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Virgin Media study calls for more tech investment in the UK
by Paul Hill
The broadband provider Virgin Media has published a new study that calls for the UK to invest more money in digital technology to boost the economy by £232 billion (6.9%) by 2040. The study was written in collaboration with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).
The new study was done to help examine ways that technology can support the UK’s economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic. While COVID-19 has sped up the adoption of digital solutions, the report’s authors believe that there's still a lot more that could be done. Investment in services and infrastructure could boost the economy by £75 billion, investment in digital health and social care could be worth £33 billion, and changes to justice, central and local government could be worth another £32 billion.
Commenting on the report, Director of Economic Analysis at CEBR Cristian Niculescu-Marcu said:
By investing more money into digital technology, it’s expected that the productivity of the workforce would increase by enabling people to work from home, access to services would be increased, meaning people could more easily educate themselves while businesses can get things done faster. Richer data will be available for AI and analysts which could help the economy in other ways, too.
By Ather Fawaz
Elon Musk claims that his wired-up Neuralink monkey is happy and enjoys playing video games
by Ather Fawaz
Image via The Telegraph Neuralink is Elon Musk's bold initiative to create an interface between a brain and a computer chip. Revealed back in 2017, the company was funded entirely out of Musk's own pocket. While many raised suspicions about the potential misuse of the technology, Musk insists that its raison d'etre is to cure medical injuries related to the spinal cord and brain and improve cognition and memory. Over the years, there have been a bunch of updates on the project. Perhaps most importantly, the chip was successfully implanted in a monkey, allowing it to control a computer with its brain. While the exact nature of this control wasn't entirely clear, Musk dubbed that result as "very positive."
Building on this, Musk gave a couple of added details about Neuralink's tests on monkeys. Bloomberg reports that while speaking to Clubhouse, which is a private social app where users engage in informal conversations, Musk told several thousand listeners that his company has a happy monkey with Neuralink implanted in its skull who enjoys playing video games:
When Neuralink's working was first highlighted, many people raised a concern that implanting a device in the skull would not only be a notoriously difficult procedure, but it might not look all that cosmetically pleasing either. Speaking to Joe Rogan on his podcast, the billionaire clarified that the device would sit flush with the skull. He further added on Clubhouse today that:
Going back to his plugged-in monkeys, he further indicated that their videos could be released in about a month. As with the experiments before, the exact nature and details of the controllability of the computer are unclear. The videos could clear up the confusion, and for those, we shall be on the lookout.
By Ather Fawaz
Gooseberry: A dive into Microsoft's new quantum control chip to handle thousands of qubits
by Ather Fawaz
Image via Microsoft Research Quantum computers provide a promising new model of computation that enables exponential speedups over certain classical algorithms. But their Achilles' heel is a qubit's penchant for decoherence. That is, contemporary qubits are sensitive to changes in their environment and tend to lose their superposition because of it. Quantum superposition, as it turns out, is the central tenet of quantum computation and is vital for achieving the said exponential speedups.
Researchers have been working towards making these qubits more robust to changes in the environment without losing their controllability. A common solution is keeping these qubits in cryogenic environments where temperatures are tantalizingly close to absolute zero (0K), but this mechanical setup becomes a significant limitation in scaling up quantum computers for commercial use-cases. As a result, this remains an open research problem.
To this end, Microsoft in collaboration with a team from the University of Sydney has developed a cryogenic quantum control platform that uses specialized CMOS circuits to address the problem of qubit control and decoherence. In the paper "A Cryogenic Interface for Controlling Many Qubits", the researchers present Gooseberry, a CMOS chip that takes digital inputs and generates many parallel qubit control signals thereby allowing scaled-up support for thousands of qubits—a feat Microsoft deems a "leap ahead from previous technology".
Gooseberry enables this by operating at 100mK while dissipating sufficiently low power so that it does not heat up the qubits themselves. This means that the entire setup does not exceed the cooling capacity of commercially available quantum computing refrigerators. The team also used Gooseberry to create what it is calling the novel general-purpose cryo-compute core.
The proposed setup (shown above) uses a special breed of qubits called Topological Qubits. These qubits are more resilient to decoherence and have hardware-level error protection baked into them, reducing the overhead needed for software-level error correction and enabling meaningful computations to be done with fewer physical qubits. Taking a deeper look into the setup above, the Quantum-Classical interface layers are where the meat of the communication happens. Gooseberry sits abreast with the qubits in the lower stage due to its cryogenic requirements. It is thermally isolated from the qubits and its dissipated heat is drawn into a mixing chamber. Once ensconced near the qubits, Gooseberry converts classical instructions from the cryo-compute core into voltage signals which are then sent to the qubits.
(Left) A simplified version of the thermal conductance model of the Gooseberry chip. (Right) Gooseberry chip (red) sits close to the qubit test chip (blue) and resonator chip (purple). Together the chips manage communication between various parts of a quantum computer. Essentially, they are used to send and receive information to and from every qubit, but in a way that maintains a stable cold environment, which is a significant challenge for a large-scale commercial system with tens of thousands of qubits or more. The stack itself operates at 2K, a temperature that is 20 times warmer than the temperature at which Gooseberry operates. This frees 400 times as much cooling power, allowing the stack itself to dissipate 400 times as much heat. Due to this, Microsoft believes that the stack is capable of general-purpose computing.
Putting Gooseberry to the test, the researchers connected with it a GaAs-based quantum dot (QD) device. Temperature of the components of the chip were measured as the control chip was powered up. As expected, the temperatures remained below 100mK, within the necessary range of frequencies and clock speeds. These results were extrapolated, showing the total system power needed for Gooseberry as a function of frequency and the number of output gates.
Though at present the proposed core can only handle some data and triggering manipulation, temperature freedom opens vital room for more technologies and ideas to work with.
The team at Microsoft and the researchers from the University of Sydney believe that Gooseberry and the bundled cryo-compute core are big steps forward in quantum computing. The cryo-compute core, acting as an interface between source code written by developers, Gooseberry, and qubits, shows that it’s possible to compile and run multiple types of code in a cryogenic environment, allowing for software-configurable communication between qubits and the outside world.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA and Boeing are targeting March 25 for Starliner's second unmanned orbital flight test
by Ather Fawaz
Image via NASA Blogs Boeing and NASA have set March 25, 2021, as the date for Starliner's second unmanned flight test. Dubbed Orbital Flight Test- 2 (OFT-2), this will be the second major flight test for the spacecraft and a key developmental milestone for Boeing in its bid for the NASA Commercial Crew program. Previously, the two were targeting March 29, but the date was brought up due to multiple factors including the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, an opening on the Eastern Range, steady progress on hardware and software, and a docking opportunity on the International Space Station.
This announcement comes after Boeing completed the formal requalification of the Starliner's flight software for the upcoming mission. This test included a full software review to verify that Starliner’s software meets design specifications. A complete, end-to-end simulation of the OFT-2 test flight using flight hardware and software will be conducted prior to the test day as well.
Recently, Boeing also mated the Starliner's reusable crew module on its new service module inside. Engineers are now working to complete outfitting of the vehicle’s interior before loading cargo and conducting final spacecraft checkouts. A series of parachute balloon drop tests were completed last year in December, as well, to gather supplemental performance data on the spacecraft’s parachutes and landing systems before a manned test is conducted sometime in the future.
Image via NASA Blogs Starliner's last orbital flight test took place as far back as December 2019. But on that voyage, the spacecraft experienced a mission timing anomaly that caused it to burn too much fuel to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Consequently, it was put into a lower, stable orbit where the Starliner demonstrated effective key systems and capabilities before returning to Earth. When it touched down on December 22, it became the first American orbital space capsule to land on American soil rather than in an ocean.
By Ather Fawaz
"Mars, here we come!!" exclaims Elon Musk despite explosive ending to Starship's test flight
by Ather Fawaz
Image via Trevor Mahlmann (YouTube) The Starship initiative by SpaceX is meant to make spaceflights to Mars a reality. After a scrubbed launch yesterday courtesy of an auto-abort procedure in the Starship's Raptor engines, once again, SpaceX geared up for a re-run of the test a few hours back. This time, Starship SN8 successfully took flight from its test site in Boca Chica, Texas. A trimmed version of the complete event is embedded below from Trevor Mahlmann's YouTube channel.
Compared to the scrubbed launch, things went better on this one, but not entirely. The gargantuan 160-feet tall rocket, propelled by three Raptor engines, took flight, and intended to rise to a height of 41,000 ft (12,500 m). SpaceX founder Elon Musk called the ascent a success, but it's not clear whether the rocket reached its intended altitude. Nevertheless, after reaching its highest point, the rocket began its journey back to its earthly test site.
Image via Trevor Mahlmann (YouTube) The SN8 prototype performed a spectacular mid-air flipping maneuver to set itself on course to land vertically back to the earth—a feat we've all grown accustomed to seeing with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. The SN8 executed the landing flip successfully, and SpaceX tweeted a closer look at the event as it happened. Impressively, SpaceX claimed that by doing so, the SN8 became the largest spacecraft to perform a landing maneuver of this sort.
But as the rocket prepared to touch down and its boosters tried to slow down its descent to cushion the landing, the rocket's fuel header tank pressure got low. This caused the "touchdown velocity to be high & RUD," during the landing burn, Musk tweeted. Unfortunately, this meant that upon touchdown, the Starship SN8 prototype exploded into flames.
Image via SpaceX Livestream Notwithstanding the fiery, unfortunate event right at the final few moments, SpaceX and Musk hailed the test as a success. For the company, "SN8 did great! Even reaching apogee would’ve been great, so controlling all way to putting the crater in the right spot was epic!!" Musk tweeted, "We got all the data we needed. Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!", he continued; before following up with another tweet exclaiming "Mars, here we come!!"