How Much Has Quantum Computing Actually Advanced?

For a measured perspective on how much quantum computing is actually advancing as a field, IEEE Spectrum spoke with John Martinis, a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the former chief architect of Google's Sycamore. From a report: IEEE Spectrum: So it's been about two years since you unveiled results from Sycamore. In the last few weeks, we've seen announcements of a 127-qubit chip from IBM and a 256-qubit neutral atom quantum computer from QuEra. What kind of progress would you say has actually been made? John Martinis: Well, clearly, everyone's working hard to build a quantum computer. And it's great that there are all these systems people are working on. There's real progress. But if you go back to one of the points of the quantum supremacy experiment -- and something I've been talking about for a few years now -- one of the key requirements is gate errors. I think gate errors are way more important than the number of qubits at this time. It's nice to show that you can make a lot of qubits, but if you don't make them well enough, it's less clear what the advance is. In the long run, if you want to do a complex quantum computation, say with error correction, you need way below 1% gate errors. So it's great that people are building larger systems, but it would be even more important to see data on how well the qubits are working. In this regard, I am impressed with the group in China who reproduced the quantum supremacy results, where they show that they can operate their system well with low errors.

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The Coronavirus in a Tiny Drop

To better understand the coronavirus's journey from one person to another, a team of 50 scientists has for the first time created an atomic simulation of the coronavirus nestled in a tiny airborne drop of water. From a report: To create the model, the researchers needed one of the world's biggest supercomputers to assemble 1.3 billion atoms and track all their movements down to less than a millionth of a second. This computational tour de force is offering an unprecedented glimpse at how the virus survives in the open air as it spreads to a new host. "Putting a virus in a drop of water has never been done before," said Rommie Amaro, a biologist at the University of California San Diego who led the effort, which was unveiled at the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis last month. "People have literally never seen what this looks like." How the coronavirus spreads through the air became the subject of fierce debate early in the pandemic. Many scientists championed the traditional view that most of the virus's transmission was made possible by larger drops, often produced in coughs and sneezes. Those droplets can travel only a few feet before falling to the floor. But epidemiological studies showed that people with Covid-19 could infect others at a much greater distance. Even just talking without masks in a poorly ventilated indoor space like a bar, church or classroom was enough to spread the virus. Those findings pointed to much smaller drops, called aerosols, as important vehicles of infection. Scientists define droplets as having a diameter greater than 100 micrometers, or about 4 thousandths of an inch. Aerosols are smaller -- in some cases so small that only a single virus can fit inside them. And thanks to their minuscule size, aerosols can drift in the air for hours.

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German Coalition Backs Ban on Facial Recognition in Public Places

Germany's incoming government is throwing its weight behind a ban on the use of biometric identification technologies such as facial recognition in public places. From a report: According to their coalition deal, the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP) want to "exclude" biometric recognition in public spaces as well as automated state scoring systems by AI through European law. "Biometric recognition in public spaces as well as automated state scoring systems by AI are to be excluded under European law," reads the coalition agreement, presented on Wednesday. The EU's Artificial Intelligence Act, proposed in April, creates product safety rules for "high risk" AI that is likely to cause harm to humans. It also bans certain "unacceptable" AI uses, such as social scoring and restricts the use of remote biometric identification in public places from law enforcement, unless it is to fight serious crime, such as terrorism. The AI Act's prohibitions are some of the bill's most contentious articles, and many European countries have yet to decide what they think. Germany's support of a ban could rally other countries to the same view. Belgium and Slovakia have already expressed their support.

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Musk Says Tesla’s Cybertruck Will Have Four-motor Variant

Tesla boss Elon Musk said on Friday the electric-car maker's much-anticipated Cybertruck would come with a high- end four-motor variant. From a report: "Initial production will be 4 motor variant, with independent, ultra fast response torque control of each wheel," Musk said in a tweet. Calling the electric pick-up truck "insane technology bandwagon," Musk said the Cybertruck would have both front and rear-wheel steer that would "not just (turn) like a tank -- it can drive diagonally like a crab." The vehicle would compete with pickup trucks such as GMC's Hummer EV, Ford's F-150 Lightning and Rivian's R1T. Of those, R1T is driven by four individual motors powering all four wheels and GMC's Hummer can drive diagonally.

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FBI Says the Cuba Ransomware Gang Made $43.9 Million from Ransom Payments

The US Federal Bureau of Investigations said today that the operators of the Cuba ransomware have earned at least $43.9 million from ransom payments following attacks carried out this year. From a report: In a flash alert sent out on Friday, the Bureau said the Cuba gang has "compromised at least 49 entities in five critical infrastructure sectors, including but not limited to the financial, government, healthcare, manufacturing, and information technology sectors." The FBI said it traced attacks with the Cuba ransomware to systems infected with Hancitor, a malware operation that uses phishing emails, Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities, compromised credentials, or RDP brute-forcing tools to gain access to vulnerable Windows systems. Once systems are added to their botnet, Hancitor operators rent access to these systems to other criminal gangs in a classic Malware-as-a-Service model. While an April 2021 McAfee report on the Cuba ransomware found no connection between the two groups, the FBI report highlights what appears to be a new partnership between MaaS providers and ransomware gangs after other ransomware operations struck similar partnerships throughout 2020.

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PlayStation Plans New Service To Take On Xbox Game Pass

Sony Group's PlayStation division is planning a new subscription service to compete with rival Microsoft's popular Xbox Game Pass, according to people familiar with Sony's plans and documents reviewed. Blooomberg: The service, code-named Spartacus, will allow PlayStation owners to pay a monthly fee for access to a catalog of modern and classic games, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they weren't authorized to speak to the press about the plans. The offering will likely be available on the smash hit PlayStation 4, which has sold more than 116 million units, and its elusive successor, the PlayStation 5, which launched more than a year ago but is still difficult to buy due to supply chain issues. When it launches, expected in the spring, the service will merge Sony's two existing subscription plans, PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now. Currently, PlayStation Plus is required for most online multiplayer games and offers free monthly titles, while PlayStation Now allows users to stream or download older games. Documents reviewed by Bloomberg suggest that Sony plans to retain the PlayStation Plus branding but phase out PlayStation Now.

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Scientists Raise Concerns Over Baby Genome Sequencing Plan

Scientists have raised concerns about a proposed overhaul of newborn screening that could lead to the UK becoming the first country to offer whole-genome sequencing for every baby. From a report: Speaking before the publication of plans for an NHS pilot study in which up to 200,000 babies' genomes will be sequenced and analysed, scientists suggested the initiative appeared designed to create a valuable health dataset rather than an effective method of improving the diagnosis of rare diseases. Anneke Lucassen, director of the Centre for Personalised Medicine at the University of Oxford, said that if the primary objective were improving newborn screening, there were alternative, more targeted tests that would be cheaper and potentially more reliable. "If it was really all about [diagnosing more conditions], you could do that through other means," she said. "It's about helping to build the genomics industry in the UK and it's about creating a research resource so we can study people as they grow older." Lucassen said she was not opposed to the pilot, or even necessarily to these objectives, but wanted more transparency, "because otherwise it's sold as something that is not the full picture. The public needs to know that," she added. Sequencing the genomes of all newborns would represent a hugely ambitious upgrade to the routine "heel prick" test that all babies receive at about five days to detect nine serious health conditions including cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and various metabolic diseases.

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US State Department iPhones Hacked With Israeli Company Spyware

Apple's iPhones of at least nine U.S. State Department employees were hacked by an unknown assailant using sophisticated spyware developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, Reuters reported Friday, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: The hacks, which took place in the last several months, hit U.S. officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning the East African country, two of the sources said. The intrusions, first reported here, represent the widest known hacks of U.S. officials through NSO technology. Previously, a list of numbers with potential targets including some American officials surfaced in reporting on NSO, but it was not clear whether intrusions were always tried or succeeded.

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Amazon Charges Sellers Fees That Are High Enough To Offset Losses from Prime, a New Report Says

The massive reach of Amazon's e-commerce platform is appealing for any small business that wants to sell its products online. But a new report suggests that the cost of doing business can become a Faustian bargain for a third-party seller, as the fees that Amazon charges them can quickly eat into profits. From a report: Amazon Toll Road, a report from the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), found that Amazon charged third-party sellers a total of $121 billion in fees this year alone. According to the report, written by ILSR co-director Stacy Mitchell, those fees -- for things like advertising, referrals, and shipping -- usually mean that small businesses lose money to Amazon; Mitchell said that in 2014, sellers paid Amazon $19 of every $100 in sales, and today, it's more like $34 per $100 in sales. And, Amazon obscures the profit it makes from these small businesses in its financial reports, lumping it in with other less lucrative divisions "because showing that they generate these profits from small businesses is not a good look," Mitchell said in an interview with The Verge. But its Amazon Prime subscription service -- believed to be a money loser for the e-commerce giant -- provides Amazon a loyal base of shoppers who want to get their money's worth of free shipping. The profits Amazon makes from seller fees subsidize the losses from its Prime division, according to the report.

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Jimmy Wales is Selling His First Wikipedia Edit as an NFT

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is selling a non-fungible token (or NFT) based on his first edit of the free encyclopedia. From a report: Auction house Christie's will hold a sale of the token from December 3rd to 15th, auctioning it alongside the Strawberry iMac Wales was using around Wikipedia's launch. The funds will go toward charitable causes and WT.Social, a donation-backed social network that Wales launched in 2019. Wales' NFT is effectively the keys to a very early version of Wikipedia, which debuted in January of 2001. "What you see displayed is what Wikipedia looked like at the moment that I set up the software," he tells The Verge. The single page will be launched publicly on the web, and much like Wikipedia itself, anyone will be able to see and edit it. But all changes will revert after five minutes, returning it to its original state: a single edit reading "Hello, World!" following a long-held tradition of programming. The NFT, which is written to the Ethereum blockchain, encodes a smart contract that grants its buyer control over that website. The buyer can change the window for reverting edits, and if they really want, they can turn off editing or shut down the page. They can also take a completely hands-off approach and let Wales manage the page for them.

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