of talks: 50-minute plenary talks and 30-minute talks. During a five-day period minus one free afternoon, this allows for about 40 talks during the entirety of the conference. However, the number of submissions to the conference has seen a steep increase over the years due to the explosion of research in quantum information processing. What began as a workshop with a few tens of submissions in the early nineties, QIP today receives several hundred submissions each year. Thus the acceptance rates at QIP are now terrifyingly low; the rate for this year’s QIP for a talk was just about 20%.

Each year the program committee has been faced with the increasingly difficult task of rejecting at least 20 to 30 good submissions which they think are just as good as some of the other talks that make the cut. This has led the steering committee to consider introducing parallel sessions with the view that it would allow for more talks. In order to hear the public opinion on the issue, Stephanie Wehner posted a survey on the Web for the QIP community. Stephanie presented the results of the survey at the business meeting. The public sentiment on the issue seemed largely in favor of parallel sessions. When the result of the survey was shared at the business meeting, however, a major concern was raised about the possible fragmentation of the community into sub-communities. In response to this concern, Peter Shor, spoke about how not parallelizing QIP at this point could have the same fragmenting effect at a much graver level. Peter pointed out the precedent of STOC and FOCS, where the latter remained a single session conference for a long time, while the computer science community had grown many fold in size. Peter noted that in due course of time, when certain factions of the community felt that they weren’t being sufficiently accepted at the conference, they decided to split away with their own conference, the STOC. This is already beginning to happen in the quantum information community with the birth of various conferences such as QCrypt, QEC, and Beyond I.I.D. in Information Theory. These conferences provide venues for topics that are becoming more marginalized and less fashionable at the larger QIP conference.

Nevertheless, it was also pointed out by the steering committee that parallel sessions, even if introduced, would only occur during certain sessions. For instance, the plenary talks would still be held in common, and therefore couldn’t result in a complete splitting of the community. At this point, the question of logistics surfaced regarding a single track for plenary sessions and two parallel sessions for other talks, namely the need to secure one big room and two small rooms at the conference venue, which could be more expensive. Barry Sanders, the lead organizer for QIP 2016, in his presentation about the conference venue at Banff (near Calgary, Canada), however guaranteed that this would not be an issue at next year’s QIP. From the pulse of things at this year’s QIP, it seems rather likely that we will see parallel sessions in next year’s edition. Yet, this is by no means a certainty.

Another development worth mentioning from the business meeting was the proposal for open refereeing of papers at QIP. Aram Harrow and Steve Flammia, who had already implemented such a scheme at TQC (Theory of quantum computation, communication and cryptography) 2014, put forth the proposal. Aram explained why he thought referee reports of QIP submissions should be available on the public domain. The real purpose cited was not the obvious ones---it was neither to make it open the reasons behind why a paper is accepted or rejected, nor to push referees to write reports according to what this year’s program committee chair Ronald de Wolf called the “golden rule” of refereeing, namely to write referee reports the way one would like his/her own paper to be reviewed. The real reason cited was rather simply to make available expert summaries and critiques, which could immensely benefit other researchers, especially the younger researchers, which otherwise go underutilized aiding in the publication decision process alone. Although the general perception about the idea was positive, it seems unlikely that the QIP steering committee would recommend the scheme as a whole to the program committee. Ronald and Andrew Doherty raised concern about how such a scheme could result in a huge extra burden on the already over-burdened program committee. However, it seems likely that, as an intermediate step, the program committee summaries of the accepted talks would be made available to the public at QIP 2016, as was done earlier at TQC 2014.

The business meeting also saw ETH Zurich and Microsoft Research bid for hosting QIP 2017. The public opinion seemed to be in favor of the ETH bid for 2017, while it seemed that Microsoft could potentially host QIP during the subsequent year, i.e., 2018.

Earlier, proceedings at QIP this year kicked off with tutorial sessions during the weekend in the lead-up to the conference. Entry to the tutorials was included as part of the conference registration. Itai Arad of CQT covered the local Hamiltonian problem (I couldn’t make this one due to flight delay.) The second speaker of the day was Roger Colbeck of Univ. of York, who discussed the topic of device independence in quantum information processing. Roger described the goal of the device independence model in the context of cryptography as to provide unconditional security while allowing for device failure or tampering, and discussed the various tools that go into proving security of protocols within the model. He also highlighted one of the main challenges of the approach as the need of protocols that allow for reuse of the devices while guaranteeing unconditional security. On the second morning, Krysta Svore of Microsoft gave a fascinating tutorial on the various components that go into the design and implementation of quantum software architecture for an automated control and programming of tomorrow’s large-scale quantum computers. Later, Alexandre Blais of Univ. of Sherbrooke delivered the final tutorial on superconducting qubits. Addressing a largely theoretical audience, Alexandre did a splendid job of describing the basic physics behind the superconducting transmon qubit. He also discussed the control and readout via strong coupling to a microwave resonator along with results from various recent experiments.

The social aspects of the conference included a banquet and a rump session. The banquet was a fancy affair, being held on a showboat. The Sydney weather, which had been dull and rainy until then, had moved to great, UV-rich sunshine just in time for the banquet. The boat set sail from the Sydney Darling Harbor around half past seven with plenty of food, beer, wine, and the awesome folks from the conference. Some spectacular views of the Sydney skyline in the magical twilight soon followed, which were a real treat. Despite being given numerous warnings from the organizers, many participants unfortunately “missed the boat”.

This year’s rump session was a fun ride with the lighter side of the QIP community. The session was held at the “Manning” bar in the University of Sydney. Steve Flammia introduced himself as the “MR---the Master of Rump” for the night. Among the speakers, John Smolin poked fun at the ensuing trend of adding the “quantum” suffix to literally anything in the world in the name of quantum information research. Later Daniel Gottesman decided to take the new proposal for open refereeing to a whole new level. While we’ve heard of double-blinded refereeing, where the identity of the authors is conceals from the referees, Daniel suggested triple and quadruple blinding, where the text of the paper is encrypted from the referee and where the talk is concealed from the audience, respectively.

From excellent and stimulating talks and posters, through the intriguing business meeting, to the fun-filled banquet and rump session, QIP 2015 had it all. Parallel sessions or not, you can’t help, but be excited about QIP 2016 already.

Kaushik P. Seshadreesan is a doctoral student in physics at Louisiana State University, working under the supervision of Jonathan P. Dowling and Mark M. Wilde. He will graduate with his PhD in quantum information theory and quantum metrology in May of 2015.