When the world’s largest defence contractor reportedly paid $10 million for a superfast quantum computer, the Burnaby, B.C., company that built it earned a huge vote of confidence.
Two years after Lockheed Martin acquired the first commercially viable quantum computer from D-Wave Systems, the American aerospace and technology giant is once again throwing its weight behind a technology many thought was still the stuff of science fiction.
My photographer, Steve, squints through a computerized scope squatting atop a big hunting rifle. We’re outdoors at a range just north of Austin, Texas, and the wind is blowing like crazy—enough so that we’re having to dial in more and more wind adjustment on the rifle’s computer. The spotter and I monitor Steve’s sight through an iPad linked to the rifle via Wi-Fi, and we can see exactly what he’s seeing through the scope. Steve lines up on his target downrange—a gently swinging metal plate with a fluorescent orange circle painted at its center—and depresses a button to illuminate it with the rifle’s laser.
Five years ago, an IBM-built supercomputer designed to model the decay of the US nuclear weapons arsenal was clocked at speeds no computer in the history of Earth had ever reached. At more than one quadrillion floating point operations per second (that’s a million billion, or a “petaflop”), the aptly-named Roadrunner was so far ahead of the competition that it earned the #1 slot on the Top 500 supercomputer list in June 2008, November 2008, and one last time in June 2009.
Quantum computing — widely called the holy grail of tech research — has taken another step towards reality, thanks to a group of researchers at Yale University. The team recently developed a new way to change the quantum state of photons, the elementary particles researchers hope to use for quantum memory.
IN the 1960s, mainframe computers posed a significant technological challenge to common notions of privacy. That’s when the federal government started putting tax returns into those giant machines, and consumer credit bureaus began building databases containing the personal financial information of millions of Americans. Many people feared that the new computerized databanks would be put in the service of an intrusive corporate or government Big Brother.
Large parts of our lives are now being monitored and analysed by computers. Log on to Amazon and intelligent data analysis software can recommend a selection of books you might like to read. Far from being a sinister intrusion into people’s privacy, the purpose of these systems is to improve our lives, experts say.
A montage of scribbly cartoon faces, each conveying with distinct personality, would make any parent proud of their child’s artistic creation…except a child didn’t produce these faces; a computer algorithm did.
Scientists hope that one day in the distant future, miniature, medically-savvy computers will roam our bodies, detecting early-stage diseases and treating them on the spot by releasing a suitable drug, without any outside help. To make this vision a reality, computers must be sufficiently small to fit into body cells. Moreover, they must be able to “talk” to various cellular systems. These challenges can be best addressed by creating computers based on biological molecules such as DNA or proteins. The idea is far from outrageous; after all, biological organisms are capable of receiving and processing information, and of responding accordingly, in a way that resembles a computer.
Stroke survivors, as well as patients suffering from other serious conditions, may have to deal with the partial or complete inability to move one or more of their limbs. In the most severe cases, the sufferer may become fully paralyzed and in need of permanent assistance.
The TOBI project (Tools for brain-computer interaction) is financed by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7) and is coordinated by EPFL. Since 2008 it has focused on the use of the signals transmitted by the brain. The electrical activity that takes place in the brain when the patient focuses on a particular task such as lifting an arm is detected by electroencephalography (EEG) through electrodes placed in a cap worn by the patient. Subsequently, a computer reads the signals and turns them into concrete actions as, for instance, moving a cursor on a screen.
The process of cooling materials to cryogenic temperatures is often expensive and messy. One successful method is laser cooling, where photons interact with the atoms in some way to dampen their motion. While laser cooling of gases has been standard procedure for many years, solids are another issue entirely. Success has only come with a few specially prepared materials.