Being a head of state is an incredibly tough job, but that doesn't mean all presidents and prime ministers are necessarily as universally smart as we might expect.
It's that truism one reporter probably had in mind when he joked to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau about wanting to ask him about quantum computing, before pivoting to a more grounded question regarding Canada's efforts in the fight against ISIS.
It was a lighthearted—if somewhat snarky—question, earning a few awkward chuckles from the crowd at Ontario's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, where the PM was discussing plans for a $50 million investment by the Canadian federal government. But Trudeau, who assumed office last November, wasn't ready to talk about ISIS. Not yet.
Nodding after the reporter finished speaking, Trudeau turned to the crowd, and began explaining "okay, very simply, normal computers work by…" Despite peals of laughter from the room, he was not discouraged, saying "No, no, don't interrupt me. When you walk out of here, you will know more…no, some of you will know far less about quantum computing," he added, gesturing, presumably, to the Institute's experts, standing alongside him.
Unlike normal computers, which operate on a binary system of ones and zeros, quantum computing "can be much more complex than that, because as we know, things can be both particle and wave at the same time," Trudeau explained. "The uncertainty around quantum states allows us to encode more information into a much smaller computer."
"That's what's exciting about quantum computing," he concluded, as the room burst into applause at this shockingly simple, straightforward explanation of one of the most complex scientific fields of our time.
Was he right?
Yes he was, says Dr. Lucien Hardy. Hardy, a faculty member at Perimeter, explained to Canada's Global News that "[Trudeau] got it spot on," adding "I have never seen a prime minister attempt anything like that. He did a pretty good job of explaining it."
In fact, Trudeau is no stranger to science, having studied engineering at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal before quitting the program after several years.
Speaking about the $50 million investment in Perimeter, set to be allocated out over five years, Trudeau reportedly told the Canadian Press "this is an investment in our future."