Leader of IBM’s Quantum Safe Team to speak at URI

Charles Robinson will discuss his winding path toward a leadership position in the quantum computing revolution

KINGSTON, R.I. — Sept. 21, 2023 — As part of its quantum computing initiative, the University of Rhode Island will welcome Charles Robinson, worldwide lead of IBM’s Quantum Safe Team, to campus for a public lecture. Robinson will give a talk titled “From North Philly to Quantum Computing:  Lessons Learned Along the Way” on Monday, Sept. 25, at 4 p.m. in Edwards Hall.

“The path from North Philly to being IBM’s worldwide leader of the Quantum Safe Team has not been a straight line,” Robinson said. “In my presentation, I want to highlight the types of obstacles that I overcame and that many of you will likely experience. More important are the strategies and attitudes that you can employ to overcome hurdles, survive, and excel. No one size fits all but, at the end of the day, there is always a path forward.”

As leader of IBM’s Quantum Safe Team, Robinson works to develop and implement technologies that will protect data in a post-quantum world. Quantum computers—computer systems that harness the behavior of matter at the tiniest scales—are expected to be able to perform calculations in seconds that would take years on even the most powerful computers operating today. While that dramatic increase in computing power promises to be an enormous boon for science and industry, it comes with a problem: Most of the encryption schemes currently used to secure data will be rendered obsolete as soon as large-scale quantum systems come online.

The Quantum Safe Team develops new encryption algorithms that will remain robust in the face of quantum computing power. The team also works with governments and companies all over the world to help them prepare for the coming quantum revolution. Doing so is critical to protecting credit card numbers, bank account information, medical records, and all other sensitive information that can be accessed via the internet.

Len Kahn, chair of the URI Department of Physics, says that quantum security represents an immediate area of focus in the coming quantum computing revolution.

“All of the data that’s on the internet now needs to be secured before quantum computers come online,” Kahn said. “We need to think about training people now to work on this and other critical problems, which is part of what we’re hoping to do with the quantum computing initiative at URI.”

Kahn says that having Robinson speak at URI is important in part because of his unconventional path to worldwide leadership in the quantum field, as well as his efforts to make sure quantum information science is a career path available to anyone.

Robinson trained as a corpsman in the Navy before transitioning to engineering in community college. He went on to graduate from Howard University and receiving a graduate degree from Johns Hopkins. After working as an engineer and software developer for several large firms, Robinson began working extensively with the defense and intelligence community on issues related to communications and computing. He became the worldwide leader of the Quantum Safe Team in 2020.

Robinson has also worked extensively with Howard University’s IBM-HBCU Quantum Center, which aims to prepare and develop talent from historically Black colleges and universities for the quantum future.

“The quantum revolution represents both tremendous challenges and opportunities,” Kahn said. “If we’re going to meet these challenges and create the workforce of tomorrow, we’ll need to engage communities that have been traditionally underrepresented in scientific fields. Charles is a knowledgeable resource, and we continue to benefit from his experience.”

The event is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Academic Enhancement Center, and the Department of Physics.