Tuesday, March 7, 2017

IBM is Rolling out the World's First Universal 'Quantum Computing' Service

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We're all excited about the potential of quantum computers - devices that will harness strange quantum phenomena to perform calculations far more powerful than anything conventional computers can do today.

Unfortunately, we still don't have a tangible, large-scale quantum computer to freak out over just yet, but IBM is already preparing for a future when we do, by announcing that they're rolling out a universal 'quantum-computing' service later this year.

The service will be called IBM Q, and it will give people access to their early-stage quantum computer over the internet to use as they wish - for a fee.

The big elephant in the room is that, for now, IBM's quantum computer only runs on five qubits, so it's not much faster (if any faster) than a conventional computer.

But their technology is improving all the time. The company has announced it hopes to get to 50 qubits in the next few years, and in the meantime, it's building the online systems and software so that anyone in the world can access the full power of its quantum computer when it's ready. IBM Q is a crucial part of that.

QuantumComputing. The three types of quantum computing. Credit: ExtremeTech

Unlike conventional computers, which use 'bits' of either 1 or 0 to code information, quantum computers use a strange phenomenon known as superposition, which allows an atom to be in both the 1 and 0 position at the same time. These quantum bits, or qubits, give quantum computers far more processing power than traditional computers.

But right now, qubits are hard to make and manipulate, even for more the most high-tech labs. Which is why IBM only has five qubits working together in a computer, despite decades of research. And those qubits have to be cooled to temperatures just above absolute zero in order to function.

Companies such as Google, and multiple university research labs, have also built primitive quantum computers, and Google has even used theirs to simulate a molecule for the first time, showing the potential of this technology as it scales up.

But instead of just focussing on the hardware itself, IBM is also interested in the software around quantum computers, and how to give the public access to them.

"IBM has invested over decades to growing the field of quantum computing and we are committed to expanding access to quantum systems and their powerful capabilities for the science and business communities," said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director for IBM Research.

IBM Q universal quantum computer Credit: YouTube

The system builds on the company's Quantum Experience, which was rolled out last year for free to approved researchers. IBM Q will use similar cloud software, but will also be open to businesses - and, more importantly, any programmers and developers who want to start experimenting with writing code for quantum systems.

The goal is to have a functional, commercial, cloud-based service ready to go when a fully realised quantum computer does come online.

"Putting the machine on the cloud is an obvious thing to do," physicist Christopher Monroe from the University of Maryland, who isn't involved with IBM, told Davide Castelvecchi over at Scientific American. "But it takes a lot of work in getting a system to that level."

The challenge is that while, on paper, a five-qubit machine is pretty easy to simulate and program for, real qubits don't quite work that way, because you're working with atoms that can change their behaviour based on environmental conditions

"The real challenge is whether you can make your algorithm work on real hardware that has imperfections," Isaac Chuang, a physicist at MIT who doesn't work with IBM, told Scientific American.

In their announcement, IBM said that in the past few months, more than 40,000 users have already used Quantum Experience to build and run 275,000 test applications, and 15 research papers have been published based off of it so far.

And they predict that in future, the quantum service will become even more useful.

"Quantum computers will deliver solutions to important problems where patterns cannot be seen because the data doesn't exist and the possibilities that you need to explore to get to the answer are too enormous to ever be processed by classical computers," said IBM in its announcement.

There's no word as yet on how much IBM Q will cost to use, or how users will be approved. But we have to admit it'd be pretty cool to be among the first to play around with quantum computing.



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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Sciencealert . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

It was discovered a huge reservoir of melted carbon deep beneath Earth's surface in the Western United States

Linda M. Foster/Shutterstock.com

Scientists have used the world's largest array of seismic sensors to map what lies deep beneath Earth's surface, and have discovered an unidentified reservoir of melting carbon under the United States, covering an area of 1.8 million square km (695,000 square miles).

The find, which is located roughly 350 km (217 miles) beneath the Western US, challenges what researchers have assumed about how much carbon is trapped inside the planet. Turns out, there's far more than anyone had predicted.

The reservoir is far too deep for the researchers to physically get to, but a team from the University of Royal Holloway London used a vast network of 583 seismic sensors that pick up on strange vibrations generated in Earth's upper mantle to identify it.

The upper mantle is the layer that sits directly under our planet's crust, and extends to a depth of about 410 km (250 miles). 

Within this layer, temperatures can span from 500 to 900°C (932 to 1,652°F) near the crust, and can reach a hellish 4,000°C (7,230°F) in the lower mantle closer to the central core.

That ridiculous heat is constantly melting carbonates - a large group of minerals such as magnesite and calcite that all contain a specific carbonate ion - and this molten carbon is thought to be responsible for the conductivity of the mantle.

The melting process also produces a unique signature of seismic patterns, which can be read by sensors on the surface by converting ground motion into an electronic signal. 

Based on what these sensors have told us, researchers now suspect that Earth's upper mantle could contain up to 100 trillion metric tonnes of melted carbon - far more than expected.

The team now thinks that the massive carbon reservoir they've identified could have formed when one of the tectonic plates that make up the Pacific Ocean was forced under the western part of the US, and has provided more fuel for the upper mantle fire.

"It would be impossible for us to drill far enough down to physically 'see' Earth's mantle, so using this massive group of sensors we have to paint a picture of it using mathematical equations to interpret what is beneath us," says one of the team, Sash Hier-Majumder.

"Under the western US is a huge underground partially-molten reservoir of liquid carbonate. It is a result of one of the tectonic plates of the Pacific Ocean forced underneath the western US, undergoing partial melting, thanks to gasses like CO2 and H2O contained in the minerals dissolved in it."

While none of that will affect us much today - it's 350 km deep, after all - one day, it will, and in the most dramatic fashion.

As Hier-Majumder explains, it's expected that the contents of the melted carbon reservoir will slowly make their way up to the surface via volcanic eruptions. 

These eruptions are how carbon from inside our planet makes its way into the atmosphere - something that wouldn't usually be a problem, if we weren't already emitting roughly 40 billion tonnes of the stuff every year.

"We might not think of the deep structure of Earth as linked to climate change above us, but this discovery not only has implications for subterranean mapping, but also for our future atmosphere," says Hier-Majumder. 

"Releasing only 1 percent of this CO2 into the atmosphere will be the equivalent of burning 2.3 trillion barrels of oil. The existence of such deep reservoirs show how important is the role of deep Earth in the global carbon cycle."

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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Sciencealert . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Another step into the future: A new kind of magnet recently discovered, Will revolutionize today's technology

This is a spectrum of the three layer graphene as a function of magnetic field and density of electrons. Credit: Biswajit Datta, Mandar Deshmukh
Scientists have discovered the magnetism of electrons in three layers of graphene. This study reveals a new kind of magnet and provides insight on how electronic devices using graphene could be made for fundamental studies as well as various applications.

Metals have a large density of electrons and to be able to see the wave nature of electrons one has to make metallic wires that are only a few atoms wide. However, in graphene -- one atom thick graphite -- the density of electrons is much smaller and can be changed by making a transistor. As a result of the low density of electrons the wave nature of electrons, as described by quantum mechanics, is easier to observe in graphene.

Graphene is an atomic-scale hexagonal lattice made of carbon atoms. Credit: wikipedia

Often in metals like copper the electron is scattered every 100 nanometers, a distance roughly 1000 times smaller than the diameter of human hair, due to impurities and imperfections. Electrons can travel much longer in graphene, up to distances of 10 micrometer, a distance roughly 10 times smaller than the diameter of human hair. This is realized by sandwiching graphene between layers of boron nitride. The layers of boron nitride have few imperfections to impede the flow of electrons in graphene.

Once electrons travel long distances, implying there are few imperfections, one notices the faint whispers of electrons "talking to each other." Reducing the imperfections is akin to making a room quiet to enable the faint whispers of electronic interactions to develop between many electrons.

Graphene becomes superconductive Credit: Science Daily


In a study, led by PhD student Biswajit Datta, Professor Mandar Deshmukh's group at TIFR realized just this kind of silence allowing electronic interactions to be observed in three layers of graphene. The study reveals a new kind of magnet and provides insight on how electronic devices using graphene could be made for fundamental studies as well as applications. This work discovers the magnetism of electrons in three layers of graphene at a low temperature of -272 Celsius. The magnetism of electrons arises from the coordinated "whispers" between many electrons.

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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Sciencedaily . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Alan Mathison Turing, the mathematical genius and father of the computer that deciphered the famous Enigma code. A conviction for 'crime' of being gay brought death to 42 years.


How very sad it is when the prejudices of a society result in the promulgation of harsh laws within a system of justice which results in persons being treated most unjustly. Often the sentence imposed for the “crime” had widespread ramifications of devastating proportions. Just so is the tale of a renowned mathematician, the man often called the father of the modern computer, Alan Mathison Turing.


Turing was born on 23rd June 1912 of parents who, fairly typical of the time, travelled between England and India for most of his early life. He thus lived mostly with foster parents and at various boarding schools so he did not experience an ordinary family life. He was not much of a scholar but interested in science and mathematics, which was an embarrassment to his parents – for gentlemen of the time were required to study the classics and languages. It was only when he went to Kings College that he finally found the comfort of being accepted and experienced a sense of belonging.


Passport photo of Alan Turing at aged 16.
Turing was usually casually dressed and often looked rather scruffy. He chewed his nails and tended to stutter although those who knew him well noted that it seemed he used to think carefully before he spoke. At college, he enjoyed rowing and sailing.

He became a very good marathon runner and won a number of races. At one of the marathons he ran in 1948, he clocked a time just 11 minutes short of the Olympic winning runners – not a result to be sneezed at. He often used to run the 10 or so miles between his two places of work and explained that “I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my head is by running hard”

While having a brilliant mathematical mind, and furthering his studies in various areas of physics, biology, chemistry and even neurology, he was also fascinated by Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. However, by far his most far-reaching works were with regard to computer science. He created the universal Turing machine which was the basis of the first computer.

His exceptional expertise at being able to think “out of the box” and his ability to come up with ideas that had not been considered by more logical thinkers, were utilised during the WWII, at Bletchley Park. This secretive centre worked ceaselessly at breaking enemy codes.


Turing was instrumental in the cracking of, amongst others, one of the Nazi’s most damaging encryption codes, the Enigma. This enabled Britain to decode important, strategic German messages, thereby saving thousands of lives, in Europe and of those who were at sea. It is thought to have shortened the war by at least two years.


A complete and working replica of a bombe at the National Codes Centre at Bletchley Park. Photo Credit.
By 1950, his work, much of which was aimed at how machines can ‘think’, resulted in the development of a test for artificial intelligence which is still used today. Soon afterwards, he broke new ground in the area of morphogenesis which introduced another field of study – one of mathematical biology. He was an unusually brilliant man.

Then came personal disaster. While Turing had not kept his homosexuality a secret from his close friends and workmates, it was strictly against the law and governed by the Criminal Law amendment Act of 1885. He was arrested in 1952 and charged with indecency, for which he was subsequently convicted, having himself admitted to the charges while insisting that it shouldn’t be against the law.


The sentence imposed was one of chemical castration whereby a series of injections were administered which would cause him to become impotent. It was dreadful enough to be submitted to public humiliation but even worse was to come. Turin, now a convicted homosexual was deemed a security risk and so his Security Clearance was revoked, essentially cutting him off from the passion of his life – his work. It would seem that these two blows were just too much for him to deal with and were probably the reason for his suicide on 7th June 1954, at the age of 42.


Turing by Stephen Kettle at Bletchley Park, commissioned by Sidney Frank, built from half a million pieces of Welsh slate. Photo Credit.
Society has changed radically from that time and resultantly a number of very old and unjust laws have been changed. “The fact that it was common practice for decades reflected the intolerance of the times … but it does not make it any less wrong and we should apologize for it,” was what Robert Hannigan ( Head of Britain’s digital espionage agency) said in a speech at the conference organised in support of all gays and of their rights.

He apologised for the tremendous damage caused to homosexuals by such policies. In his speech he paid particular tribute to Turing as — “a problem-solver who was not afraid to think differently and radically.”

Turing’s story, as told in the film about him called ‘The Imitation Game’, shows today’s generation just what a genius he was. His Turing Machine has been described as the “foundation of the modern theory of computation and computability. “

Turing was granted a posthumous pardon by Queen Elizabeth II, under the “Royal Prerogative of Mercy,” after the request was submitted by Justice Secretary Chris Greyling.   One cannot turn back the clock but one should be glad the Turing memory has been so “cleansed”, even though more than 60 years later.


One wonders, however, what Alan Turing would have achieved and what legacy he would have left the world, had the times been more forgiving and had he lived his life to a ripe old age.


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