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The Toil Toward Quantum Computers Just Turned Into a Sprint

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The New Silicon Chip

The silicon based chip developed by researchers at Bristol University.

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A new optical chip that can process photons in a dizzying number of infinite ways has been developed by two research teams. Researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone in Japan (NTT) are behind the breakthrough in quantum computing.

The means to solve daunting problems such as the ability to design new life-saving drugs; perform advanced calculations that are a step or two beyond even supercomputers; and analyze weather patterns for more accurate forecasting has just received a major boost.

A group of researchers have pulled off a staggering feat; they’ve developed a silicon-based optical chip that is fully reprogrammable and can process photons in every way imaginable and then some, reports Phys.org.

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Prof. Jeremy O’Brien, the Director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics at Bristol University where researchers masterminded the development of the chip, said:

Over the last decade, we have established an ecosystem for photonic quantum technologies, allowing the best minds in quantum information science to hook up with established research and engineering expertise in the telecommunications industry.

”It’s a model that we need to encourage if we are to realize our vision for a quantum computer,” he added.

The chip has essentially validated a vast array of existing quantum research and experiments. It also opens the doors for future ideas and protocols in quantum mechanics that haven’t even been conceived yet, bringing yet more focus to the staggering potential of quantum computers.

Einstein referred to Quantum mechanics as: “the most successful physical theory of our time.”

Quantum Computers and the Need for It

Quantum computers are advanced, sci-fi standard machines devised and founded on the principles of quantum mechanics. These computers will be far more powerful than the supercomputers of today. Computer science is on the very cusp of a technological milestone if the computers of tomorrow are based on quantum mechanics principles, making for an evolutionary leap in computing technology.

Quantum ComputingSeveral futurologists predict that:

  • The widespread use and implementation of quantum computers in general industry is only a decade or two away.
  • The United States is expected to be the leader in the quantum technology arena, with forecasts predicting China to be the closest competitor.
  • Countries and corporations that gain initial access to quantum computers will have a decisive edge over others in any technological space.
  • The implications of quantum computers in geopolitics and national security will be staggering.

Stepping beyond military and security circles, quantum computers represent advancements in science – the likes of which could lead to saving millions of lives – thanks to faster research and development of new drugs. Rapid strides are expected to be made towards the development of artificial intelligence. While today’s algorithms used in developing algorithms depend on pattern recognition, quantum computing brings the very real plausibility of machines adapting to anomalous scenarios. Non-routine tasks can be undertaken by machines thanks to quantum computing aided advanced algorithms. Self-driven cars are already a reality and the research into automation through quantum computing will push the envelope further.

“Quantum computing could allow scientists to calculate molecular structure, which means they would then be able to control and design molecules, or compute more efficient industrial reaction chains,” said Jonathan Home, a scientist at the Institute for Quantum Mechanics in Switzerland.

But in all likelihood, we’ll use quantum computers for applications we never dreamed of.

With all the potential a quantum computer represents, getting to actually build one is a complicated task. The quantum technology industry is still relatively in its infancy. A major hurdle in testing and understanding new theories for quantum science and computing is the resources and time required to build new experiments suited for the task. Quantum systems and architecture are notoriously fragile, making quantum research appear to be in a constant state of flux with the strides being made.

The Breakthrough Chip

Despite the challenges, the development of the new silicon chip marks a change for experiments with photons and shines the spotlight on the future of quantum technology research.

Dr. Anthony Laing, the leader of the project at the University of Bristol said:

A whole field of research has essentially been put onto a single optical chip that is easily controlled. The implications of the work go beyond the huge resource savings. Now anybody can run their own experiments with photons, much like they operate any other piece of software on a computer. They no longer need to convince a physicist to devote many months of their life to painstakingly build and conduct a new experiment.

The research team were able to ably demonstrate the chip’s unique traits by re-programming it to perform a number of differing experiments. Without the chip, each experiment would have previously taken months to put together and implement.

Team member Jacques Carolan, a student at the University, noted: “Once we wrote the code for each circuit, it took seconds to re-programme the chip, and milliseconds for the chip to switch to the new experiment. We carried out a year’s worth of experiments in a matter of hours. What we’re really excited about is using these chips to discover new science that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

Today, the University of Bristol’s ‘Quantum in the Cloud’ service is a pioneering, one-of-a-kind service that allows a quantum processor to be publicly accessible. The research team plans on adding more breakthrough chips like the one they’ve just invented to help others discover and research the world of quantum mechanics on their own.

Images from Bristol University, IBM Research and Shutterstock.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Burnt Eloi

    August 14, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    The invention that will kill Bitcoin, and any other cryptographically secured system for that matter.

  2. Max Lundgren

    August 15, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Quantum optical processor using photons as superstate process is past many month now, We can hold 8 plus 8 in a single Qubit of data. and by alter processors architecture get different functions like Calculation, compression, and also on the global patent application a one bit BQB binary in quantum processing and binary out. and NTT /Mr Hando and ID quantique in swizz has been interested from the start.

  3. Optimist911

    August 17, 2015 at 12:12 am

    The only advancement here seems to be reconfiguration capabilities that enable faster implementation of quantum experiments. Are there actually any new processing capabilities, such as increasing the number of qubits sufficiently to solve some real-world problems, not toy samples? Breaking RSA cryptography, for example, requires on the order of many thousands of qubits, far beyond the few demonstrated in the lab years ago with no subsequent progress. That’s really the holy grail, along with the $64 trillion question of whether the physics of this universe even allows it in practice.

  4. Brad Arnold

    August 18, 2015 at 10:52 am

    I wish the article contained more information about the chip and it’s specific implications, rather than lengthy and general praise for quantum computers. BTW, the D-Wave is considered a quantum computer, and is operating in the 100 teraflop arena. Both Google and NASA are using it now in their jointly owned lab.

    I wish to add that this might be a very exciting development (the so-called photon chip), but it just can’t be ascertained by reading this article. The Singularity Loop is intelligence improving technology, and technology increasing intelligence.

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Bitcoin Giant Bitmain Enters the High Stakes AI Race

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The Sophon, named for a fictional proton-sized supercomputer, could be the tool to train neural networks in data centers worldwide. It is the latest project being developed by Bitmain Technologies Ltd., the bitcoin mining giant that has carved out a dominant position in bitcoin mining.

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Such chips, called application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), could unleash a new wave of distributed computing, according to Michael Bedford Taylor, a University of Washington professor who studies bitcoin mining and chips.

Sophon is due to debut before the end of the year.

Bitmain Has The Know-How

Bitmain has the background to play a role in the expanding artificial intelligence industry. The company designs the silicon that goes in bitcoin mining equipment, assembles the machines and sells them worldwide, in addition to its own bitcoin mining operation and the ones that it manages for other mining pools.

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Bitmain’s founders are not averse to playing a spoiler role.

Jihan Wu, the co-founder of Bitmain, supports the New York Agreement that seeks to double the bitcoin block size under the SegWit2X proposal, a move that some in the bitcoin community view as an attempt to give the miners control over bitcoin.

Some also believe Wu was behind the recent bitcoin split known as bitcoin cash, which at least one of Bitmain’s miners supported, a contention that Wu has denied. Wu points out that he was among the supporters of Bitcoin Unlimited, an earlier bitcoin scaling proposal that did not get activated.

Why Wu Supports Forks

Wu nonetheless said splits should be allowed. He said a fork is inevitable since people in the bitcoin community do not agree on how to best scale bitcoin.

Wu met Micree Zhan, Bitcoin’s co-founder, when Zhan was running DivaIP in 2010, a company that made a device that allowed a user to stream a TV show on a computer screen.

In 2011, Wu needed a chip designer to build a mining operation and approached Zhan. Zhan first designed an ASIC to run SHA-256, the cryptographic calculation used in bitcoin, at maximum efficiency. It took him six months to finish the job. His first rig, Antminer S1, was ready in November 2013.

Bitmain felt the sting of the 2014 Mt. Gox meltdown. But by 2015, bitcoin’s price bottomed out and later recovered. In the meantime, Bitmain introduced its Antminer S5.

Bitmain now employs 600 people in Beijing.

Also read: Bitmain clarifies its ‘bitcoin cash’ fork position

Ready To Take On Google

Bitmain has since developed a deep learning chip with improved efficiency. Users will be able to build their own models on the ASICs, enabling neural networks to deliver results at a faster pace. Google’s DeepMind unit used this technique to train its AlphaGo artificial intelligence.

Bitmain plans to sell the chips to any company looking to train its own neural nets, including firms like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. Bitmain could build its own data centers with thousands of deep learning rigs, renting out the computation power to clients the way it does with bitcoin mines.

Professor Taylor said companies like Bitmain that have excelled in bitcoin mining could take on the Googles and Nvidias since they have developed the skills to survive in an ultra-competitive and highly commoditized industry, and have the system level design expertise and the ability to reduce data center costs.

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Dutch Police Use Augmented Reality to Investigate Crime Scenes

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Dutch police are undertaking an experiment to see if augmented reality can help officers at a crime scene, according to the New Scientist.

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Using an AI system video from the body cameras worn on the officers at the scene will relay back to experts who can guide the officers by making virtual notes which the officers will be able to see via a smartphone or head-mounted device.

Dragos Datcu, principal researcher at augmented reality (AR) company Twnkls in Rotterdam, the Netherlands said:

We now have good enough software and hardware to use augmented reality at crime scenes.

What’s great about the new AI system is the fact that experts can get involved with what the crime scene investigators are doing regardless of where they are located.

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So by viewing the footage that is sent from a camera on the police vest, a chemical specialist in one location can view it while a forensic scientist in another location can too. The system is similar to the popular Pokémon Go smartphone game that has grabbed the attention of millions of people around the world.

Not Suitable for Making an Arrest

However, while the technology may prove beneficial in providing an extra pair of eyes for investigating crime scenes, when it comes to making an actual arrest the technology is not suitable for that just yet.

According to Nick Koeman, innovation adviser from the National Police of the Netherlands, the officers undertaking the AI system trial found the extra information distracting.

Of course, some may simply say that ensuring a complete team is at the scene of a crime would be more beneficial for an investigation; however, that is not always possible due to budget cuts and time constraints.

As such the use of an AI system that can cut down on the number of people involved at a crime scene without sacrificing on the required thoroughness could potentially provide the answer that many police departments are searching for.

Not only that, but by reducing the number of people at a scene it cuts the potential possibility of contaminating evidence. The use of AI gives people the chance to assess the evidence and discover additional clues without being at the crime scene.

AI could also help in court cases by helping to recreate a scene for a jury, but as Michael Buerger, professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio states, legal challenges are likely to raise when augmented reality (AR) is used in the courts.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

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Apple Patent Reveals Siri-Assisted iMessage P2P Payments Platform

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Apple has filed a patent application for a “virtual assistant in a communication session.” On first glance, application 14/713,410 might scare developers of chat bots and the like, but Apple is specific in the scope of their claims – Siri, their virtual assistant platform, will be able to directly communicate with either user in an iMessage conversation and then be able to act on the instructions given. The other participant of the conversation will not see messages intended to Siri, nor messages sent from Siri to the user activating her. This is somewhat different from current implementations of chat bots and virtual assistants in chat programs, in that the classical chat bot for, say, IRC, would be accessible by most of the users of the chatroom.

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Siri Sharing Location Information Between iMessage Participants

Source: USPTO

Siri will also be able to privately give information requested of the other party, even if the other party has not provided it. In the above image, Siri lets the user know that everyone will arrive within five minutes, clearly flexing the GPS data available to her from the other user’s iPhone. One would assume a massive update to the iMessage user agreement will be necessary, and the privacy implications of voluntarily allowing an AI to be involved in every conversation are clear. However, as shown, the default is for the user to give permission for their location information to be shared. If Siri is ever compromised, so too could every conversation on the famously secure iMessage protocol.

Siri Scheduling Meetings Between Participants

Source: USPTO

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However, Siri is not involved in conversations until she is summoned. She is added as another participant when the user summons her or, presumably, adds her manually. As seen in the image above, she can schedule meetings in addition to her other functionalities. However, perhaps most interesting, and most appetizing for malicious hackers, is the prospect shown in the below image. Users who have their financial details linked to their Apple account (which is to say, most or all users) are able to send money via iMessage at the stroke of a message.

Siri Faciliating P2P Payments in iMessage

Source: USPTO

As you can see, Siri suggests giving the funds via cash, likely due to the small amount. According to the patent application, Siri first figures out what options are available to both party, and then presents options. Both users appear to use Bank of America and Paypal, but Siri recommends cash. Both the illustrations and their descriptions in the application make it unclear which option the user selects, although the logo to the left of the success message indicates that cash was, indeed, used. Also shown are some security features in the actual sending of funds, including a thumb print scan and password. One would assume that Apple Pay will play a role in all this, and speculation has abounded that the new platform is meant to rival the Venmo system.

About a year ago, reports were in circulation that Apple and banks were discussing the implementation of such a system, and indeed this patent was first filed over a year ago. Presumably it will see ratification within the next year or two, supposing that other major AI developers like Microsoft choose not to contest it on some of its broader implications.

Microsoft and Google would surely oppose paying patent licensing fees to Apple in order to instantiate their own AI peer-to-peer payment systems, and for the most part, the patent application seems to indicate that Apple would then have sole dominion over that field. Therefore, with numerous dogs in the fight including Cortana, the future of this patent and/or the platform itself (failure to acquire a patent would not prohibit Apple from creating the platform, necessarily) is still very much up in the air. More is sure to surface in the coming months, and Hacked will keep you posted.

Images from Shutterstock and USPTO.

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