Announcing the 2020 Wittek Quantum Prize for Open Source Software

Mark Fingerhuth
Oct 7 · 3 min read
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Written by Tomáš Babej / Edited by Mark Fingerhuth

This week marks a year since our dear friend, colleague and a founding member of the Quantum Open Source Foundation, Peter Wittek, disappeared during an avalanche on Mount Trishul in the Himalayas.

Peter was a man of many virtues, who thrived off challenges and had an uncanny ability to follow his beliefs even if it caused discomfort or straight up suffering. His love for open source was no different — he would use Linux exclusively and go to extraordinary lengths to rid his life of proprietary software. On road trips, he would navigate using his Fairphone running the open source software OsmAnd, even though it has led him the wrong way several times. When moving to Canada, he even submitted a formal complaint to the government for forcing him to use the proprietary PDF browser Adobe Acrobat instead of an open source alternative.

His passion for open source manifested in his professional life as well. Peter was a strong advocate of open source software (OSS) in research, talking about the role of OSS in reproducible research at many conferences. He practiced what he preached by meticulously releasing code along with his publications, developing open source tools and libraries and even open sourcing his popular edX Quantum Machine Learning course.

Today, together with the Unitary Fund, we are launching a US$4000 prize dedicated towards celebrating open source software contributors in the quantum computing space. The prize is named after Peter Wittek, not only because we want to cherish his memory, but also because the spirit of the prize embodies the very essence of what he believed in.

The value of open source software

With each passing year, open source software is more firmly establishing itself as the bedrock upon which the modern technology is built. Internet giants and small startups alike are leveraging existing open source projects as components of their software products and infrastructure, enabling them to launch new products at a greater speed and a lower cost than ever before.

Despite its crucial function, work on open source software is often underappreciated and underfunded, relying on the passionate work of individual volunteers. Even critical core infrastructures projects like OpenSSL, the foundation of much of web’s cryptography, had until recently a two passionate people and a dog as its development team.

There is something intrinsically rewarding about developing open source projects: pursuing novel, intellectually stimulating ideas, sharing the results one’s craft and, for established projects, becoming part of a community of like-minded individuals. However, with success comes responsibility and work on a growing open source project also includes responding to user requests, fixing bugs, implementing new features, maintaining compatibility with your dependencies, implementing tests or writing documentation. The projects which handle the transition well have potential to become important cornerstones of their respective ecosystems.

Quantum open-source software

When we were starting the Quantum Open Source Foundation in late 2018 shortly after publishing a review of open source software in quantum computing, one of the key drivers was to support the development of open source libraries and tooling in this space. Building an open-source-first technology stack for this new, developing paradigm will not only be critical to secure open access to this new technology, but will also accelerate progress across the field, as open source components and packages are often re-used and re-purposed in projects across academia and industry.

Despite the central role that the open source software plays, the contributions of diligent individuals and hard work of maintainers are often not recognized by the wider community at the level they deserve. In order to recognize the work of these unsung heroes, developers and maintainers, often unaware of the magnitude of the impact their work is having on the community, QOSF is partnering with Unitary Fund in order to award a US$4000 prize to an open source software contributor / maintainer among crowd-sourced nominees. The winner of the prize is going to be selected by the Unitary Fund’s advisory board, which kindly agreed to act as independent evaluation committee.

Read more about the 2020 Wittek Quantum Prize on the website of the Quantum Open Source Foundation.

QOSF

Quantum Open Source Foundation

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