The Root Of The Science Podcast

EP 135: Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo, Quantum Computing and Quantum Machine Learning

March 18, 2024 Anne Chisa Season 5 Episode 135
The Root Of The Science Podcast
EP 135: Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo, Quantum Computing and Quantum Machine Learning
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Listen to the first episode of #AfricanWomenInAI Series with Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo, the Quantum AI expert from Benin.  She gives us an exclusive look into her groundbreaking PhD work with the AIMS Institute at the University of Ghana  
Within the dynamic field where quantum computing meets machine learning, Aulan's story is one that breaks barriers and challenges the norm. 

LinkedIn: Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo

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Anne Chisa:

The Root of the Science podcast with your girl Anne with an E. Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of the Root of the Science podcast with your girl Anne with an E. If you are new here, welcome to the show and if you are regular, thank you so much for tuning into another episode. A reminder that we, as a podcast platform, as a media platform, have ventured into science writing. So we have a newsletter which is available on LinkedIn, but also you can subscribe to get it straight to your email so that you can be able to read on stories that were featured here on the podcast. And also we are amplifying more African science communicators and if you want to be a volunteer contributor, make sure that you drop us a message or an email.

Anne Chisa:

Today is the first episode of our Woman in AI series. I'm so excited to do this episode and for us to amplify the amazing woman, African woman, who are doing really amazing work in the field of artificial intelligence, and also for us to learn how diverse artificial intelligence is and the many applications that are available for it. Let's get into today's episode. Today I'm delighted to have Aulan Zahoundo, an AI expert, who is from Benin, but she's now currently based in Ghana, pursuing her PhD at AIMS University. In this episode, we will talk about the work that she does, which is on the intersection of quantum computing and machine learning. We'll also chat briefly about her internship at the Technical University of Delft, and also about her contributions in the African AI field and some of the challenges that she might potentially have overcome so far. Most importantly, this would be a great opportunity for you to hear a really inspiring story of a woman in AI. Let's go, hi Olan. Welcome to the show.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Hi Anne, Thank you for having me today.

Anne Chisa:

It's such a pleasure to have you on and to chat to you on this wonderful series. I'm so excited for everybody to get to know more about you and also what you do in your line of work. So first things first, olan. Can you please just briefly introduce us? Who is Olan, where are you from, where are you based and just what do you do?

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Thank you, anne. My name is I'm from Benin. Right now, I'm based in Ghana. I'm doing a PhD at the AIMS University of Ghana in quantum computing, and I am also affiliated with the African Institute for Mathematical Science here in Ghana.

Anne Chisa:

Lovely. So that's AIMS, right? Yes, oh, okay, fantastic, okay, so you've told us that you are doing your PhD, so, given that this is a woman in AI series, which is artificial intelligence, can you tell us more about exactly what you're doing? And, okay, maybe let's start here. How did you get into this world of artificial intelligence and, you know, in AI?

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

So I was first introduced to the world of artificial intelligence when I joined Ames, the African Institute for Mathematical Science in South Africa, for a master program in mathematical science. So I took a course in artificial intelligence focusing on machine learning, and I took another course on data science. So I really enjoy the courses and later on during my research I realized that it has many applications in many fields, including physics. So I was excited to join research in the field.

Anne Chisa:

Oh, fantastic, Fantastic. That's so interesting. So, currently, what project are you currently working on now and how does it all fit in in terms of your love for AI and you know mathematics and quantum physics Can you tell us more about that work?

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Yes, good question. So currently, as I said, I'm a PhD student working on quantum computing, but it's more like an intersection between quantum computing and artificial intelligence. So you see, I initially came from a theoretical physics background, but I also have proud interest. So, when you look at quantum computing and AI, they are interdisciplinary fields which draw from mathematics, physics, quantum computer science and engineering altogether. So, okay, I was very excited to combine both because you know, currently they are using people are using a lot of machine learning and artificial intelligence to tackle challenges in many fields.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

So that's where my inspiration comes from. So I'm like okay, I can use AI as well to try and solve challenges in physics, and especially in quantum computing. So what I'm working on right now is like representing. Okay. Let's say, basically we are looking for new material for quantum computing, so using artificial intelligence, Okay, Ollana, I just want us to backtrack a little bit.

Anne Chisa:

So, for someone who is not familiar at all in terms of you know this field, what is quantum computing? What exactly does that mean? Yeah, I want us to backtrack a little bit so that we have an understanding of what you're doing.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Thank you. Thank you, anne, for your questions. So quantum computing is a subfield of computer science. So what it does is it leverage the principle of quantum mechanics to perform computation involving the usage of quantum computers. So you know, we have. What we are using right now are computers, but we call it classical computers.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

And classical computers. They use bits, zero and one, as the smallest unit of information. But unlike classical computers, we have quantum computers that use quantum bits, which we call commonly qubits. And unlike bits, you see, bits it's only zero and one, but qubits we can have zero state state, one, and we can have also a superposition of these two, zero and one, allowing the quantum computer to handle a vast amount of information, making them potentially more powerful than classical computers. So quantum to compute, quantum computing, is about performing computation with quantum computers.

Anne Chisa:

Yes, so it's like you're able to do bigger darts, bigger types of projects, as opposed to what we currently doing. Okay, no, I'm with you now. I get it.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

I get it.

Anne Chisa:

That's so fascinating and what a very interesting field. Okay. So, given the types of work that you're doing, there's a lot of considerations and a lot of conversations about using AI and using these big data, big types of machines. What are some of the main considerations or challenges that can arise from the increase integration of AI in tri-society? So now I just want us to zoom out now on a bigger scale. So we all very excited about AI, but in your opinion, what are these challenges or some ethical considerations that we actually have to start thinking about now?

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Thank you, anne, for your question. So first of all, in my opinion, the first critical ethic challenge that comes to my mind is privacy. All that I mean by privacy is like can we be able to balance the benefit of AI with the protection of our personal information? Because we have a lot of AI technologies that involve surveillance and data analysis and those things can become a threat to human privacy. That's the first critical challenge I can think about. The second one is job displacement. You see, automation, robotics, I think.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

From my opinion, I think automation has the potential to create job displacement, so people in the future might lost their job.

Anne Chisa:

Yeah, so basically there's a bad.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Yeah, no, I agree with you. I think automation is a very important thing. So basically I need to say that yeah, no.

Anne Chisa:

I agree with you and I think these are some of the conversations that are coming out. With the talk of AI I mean, I just think of chat, gpt, for example, because that's the main one that most of us know Many of us can become like a script writer by just inputting some prompts. And there is that conversation of you know that it's displacing a lot of jobs. This is a question that I think maybe then, given that aspect of, like, job displacement, what Displacement? Job displacement? As much as the computer can do a lot right, and I mean it learns, you input it, you input some really amazing information and it gives you great many things, but there are some limitations that, like, obviously a human would be able to do a little bit better, don't you think?

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Yes, I think. Yes, Okay, so the machine cannot do everything. That's true. Yes, so there are definitely things human can do and what the machine cannot do. But you see, when you need, for instance, you need manpower. Let's say, when you look at the field of agriculture, you see, in the old days people go to the farm with a hoe to farm. But currently so there are some people, the owner of farms they can go and hire people to work for them. But imagine if that owner has enough money to buy a machine that can do the job.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

In that case, I think people will be losing their job, which is okay. When you look at it, it's a trade.

Anne Chisa:

But on the other hand, it's to make the productivity faster and better. There are pros and cons with all of this. I think it's important that we're able to point them out, but not saying that we are not going to accept, because AI is here, it's not even coming. It's here. Artificial intelligence is here, so it's either you are on the bandwagon or you are not, but I think it's very important to have these types of conversations and maybe the people who need to make the necessary corrections and maybe our thinking and implementation needs to start thinking about these very important points that you've already mentioned.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

So also another thing I was thinking about is the creativity. So when it comes to creativity, I think people will always need to human, because AI cannot do that, like when it comes to artistic creativity or innovation, because the machine will have to think, have some freedom to think for itself, for itself to be able to do that, and currently we are not there yet. So we still need human.

Anne Chisa:

Good, no, we do, we do. We do so. Olaan, you are a woman, you're an African woman, in this wonderful world of hate, and what are some of your experiences in terms of, you know, diversity and inclusion, because these have become very crucial topics in this industry. Do you think, do you think, given with the time that you've, that you spend, that there are enough women in these types of spaces and, if not, how do we encourage more women to get into these types of fields?

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Well, that's a very good question. So, from my observation and also from what I'm reading and listening almost every day, there are not a lot of women in AI, not even in STEM. So, yeah, we are not a lot, and I think the root of science is doing a great job in regard of sensitizing women through these protests. So, in my opinion, I think one thing and one thing we can do is make sure that your podcast reach a lot of people. Keep on sensitizing women, girls the most important are the girls the girls in high school, primary school and Be telling them the story of women who have been excelling in AI. So that's what I can think about oh, fantastic.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

That's the thing is the key, yeah.

Anne Chisa:

And I think, even like yourself now, you are a visible role model to someone who can say oh, you know, there's. You know Olaan, who's doing this, and she's here and she's done this as well. So you're absolutely right, thank you. Yeah, so, olaan, just in terms of your professional journey, you spoke that you studied your masters in South Africa and then now you are in Ghana, but you did work, right? If I'm not mistaken, you were an intern at TU Delft, right? Yes, Can?

Anne Chisa:

you tell us about your work there and how you work there and how that opportunity came to pass. Okay.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

So after I finished my MSc program in South Africa I joined the master. It was a research master program at Quantum Leap Africa in Rwanda. So Quantum Leap Africa is a research center inside the Africa, inside the African Institute for Mathematical Science, but it is based in Rwanda. So I joined the program as a master research student. So the program was a mobility program where EMS has an agreement with the Quantum Software Consortium of QSoft in the Netherlands. So in their agreement students doing research in quantum computing at EMS will go for a three-month internship. So that's how I went to TU Delft and because I was interested in working on quantum error correction codes, I then got to the supervisor, professor Barbara Teha, at the Technical University of Delft and she accepted to take me in as an intern. So that's how the opportunity came in.

Anne Chisa:

That's amazing. So did that time allow you sort of to have more practical experience about everything that you were studying in your masters?

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Well, I would say 100% yes, because I really enjoy the time I spent there. So initially the internship was mostly about learning quantum error correction codes, and she is an expert, a renowned expert in the field. So when I went there she really took care of me nicely taking me through the steps, the learning steps, until I work on a project with her.

Anne Chisa:

That's amazing. I'm glad that you had a mentor and it was also a woman, right. I'm sure that really cemented like OK, you can sort of see yourself like OK, maybe this is where I want to end up one day. Speaking of which, where do you envision yourself? Where would you like to land after your PhD, for example? Where would you want to be and what is your dream job? I put you on the spot. Yes.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Okay, wow, like imagine Okay. So I've been thinking yes, because I've been thinking like, okay, should I go for academia or chemistry? So, first of all, if I go for academia, I will surely motivate a lot of girls, right?

Anne Chisa:

Yeah.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

And women to continue or maybe do more than what I'm doing, and on the other hand, if I go for industry I will sure make contribution, but it will be more practical contribution than so. Can I say I'm self thinking about it.

Anne Chisa:

Yes, you can. You still have time, you still have time, but I like the first year.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Yes, so I'm sure by the end I will decide.

Anne Chisa:

And I mean you don't even have to box yourself in because you know you could go into academia, then transition into industry and still be able to have the best of both worlds, or vice versa industry, then you go and transition back into academia. You know, I think that's the beauty of it. You're still young, the world is your oyster and it's pretty exciting that you've got your vision is so much bigger than you. You know, in terms of whether it's inspiring young or women rather to get into the field or to have that like impact in AI, that practical impact that you already spoke about. So that's pretty amazing and that's pretty exciting.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

No, all that.

Anne Chisa:

It's been, you know, so lovely. And, as we wrap up, this is, you know, the AI series. It's now 2024, right, who knows, maybe we're going to listen to this in 20 years time. But just in terms of, like, looking ahead, what do you envision the future of AI? You know, when you're given some of your practical experience and you're really touched on it, that you aspire to maybe potentially play a role in it. But what role would you like to play in the future of AI?

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Okay, thank you, anne, for your question. So, as I'm visioning my future with AI, what I want to do is to impact the fields of topological quantum computation and AI. So currently my research focus on topological quantum computation. So basically, it's like I want to find some quantum states using artificial intelligence. So I would like and I think a dream dear to me is to be able to contribute like powerfully to the field. And, in terms of when I said, I want to show that we can use AI and machine learning to optimize quantum gate and quantum circuit. And currently one of the biggest challenge we are facing is be able to simulate a quantum system, a topological quantum system, and I believe that if we use machine learning, we can be able to do it. It won't be easy, that's for sure, but what I want to do is to show that we can truly and confidently use AI to tackle the biggest challenge we are facing right now in quantum computation.

Anne Chisa:

Amazing, amazing. I hope, when we look ahead, you can come back to this episode one day and be like and remember I said I want to do this, so no, fantastic. All the best, Allyn, it's been lovely chatting with you and hearing about the work that you do, particularly in this field. Continue, you know, forging this path. It's a path that's less traveled, but it's such an important path and I know that from this episode and from the other things that you're going to do, some young girls going to see themselves in you and that's absolutely amazing, and I think that's something you can already be proud of, apart from what I believe are already your many, many achievements so far.

Aulan Lucrece Zahoundo:

Thank you very much, Anne.

Anne Chisa:

All right and to everybody else. Thank you so much for tuning into another episode of the Root of the Science, podcast, with your girl Anne with an E. Until next time, goodbye.

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