Since 1992 Matt McGew has provided content for on and offline businesses and publications. Previous work has appeared in the "Los Angeles Times," Travelocity and "GQ Magazine." McGew specializes in search engine optimization and has a Master of Arts in journalism from New York University.
The important thing to remember when interviewing candidates for a customer service position is that customer service is very much situationally and contextually driven.
Take, for example, the popular belief that warm and friendly customer service creates a bond that creates loyal customers. There are lots of times when this is true, but what about the parent who realizes, at midnight, on a rainy school night, that there’s no milk in the fridge for morning cereal and so heads out to the store wearing pajamas under their raincoat. If you’ve ever been this customer, you know that a warm and friendly cashier who chats you up is the last thing you want. In this situation, you want customer service that is fast and direct with no chit-chat. You want your milk and you want to go home to bed.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to customer service, no magical script that we can recite ad nauseum; it’s all about attitude. That’s why, as we learned in the Hiring For Attitude research, new hires don’t generally fail for a lack of skill. When a new hire fails, 89% of the time it’s because they had the wrong attitude.
Even a well-known repeat customer may prefer different levels of customer service depending on the situation. So when you’re hiring for a customer-service position, it’s imperative to single out the candidates who intelligently read their customers, in the moment, and then flexibly respond by delivering the level of service that customer desires.
Here’s an interview question I recommend from the book Hiring for Attitude:
Could you tell me about a time when you worked with a difficult customer?
Asking about a difficult customer provides a window into what the candidate considers to be a difficult customer, reveals how intelligently the candidate interprets a challenging customer service situation, and provides evidence as to how flexible the candidate is when responding to that challenge.
Also note that this is a non-leading question. There’s no “what were the circumstances and how did you respond?” tagged on at the tail end of the question to help the candidate craft a correct response. Non-leading questions leave it entirely up to the candidate how to answer the question. You can see why these types of open-ended questions are so revealing (and tough to answer) when you take the online test “Could You Pass This Job Interview?”
Let me show you how it works by walking you through some real-life answers (both good and bad) to our interview question “Could you tell me about a time when you worked with a difficult customer?” These were considered “bad” answers:
#1: “After the customer screamed at me for no reason he then admitted that he had no intention of ever doing business with us again due to a bad experience he’d had with a previous sales person. I can’t imagine what that other salesperson could have done to make the customer so upset, but I refuse to participate when someone is screaming at me. I don’t get paid enough to deal with that kind of frustration.”
#2: “He was the kind of person who thought he was the only one in the world and he expected me to just drop everything to help him. Clients like that never say what they want, and even if they do, they rarely know how to say it right, which means you have to ask a ton of questions just to get the right facts. It really slows up the process, but what can you do. It’s our job to serve the client.”
#3: “A client called to complain about her name being misspelled and said she wanted to close her account. I informed her that people are always mispronouncing my name, too, and that she should just let it go. I reminded her that there are more important things in life to focus on. The best part was in closing the conversation, she mispronounced my name, which I pointed out to her so she could see how trivial her complaint was.”
All three of these responses are incredibly revealing. None of these people evidence the willingness or ability to situationally assess a customer service experience, nor do they show any flexibility in providing the level of customer service their customers desire. And the reason why these candidates revealed their true selves so candidly is because they were asked an open-ended question.
Now let’s take a look at a few of the “good” answers our interview question generated:
#1: “I knew I had to go the extra step to make sure the customer’s request was met, and that meant following up internally as well as getting back them. It was a bit uncomfortable, especially given how much he had screamed at me, but I knew it was the right thing to do, and you know, it wasn’t that bad. He was really nice when I called back.”
#2: “I talked to a customer who was quite upset because he had many different accounts that he was trying to roll over and he had already filled out multiple sets of forms twice. Other customer service reps he’d spoken with had sent the forms by mail, but he had filled them out incorrectly. He was quite frustrated with the process and did not want to wait again for the forms to be sent. I offered to email the forms to him and fill them out correctly with him on the phone so we could proceed with the transaction. He told me it was the first time he felt confident his request would go through, which it did.”
#3: “There are a lot of reasons why people become difficult, and it’s not always what it seems like on the surface. In this case, I remained patient and asked a lot of questions to understand what was making the customer so upset. It soon became clear to me that this customer would be happier if I spoke to her more like consultant than like a salesman. Sure, I wanted to make the sale, but I also wanted her to know that above all I wanted to meet her needs.”
In all three of these responses we hear the candidates describe how they took a situational approach to delivering great customer service in a challenging situation. All three took the time to understand what was going on with the customer and to alter their approach to customer service to meet that customer’s immediate needs.
If the success of your organization depends upon delivering excellent customer service, don’t leave your hiring decisions to chance. Make sure every person involved in the hiring process understands that customer service is situationally and contextually driven and that they are using an effective, open-ended question to reveal the candidate’s true approach to delivering customer service.
Alan Hughes has more than 30 years of experience in IT including mainframes, programming, client/server, networks, project management, security, disaster recovery, information systems and hardware. He holds a master's degree in applied computer science and several certifications. He currently teaches information technology at the university level.
TROY, Mich., Aug. 9, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- Underscoring a long-standing commitment to its partners, leading IT solution and managed service provider Logicalis US today announced it has earned renewal of the Cisco Advanced CX Specialization certification. Awarded on a multi-year cadence, this certification is an exclusive Cisco program recognizing the expertise and skills that Logicalis demonstrates as part of Cisco's Customer Experience (CX) practice.
"This continued recognition from Cisco not only demonstrates the strength of our relationship with one of the leading technology solutions providers, but also emphasizes our commitment to delivering results for our customers," said James Ryan, Senior Director of Customer Experience for Logicalis US. "We are honored to renew this certification and will continue striving to exceed expectations from our technology partners and act as Architects of Change for our customers."
The Cisco Advanced CX Specialization recognizes the Logicalis team's ability to leverage its thorough understanding of the goals, tactics and ideal outcomes of Cisco's Customer Experience practices. The multi-year specialization is awarded to partners that demonstrate a strong understanding of the Cisco customer service value proposition. Logicalis first earned the certification in 2020.
In addition, Logicalis recently renewed its worldwide accreditation as a Cisco Global Gold partner. For almost 25 years, Logicalis has partnered with Cisco to develop outcome-led solutions to help organizations navigate the digital world. Combining Cisco's world-class hardware and software offerings with Logicalis' global market-leading menu of value-added services, both are successfully delivering unmatched value and innovation to their customers.
Logicalis is one of 34 solution providers in the United States to achieve Cisco's highest specialization certification in customer experience, and one of only six to do so while also holding a Cisco Global Gold Authorization.
About Logicalis US
We are Architects of Change™. We help organizations succeed in a digital-first world. At Logicalis, we harness our collective technology expertise to help our clients build a blueprint for success, so they can deliver sustainable outcomes that matter.
Our lifecycle services across hybrid data center, cloud, connectivity, collaboration, and security are designed to help optimize operations, reduce risk, and empower employees.
As a global technology service provider, we deliver next-generation digital managed services, to provide our clients with real-time visibility and actionable insights across the performance of their digital ecosystem including: availability, user experience, security, economic performance, and sustainability.
Our 7000+ 'Architects of Change' are based in 30 territories around the globe, helping our 10,000+ clients across a range of industry sectors, create sustainable outcomes through technology.
Logicalis has annualized revenues of $1.7 billion, from operations in Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific, and Africa.
For more information visit https://us.logicalis.com
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Anyone who has signed up for cell phone service, attempted to claim a rebate, or navigated a call center has probably suffered from a company’s apparent indifference to what should be its first concern: the customer experiences that culminate in either satisfaction or disappointment and defection.
Customer experience is the subjective response customers have to direct or indirect contact with a company. It encompasses every aspect of an offering: customer care, advertising, packaging, features, ease of use, reliability. Customer experience is shaped by customers’ expectations, which largely reflect previous experiences. Few CEOs would argue against the significance of customer experience or against measuring and analyzing it. But many don’t appreciate how those activities differ from CRM or just how illuminating the data can be. For instance, the majority of the companies in a exact survey believed they have been providing “superior” experiences to customers, but most customers disagreed.
The authors describe a customer experience management (CEM) process that involves three kinds of monitoring: past patterns (evaluating completed transactions), present patterns (tracking current relationships), and potential patterns (conducting inquiries in the hope of unveiling future opportunities). Data are collected at or about touch points through such methods as surveys, interviews, focus groups, and online forums. Companies need to involve every function in the effort, not just a single customer-facing group.
The authors go on to illustrate how a cross-functional CEM system is created. With such a system, companies can discover which customers are prospects for growth and which require immediate intervention.
Anyone who has signed up recently for cell phone service has faced a stern test in trying to figure out the cost of carry-forward minutes versus free calls within a network and how it compares with the cost of such services as push-to-talk, roaming, and messaging. Many, too, have fallen for a rebate offer only to discover that the form they must fill out rivals a home mortgage application in its detail. And then there are automated telephone systems, in which harried consumers navigate a mazelike menu in search of a real-life human being. So little confidence do consumers have in these electronic surrogates that a few weeks after the website www.gethuman.com showed how to reach a live person quickly at 10 major consumer sites, instructions for more than 400 additional companies had poured in.
Cisco did not have an organised way to leverage customer advocates and generate referrals and references. As a result, it was finding it hard to accelerate and increase revenue. So, it launched its first advocate marketing programme and named it “The Gateway.” The Gateway allows Cisco customers to have a direct ‘gateway’ into Cisco, building powerful connections with other customers and their personal brand.
In return, advocates can help Cisco by sharing content, providing referrals, and writing online reviews. By offering advocates a fun and engaging way to grow their professional knowledge and networks, Cisco is able to inspire more customer advocacy.
The Gateway helps Cisco centralise disparate engagement programmes and internal advocacy requests via a single digital portal. Giving customers an integrated experience helps them to learn about the many ways they can connect with Cisco.
In the three years since The Gateway’s launch, advocates have become an invaluable part of Cisco’s marketing and sales teams. To date, they’ve provided 196,933 acts of advocacy for Cisco and the company is getting to know customers on a personal level, building a tribe of advocates who feel a strong sense of belonging to the Cisco community.
“We’ve revolutionised the way we go to market with The Gateway. By mobilising our customers as advocates, we’re now able to leverage the authentic voice of our customers, which is far more engaging and relevant to our prospects than our traditional marketing. We’re also evolving to produce customer-generated videos at scale, streamlining peer references and product reviews and bringing valuable customer insights back to our sales teams. This is true innovation and makes an outstanding contribution to our organisation.”
Jeremy Bevan, Vice President, Global Segment & Industries Marketing, Cisco
Cisco Systems is the worldwide leader in networking, founded in 1984 by two computer scientists from Stanford University seeking an easier way to connect different types of computer systems. Cisco connects people, computing devices and networks, allowing people to securely access or transfer information. Today, 85% of Internet traffic travels across Cisco’s networks.
Cisco had a traditional reference programme with 100 customers that sales and marketing could leverage for references, speaking opportunities and case studies. As the pool was so small, customers often felt over-used and under-appreciated. Furthermore, 71% of Cisco employees didn’t know where to find or nominate a reference, and its reference list was often out-of-date. It was disorganised and wasn’t providing advocates with a great experience.
Cisco launched The Gateway, a formal advocate marketing programme to centralise its advocacy requests internally and create a unified, valuable experience for customers. It lets Cisco leverage customer voices to fuel sales and marketing initiatives.
“The Gateway helped me get both internal and external visibility. It was so nice to be stopped and congratulated by peers for my ‘Day in the Life” video with Cisco.”
Alex Makarov, IT Leader, Cargill
Cisco wanted to connect with technology buyers and executive leaders at enterprise and mid-market organisations who were already customers. However, engaging busy IT decision-makers is hard. They are inherently distrustful of commercial messaging and often ignore sales and marketing pitches – even if they’re already customers!
The Gateway is powered by Influitive’s AdvocateHub platform: a central online community for advocates to engage with Cisco and with one another. It also integrates with Salesforce and Eloqua, so the impact of advocate activity on sales and marketing goals is immediate and measurable.
Sales intelligence helped identify potential advocates (customers who had written five-star online reviews, current reference programme members, etc.).
Cisco emailed them personalised video invites featuring Richard Ayoade of The IT Crowd, and signed up advocates at Cisco Live (our annual global conference). Since then, it’s been growing advocate numbers through internal referrals, onsite event recruitment and personalised emails.
Gamification makes the Gateway experience fun. When advocates complete tasks, they receive points related to the value of effort required. Points can then be redeemed for rewards like tickets to Cisco Live, gift cards or Cisco merchandise.
A running leaderboard recognises top advocates. Advocates can choose the activities that appeal to them most. Those wanting to engage can join a user group, while those striving to raise their professional profile can blog for the company. Each advocate contributes with a different mix of activities tailored to their interests.
“I like the constant interaction and the personal brand growth in The Gateway.”
Antonio Dota, Network and Unified Collaboration Leader
Phase I – Research/planning
Phase II – EMEAR launch
Phase III – Global rollout and optimisation
(est. spend to date)
To date, The Gateway programme has generated:
Employees can now have a mechanism to easily ask advocates for quotes, testimonials, and feedback for marketing content. They’re also recruiting advocate speakers for future events and are testing content ahead of product launches with advocates to optimise engagement.
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Over the past decade, research has significantly advanced the science of quantum computing and led to the formation of many quantum startups. According to The Quantum Insider, the industry has grown to approximately 1,000 companies involved in some form of quantum technology. The long-term objective for quantum computing companies is to build large-scale, controllable, fault-tolerant quantum machines. However, that is a complicated process rife with difficult engineering and physics challenges that are yet to be solved.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Yuval Boger, CMO for QuEra Computing. It had been a while since our last conversation, and I was looking forward to hearing about QuEra’s progress and its latest research efforts.
QuEra began as a startup in 2018 using technology developed by MIT and Harvard researchers. The company uses neutral-atom qubits for its Aquila quantum computer, which runs on a field-programmable qubit array (FPQA) processor, with up to 256 rubidium atoms for qubits. The FPQA architecture allows qubit configurations to be rearranged on demand without the need to change the hardware, which means that it could also be called a software-defined quantum computer. One of FPQA’s other unique features is that it can operate in a dual analog and digital mode.
Newly expanded access for customers
QuEra recently expanded how customers can use its quantum service. Since November 2022, customers have been able to access QuEra's system through Amazon Braket, a fully managed quantum computing cloud service designed for quantum computing research and software development.
At the beginning of this month, the company announced that customers can also use its quantum machines directly through QuEra’s Premium Access service. According to Boger, the new access method was created based on requests from QuEra customers. "Customers, including a national lab, have been asking for direct access to our system," Boger said. "While Braket is a great service, customers sometimes need the ability to work directly with our scientists. Basically, customers felt they could accomplish more by having direct communications with QuEra."
In the press release announcing these new options, QuEra CEO Alex Keesling had this to say: "As we ramp up the production capabilities and expand our exceptional team of application-focused scientists, we're thrilled to unlock additional avenues for engaging with our ground-breaking technology. The launch of our on-premise and premium access models stems directly from resonant customer demand. This pivotal move is not just a response but an exciting leap forward that opens a realm of new opportunities for our customers and for QuEra."
Although Premium Access costs more than the Braket option, Boger added that it is already a popular offering for many of QuEra’s customers. Boger also noted that as part of these offerings, QuEra can now provide clients with not only secure remote access, but also higher service level agreements and a reservation system that allows researchers to reserve machine time to avoid waiting for a turn.
QuEra also introduced a leasing option so that customers can have a QuEra quantum computer on-premises rather than accessing it remotely through the cloud.
"We are seeing an explosion of interest in national, regional and corporate users that want a quantum computer on site," Boger said. "It could be for various reasons such as national pride or a large defense contractor that doesn't trust anything on the cloud for security reasons and needs an air-gapped system. It could also be someone that just wants full control and doesn't want to wait in queue behind a large company with large jobs."
Digital vs. analog
Today's quantum computers use a variety of architectures and technologies to create basic quantum computation units called qubits. Common physical implementations of qubits include photons, atoms, ions trapped in electromagnetic fields and manufactured superconducting devices. The choice of qubits dictates operational factors such as temperature, type of control, applications and scalability.
Most well-known quantum computer companies use digital gate-based architectures and logic gates within circuits to control the quantum state of qubits. Here are a few companies that use gates: Atom Computing (neutral atoms), IBM (transmon superconductors) and IonQ and Quantinuum (trapped ions).
QuEra’s Aquila is not a gate-based quantum computer, at least not yet. QuEra’s machine is classified as an analog quantum computer because its qubits are manipulated by gradually fine-tuning the states.
QuEra’s qubits are created from rubidium-87 atoms by using the electron in the outer shell of each atom to encode quantum information. The electron can exist in a combination of two spin states that represent the 0 and 1 states of a qubit. QuEra's analog mode works well for optimizations, modeling quantum systems and machine learning.
QuEra’s hardware is complemented by Bloqade, the company’s open-source software development kit, which allows users to design, simulate and then execute programs. In more precise terms, Bloqade is an emulator for the Hamiltonian dynamics of neutral-atom quantum computers.
You can’t discuss QuEra’s analog quantum computer without talking explicitly about Rydberg states. These atomic states play a major role in QuEra’s architecture and deserve a bit more scientific explanation.
Rydberg states are created by boosting rubidium-87’s single valence electron to a very high energy level. Electrons normally orbit the nucleus at low energy levels and near the nucleus. But the outer electron in Rydberg atoms has an artificially-induced orbital radius that is sometimes thousands of times larger than normal. Because of Rydberg atoms’ large size and the distance between the outer electron and its nucleus, these atoms possess exaggerated properties that make them very sensitive to electric and magnetic fields.
QuEra uses Rydberg atoms’ outer electrons to create two qubit states. The interaction distance between Rydberg atoms allows a form of conditional logic. Atoms far apart can act independently, while atoms close to each other allow only one Rydberg excitation to occur. This limiting effect is called a Rydberg blockade. The point of all of this for QuEra is that flexible geometries and Rydberg blockades, guided by laser tuning controls, can be used to implement quantum algorithms.
In summary, QuEra’s neutral atoms provide reconfigurable and controllable qubits, and their interactions can create conditional logic. These features can be used for quantum simulation and optimization in ways that can’t be achieved with hardware qubits.
QueEra has developed a method to shuttle atoms to different locations while still maintaining its quantum states. Shuttling allows connectivity between the rubidium atoms to be reconfigured as needed to handle complex problems.
Three zones are involved in shuttling: the memory zone, where lower energy states with longer coherence are stored; the processing zone, where operations take place; and the measurement zone, where qubits can be isolated and read without disturbing other qubits.
Boger gave me a simple explanation of the zones that also suggests how QuEra’s next generation will handle qubit operations. “If you have these three zones, you don’t need 10,000 control lines for 10,000 qubits,” he said. “You can shuttle the qubits into the compute zone, then run it. Do the operation, then take it from there. It’s simple.”
QuEra’s shuttling is similar in concept and function to Quantinuum’s QCCD trapped-ion architecture. QuEra has also developed a fast transport method optimized to avoid motional heating of the atoms, which can cause a loss of fidelity in the shuttling process.
If quantum computing is to fulfill its potential, we will need the capability to scale qubits into the millions. Of course, error correction will play a major role in reaching that number. Currently, the maximum number of qubits in use is around 500. But a number of companies, including QuEra, are expected to announce much more than that sometime soon.
When the issue of scaling came up during my discussion with Boger, I was surprised by how far QuEra had come. He showed me an image of 10,000 laser spots that can contain 10,000 atoms in a 100 x 100 array.
“Considering our current capabilities,” he said, “we believe we can get to at least 10,000 qubits without needing interconnects. The 10,000 laser spots on this image were created by the optical tweezers used to capture the atoms. Each atom is only three or four microns apart. It is also an advantage that our qubits function without cryogenic cooling.”
Seeing so many qubits in such a small area was impressive. Even so, to put 10,000 qubits into production will require error correction or, at a minimum, extremely effcient error mitigation.
The good news is that analog quantum computers require less error correction than digital gate-based machines. Still, putting such a high number of qubits into operation would also require higher qubit fidelities than possible today, even though QuEra’s collaborators at Harvard obtained a two-qubit gate fidelity of 99.5%.
Scaling a quantum computer to that level will require a great deal of clever physics, along with the precise engineering to put it into practice.
QuEra has also done some research with analog quantum simulation of topological matter. Without going into too much technical detail, topological matter refers to a class of quantum materials that have unique properties derived from their underlying topology. Among other benefits, topological matter can be resistant to noise, which could also make it useful for error resistance.
The existence of topological material was predicted theoretically more than five decades ago. It has taken fifty years just to determine that it actually exists—which should be an indication of how technically challenging it is going to be for anyone to develop topological qubits.
QuEra isn’t alone in researching the topic. Google published a paper in late 2021 describing the creation of topological ordered states using semiconductors. Earlier this year, Quantinuum announced a topological discovery of its own; the company has a full program dedicated to this research. After a rocky start a few years ago, Microsoft has re-announced its intentions to build a quantum computer using a hardware form of Majorana topological qubits.
Creating a useful topological quantum computer is likely to be ten or more years away, but I will be following topological advancements as they are made.
Maximum Independent Set (MIS)
QueEra’s optically trapped neutral atoms allow flexibility in qubit arrangements. Unlike in microchips, optical tweezers can position the atoms into any geometric 2-D position. Their arrangement relative to each other determines how the qubits interact—a key factor in quantum computing. Furthermore, tweezer control allows the connections to be dynamically reconfigured, which can alter properties of the quantum processor.
These advantages enable QuEra's 256-qubit quantum computer to use a unique method of solving optimization problems of the Maximum Independent Set (MIS) type. An MIS problem can be solved by mapping the geometry of the problem, such as the geographic layout of radio antennas, directly into the hardware. Many industrial problems are constrained by physical layouts, making them candidates for being solved as a MIS. There are a number of areas where MIS can be useful:
QuEra sees one of its future challenges as moving beyond small proofs-of-concept to larger quantum systems that demonstrate higher values and more impacts sooner. To support this, on top of using its FPQA and analog approach, QuEra has implemented hybrid quantum-classical algorithms for solving relevant problems.
One such demonstration optimized placements of gas stations across city locations by encoding the geometry of the problem into qubit positions, then measuring the system's ground state. The hybrid approach found solutions comparable to or slightly better than classical algorithms alone. While this is not definitive quantum advantage, it does indicate the feasibility of testing quantum optimization algorithms on real quantum hardware.
Even though analog quantum computers can't ever match the capabilities of a universal gate-based quantum machines, there is a place for analog technology in the areas of simulation, optimization and machine learning. QuEra’s approach will be differentiated by the use of FPQAs to allow flexible encoding of problems directly into the qubit geometry.
Over a relatively short time, QuEra has assembled experts in the areas of chip-scale photonics, ultra-stable lasers and precision control systems. It has expertise in all the required areas of software, applications and algorithms needed to be successful in quantum. QuEra has over 50 employees working in the areas of hardware, software and business operations, and its MIT and Harvard heritage is a major asset for continued technical advancement.
QuEra’s neutral-atom analog quantum computer provides some capabilities unavailable with classical computers. However, it is not yet close to the technical requirements needed for a fault-tolerant quantum computer capable of solving world-class problems such as drug design or climate change. Currently, all quantum computers, whether analog or digital, still have technical problems to overcome in the areas of fidelity, scale and full error correction.
QuEra has identified its major sources of errors and it is working to reduce them. These include laser noise, atom motion, state decoherence and scattering, imperfect laser functioning and measurement errors.
After QuEra converts its architecture to a digital mode, there are several challenges that must be overcome before fault-tolerance becomes possible. Beyond large numbers of qubits and a high two-qubit gate fidelity, we don’t yet know what ratio will be needed between physical qubits and logical qubits. It will likely vary depending on which qubit technology is used. Google has done extensive work on error correction, scaling between 17 and 49 physical qubits per logical qubit. It believes, as QuEra does, that it will be possible to use logical qubits to build a large-scale error-corrected quantum computer.
QuEra’s future research will be directed at increasing the number of qubits, operation fidelities and levels of connectivity. My perspective is that QuEra is pushing the boundaries of analog quantum computing—and that its technology warrants attention. The company has a flexible architecture and intriguing capabilities, and its customers’ steady demands for easier and closer contact methods is reason enough to be optimistic about QuEra’s traction in the market.
However, QuEra and the entire industry face an immense technical challenge to raise quantum computing to its true potential. Achieving quantum advantage would be a great half-step and a signal that fault-tolerance is only a few years away.
Paul Smith-Goodson is the Vice President and Principal Analyst for Quantum Computing and Artificial Intelligence at Moor Insights & Strategy. You can follow him on Twitter for current information and insights about Quantum, AI, Electromagnetics, and Space.
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