AP Explains: The US push to boost ‘quantum computing’
By MATT O’BRIEN
AP Technology Writer
Monday, September 24
YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. (AP) — A race by U.S. tech companies to build a new generation of powerful “quantum computers” could get a $1.3 billion boost from Congress, fueled in part by lawmakers’ fear of growing competition from China.
Legislation passed earlier in September by the U.S. House of Representatives would create a 10-year federal program to accelerate research and development of the esoteric technology. As the bill moves to the Senate, where it also has bipartisan support, the White House showed its enthusiasm for the effort by holding a quantum summit Monday.
Scientists hope government backing will help attract a broader group of engineers and entrepreneurs to their nascent field. The goal is to be less like the cloistered Manhattan Project physicists who developed the first atomic bombs and more like the wave of tinkerers and programmers who built thriving industries around the personal computer, the internet and smartphone apps.
WHAT’S A QUANTUM COMPUTER?
Describing the inner workings of a quantum computer isn’t easy, even for top scholars. That’s because the machines process information at the scale of elementary particles such as electrons and photons, where different laws of physics apply.
“It’s never going to be intuitive,” said Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “At this microscopic level, things are weird. An electron can be here and there at the same time, at two places at once.”
Conventional computers process information as a stream of bits, each of which can be either a zero or a one in the binary language of computing. But quantum bits, known as qubits, can register zero and one simultaneously.
WHAT CAN IT DO?
In theory, the special properties of qubits would allow a quantum computer to perform calculations at far higher speeds than current supercomputers. That makes them good tools for understanding what’s happening in the realms of chemistry, material science or particle physics.
That speed could aid in discovering new drugs, optimizing financial portfolios and finding better transportation routes or supply chains. It could also advance another fast-growing field, artificial intelligence, by accelerating a computer’s ability to find patterns in large troves of images and other data.
What worries intelligence agencies most about the technology’s potential — and one reason for the heightened U.S. interest — is that a quantum computer could in several decades be powerful enough to break the codes of today’s best cryptography.
Today’s early quantum computers, however, fall well short on that front.
WHERE CAN YOU FIND ONE?
While quantum computers don’t really exist yet in a useful form, you can find some loudly chugging prototypes in a windowless lab about 40 miles north of New York City.
Qubits made from superconducting materials sit in colder-than-outer-space refrigerators at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center. Take off the cylindrical casing from one of the machines and the inside looks like a chandelier of hanging gold cables — all of it designed to keep 20 fragile qubits in an isolated quantum state.
“You need to keep it very cold to make sure the quantum bits only entangle with each other the way you program it, and not with the rest of the universe,” said Scott Crowder, IBM’s vice president of quantum computing.
IBM is competing with Google and startups like Berkeley, California-based Rigetti Computing to get ever-more qubits onto their chips. Microsoft, Intel and a growing number of venture-backed startups are also making big investments. So are Chinese firms Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, which have close ties to the Chinese government.
But qubits are temperamental, and early commercial claims mask the ongoing struggle to control them, either by bombarding them with microwave signals — as IBM and Google do — or with lasers.
“It only works as long as you isolate it and don’t look at it,” said Chris Monroe, a University of Maryland physicist. “It’s a grand engineering challenge.”
WHY DOES QUANTUM COMPUTING NEED FEDERAL SUPPORT?
Monroe is among quantum leaders from academia and industry who gathered in Washington on Monday with officials from the White House science office. Some federal agencies, including the departments of defense and energy, already have longstanding quantum research efforts, but advocates are pushing for more coordination among those agencies and greater collaboration with the private sector.
“The technology that underlies this area comes from some pretty weird stuff that we professors are used to at the university,” said Monroe, who is also the founder of quantum startup IonQ, which floats individual atoms in a vacuum chamber and points lasers to control them. But he said corporate investment can be risky because of the technical challenges and the long wait for a commercial payoff.
“The infrastructure required, the hardware, the personnel, is way too expensive for anyone to go in it alone,” said Prineha Narang, a Harvard University assistant professor of computational materials science.
By investing more in basic discovery and training — as the House-passed National Quantum Initiative Act would do — Narang said the U.S. could expand the ranks of scientists and engineers who build quantum computers and then find commercial applications for them.
WHAT ARE THE INTERNATIONAL IMPLICATIONS?
The potential economic benefits have won bipartisan support for the initiative, which is estimated to cost about $1.3 billion in its first five years. Also pushing action on Capitol Hill is a belief that if the U.S. doesn’t adopt a unified strategy, it could one day be overtaken by other countries.
“China has publicly stated a national goal of surpassing the U.S. during the next decade,” said Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House science, space and technology committee, as he urged his colleagues on the House floor to support the bill to “preserve America’s dominance in the scientific world.”
Smith said he expects the Senate will pass a companion bill before the end of the year.
Chipotle Mexican Grill Expands in Franklin County, Creating More Than 270 New Jobs
Columbus, Ohio – Chipotle Mexican Grill, an American chain of fast casual restaurants specializing in tacos, burritos and bowls made with real ingredients, has announced plans to expand its operations in Franklin County, investing more than $5.5 million and creating more than 270 new jobs. Hiring for communications, development, finance, food safety, human resources, legal, marketing, facilities operations and technology positions is underway.
The company is restructuring its national corporate footprint and plans to consolidate some of its operations in New York and Colorado to one location in Franklin County, growing its presence in the Region. This strategy will enable the company to streamline operations and position itself for future growth.
“We are excited to grow our operations and strengthen our workforce in Central Ohio,” said Brian Niccol, CEO of Chipotle. “The Columbus Region offers us the right combination of a diverse talent pool and innovation to continue Chipotle’s national and global growth.”
Since its founding 25 years ago, Chipotle has grown to nearly 75,000 employees nationally, with fast casual restaurants in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and France. Recently, the company announced the relocation of its headquarters from Denver, Colorado to Newport Beach, California.
“We and our partners at Columbus 2020 are excited Chipotle plans to bring significant operations and more than 270 new jobs to the Region,” said Joe Needham, director for food and agribusiness at JobsOhio. “Chipotle is one of the most recognized brands in the country and this expansion in Ohio will play a major role in its future growth.”
The Columbus Region is home to 196 food and beverage establishments that together generate $2.2 billion in annual economic output. The Region is also a top choice for company headquarters, including fast food giants like Wendy’s and White Castle, as well as 14 Fortune 1000 companies and several Fortune 500 companies. Franklin County is home to more than 1.2 million residents, making it the most populous county in Ohio.
About Chipotle Mexican Grill
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE: CMG) is cultivating a better world by serving responsibly sourced, classically-cooked, real food with wholesome ingredients without added colors, flavors or other additives. Chipotle had more than 2,450 restaurants as of June 30, 2018 in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Germany and is the only restaurant company of its size that owns and operates all its restaurants. With more than 70,000 employees passionate about providing a great guest experience, Chipotle is a longtime leader and innovator in the food industry. Chipotle is committed to making its food more accessible to everyone while continuing to be a brand with a demonstrated purpose as it leads the way in digital, technology and sustainable business practices. Steve Ells, founder and executive chairman, first opened Chipotle starting with a single restaurant in Denver, Colorado in 1993. For more information or to place an order online, visit www.chipotle.com.
About Columbus 2020
As the economic development organization for the Columbus Region, Columbus 2020’s mission is to generate opportunity and build capacity for economic growth across 11 Central Ohio counties. In 2010, hundreds of business and community leaders developed the Columbus 2020 Regional Growth Strategy, and the Columbus Region is now experiencing the strongest decade of growth in its history. The Columbus 2020 team conducts business outreach, promotes the Columbus Region to market-leading companies around the world, conducts customized research to better understand the Columbus Region’s competitiveness, and works to leverage public, private and institutional partnerships. Funding is received from more than 300 private organizations, local governments, academic institutions and JobsOhio. Learn more at ColumbusRegion.com.
KAI RYSSDAL HOSTS NEXT EVENT IN DIALOGUE SERIES
Marketplace Host Discusses the Future of Work
COLUMBUS, OHIO, September 25, 2018 — WOSU Public Media and The John Glenn College of Public Affairs welcome Kai Ryssdal, host and senior editor of Marketplace, as guest host of a panel discussion on the topic of the future of work. The event will take place Tuesday, October 2 at 6 p.m. at the Fawcett Center Auditorium on Ohio State’s campus.
The event is part of WOSU Public Media’s Dialogue series – provocative conversations that address some of the most challenging issues facing our community and country. The series is held in partnership with The Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs.
Ryssdal will be joined by guest panelists Lisa Patt-McDaniel, President and CEO of Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio and Scot McLemore, Talent Acquisition and Deployment, HR and Administrative Division of Honda North America, Inc. The conversation will highlight the increased use of automation, artificial intelligence and global competition, and how new technologies are changing the way people work.
Attendees will have a chance to ask panelists questions during the event. For more details and to purchase tickets, please visit: wosu.org/dialogue.
Kai Ryssdal received a 2012 Emmy for investigative journalism on a PBS Frontline documentary about money in politics called “Big Sky, Big Money.” He has appeared often on CNN, CNBC and CBS News. His written work has been featured in The New York Times and The Atlantic.
Marketplace is the most widely heard program on business and the economy and airs weekdays at 6 p.m. on 89.7 NPR News. It can also be heard through the live audio stream on wosu.org and the free WOSU Public Media Mobile App.
WOSU Public Media is a community-supported, noncommercial network of public radio and television stations, and digital services.
Opinion: Cutting Red Tape and Opening the Market to New Energy Resources
By Charles Hernick
The future is here — if we clear the way for it. That message is loud and clear during National Clean Energy Week, taking place in Washington and with events around the country.
Right now, groundbreaking advancements in energy technology have opened the door to new solutions for our nation’s growing energy demands. Wind, solar, geothermal and advanced nuclear are not merely experiments anymore, they are increasingly practical options for widespread use. Energy storage options are available and ready to deploy. And energy productivity from an economic standpoint is higher than ever thanks to energy efficiency.
Congress must pave the way for these technologies to compete in the marketplace by removing the red tape that hinders innovation and systematically favors traditional energy options.
The key to unlocking the full potential of America’s clean energy revolution is to update regulations to keep up with our fast-paced economy and the rapid growth of technology. We can’t afford to be behind the curve; we have to anticipate where innovation is headed next. It’s no surprise that our current laws are geared toward traditional industries. But leaving these regulations in place stifles innovation in the energy sectors.
We need to shrink the bureaucracy, beginning with Congress passing legislation that would establish more discipline and accountability in the environmental review process to reduce the time of permitting for advanced energy projects. The Council on Environmental Quality has taken steps to speed up permitting, but Congress needs to assure that that everyone is on the same page.
Better coordination of permitting and oversight at the federal, state and local levels can accelerate deployment of advanced energy projects in the United States. These projects help modernize the power grid, encouraging investment in innovative and flexible technologies that bring jobs to all parts of the country, while building a more dynamic and responsive electric power system.
Clean and affordable energy depends on an efficient mechanism for moving bulk energy from generation to local distribution and effectively matching supply and demand. Unfortunately, transmission planning has not kept up with our changing energy requirements. The current legislation surrounding our power grid favors larger investments over the operational benefits of adopting new technology. Too many times, the smart- and often local-option for updating our grids is passed over in favor of traditional transmission methods. Without solid infrastructure to get energy into homes, many of the benefits of clean energy technology will be lost.
All options should be on the table — and that includes non-transmission alternatives. By taking advantage of technology advancements like advanced power flow control, dynamic line rating, advanced conductors, and topology control we can ensure that a reliable energy transmission framework is in place.
We need increased transparency into how these technologies fare against traditional investments in the energy market. Congress should assure that data are collected to shed light on how often new technologies and non-wire alternatives are used. This data would help improve decision making and improve overall energy transmission.
But modernizing the electric power system is not just a “hardware” issue. Utilities face challenges when trying to adapt additional energy capabilities into their operations. They need access to cloud-based software solutions that can be updated with ease as energy processes evolve. Existing rules make it burdensome for utilities to invest in cutting-edge software simply because of how costs are accounted for. Congress should fine tune legislation in this area as well so that utilities can use secure and manage advanced software to modernize their businesses.
Finally, more flexibility needs to be designed into the energy system. Electricity coverage in many states relies on long-term contracts with power plants that require decades to pay back. The grid planning and procurement processes involved in these contracts favor — in many cases — high-emissions energy sources, and don’t allow energy storage or energy efficiency options to compete. This is problematic because in many states, companies are unable to meet their sustainability goals due to the restrictive policies in place, which exclude opportunities for clean energy. Congress should assure local governments have the tools they need to cater to large energy consumers who desire emissions-free energy sources for millions of consumers.
Fortunately, these problems are solvable. Indeed, the options proposed by CRES Forum with Advanced Energy Economy present a host of opportunities for members of Congress to take the lead on the development of clean energy and energy innovation. Legislation that makes room for advanced and sustainable energy solutions during resource planning provides ratepayers with a healthy mix of electricity from renewable and traditional energy sources. These changes would save money for homeowners and businesses.
Opening the market to new energy resources boosts job creation in developing energy sectors nationwide. Taken together, these and other changes could open the door for clean energy and strengthen the economy while achieving critical environmental goals.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Charles Hernick is the director of policy and advocacy at Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Is your religion ready to meet ET?
November 5, 2014
Professor of Astronomy, Vanderbilt University
David Weintraub does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Vanderbilt University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
How will humankind react after astronomers hand over rock-solid scientific evidence for the existence of life beyond the Earth? No more speculating. No more wondering. The moment scientists announce this discovery, everything will change. Not least of all, our philosophies and religions will need to incorporate the new information.
Searching for signs of life
Astronomers have now identified thousands of planets in orbit around other stars. At the current rate of discovery, millions more will be found this century.
Having already found the physical planets, astronomers are now searching for our biological neighbors. Over the next fifty years, they will begin the tantalizing, detailed study of millions of planets, looking for evidence of the presence of life on or below the surfaces or in the atmospheres of those planets.
And it’s very likely that astronomers will find it. Despite the fact that more than one-third of Americans surveyed believe that aliens have already visited Earth, the first evidence of life beyond our planet probably won’t be radio signals, little green men or flying saucers. Instead, a 21st century Galileo, using an enormous, 50-meter-diameter telescope, will collect light from the atmospheres of distant planets, looking for the signatures of biologically significant molecules.
Astronomers filter that light from far away through spectrometers – high-tech prisms that tease the light apart into its many distinct wavelengths. They’re looking for the telltale fingerprints of molecules that would not exist in abundance in these atmospheres in the absence of living things. The spectroscopic data will tell whether a planet’s environment has been altered in ways that point to biological processes at work.
If we aren’t alone, who are we?
With the discovery in a distant planet’s light spectrum of a chemical that could only be produced by living creatures, humankind will have the opportunity to read a new page in the book of knowledge. We will no longer be speculating about whether other beings exist in the universe. We will know that we not alone.
An affirmative answer to the question “Does life exist anywhere else in the universe beyond Earth?” would raise immediate and profoundly important cosmotheological questions about our place in the universe. If extraterrestrial others exist, then my religion and my religious beliefs and practices might not be universal. If my religion is not universally applicable to all extraterrestrial others, perhaps my religion need not be offered to, let alone forced on, all terrestrial others. Ultimately, we might learn some important lessons applicable here at home just from considering the possibility of life beyond our planet.
In my book, I investigated the sacred writings of the world’s most widely practiced religions, asking what each religion has to say about the uniqueness or non-uniqueness of life on Earth, and how, or if, a particular religion would work on other planets in distant parts of the universe.
Let’s examine a seemingly simple yet exceedingly complex theological question: could extraterrestrials be Christians? If Jesus died in order to redeem humanity from the state of sin into which humans are born, does the death and resurrection of Jesus, on Earth, also redeem other sentient beings from a similar state of sin? If so, why are the extraterrestrials sinful? Is sin built into the very fabric of the space and time of the universe? Or can life exist in parts of the universe without being in a state of sin and therefore without the need of redemption and thus without the need for Christianity? Many different solutions to these puzzles involving Christian theology have been put forward. None of them yet satisfy all Christians.
Mormon scripture clearly teaches that other inhabited worlds exist and that “the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (Doctrines and Covenants 76:24). The Earth, however, is a favored world in Mormonism, because Jesus, as understood by Mormons, lived and was resurrected only on Earth. In addition, Mormon so-called intelligences can only achieve their own spiritual goals during their lives on Earth, not during lifetimes on other worlds. Thus, for Mormons, the Earth might not be the physical center of the universe but it is the most favored place in the universe. Such a view implies that all other worlds are, somehow, lesser worlds than Earth.
Bahá’í without bias
Members of the Bahá’í Faith have a view of the universe that has no bias for or against the Earth as a special place or for against humans as a special sentient species. The principles of the Bahá’í Faith – unifying society, abandoning prejudice, equalizing opportunities for all people, eliminating poverty – are about humans on Earth. The Bahá’í faithful would expect any creatures anywhere in the universe to worship the same God as do humans, but to do so according to their own, world-specific ways.
Light years from Mecca
The pillars of the faith for Muslims require the faithful to pray five times every day while facing Mecca. Because determining the direction of Mecca correctly could be extremely difficult on a quickly spinning planet millions of light years from Earth, practicing the same faith on another world might not make any sense. Yet the words of the Qu’ran tell us that “Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth do prostrate themselves to Allah” (13:15). Can terrestrial Muslims accept that the prophetically revealed religion of Muhammad is intended only for humans on earth and that other worlds would have their own prophets?
Astronomers as paradigm-shatterers
Philosophers and scientists have forced worldviews to adapt in the past.
At certain moments throughout history, astronomers’ discoveries have exerted an outsized influence on human culture. Ancient Greek astronomers unflattened the Earth – though many then chose to forget this knowledge. Renaissance scholars Copernicus and Galileo put the Earth in motion around the Sun and moved humans away from the center of the universe. In the 20th century, Edwin Hubble eliminated the very idea that the universe has any center at all. He demonstrated that what the universe has is a beginning in time and that, bizarrely, the universe, the very fabric of three-dimensional space, is expanding.
Clearly, when astronomers offer the world bold new ideas, they don’t mess around. Another such paradigm-shattering new idea may be in the light arriving at our telescopes now.
No matter which (a)theistic background informs your theology, you may have to wrestle with the data astronomers will be bringing to houses of worship in the very near future. You will need to ask: Is my God the God of the entire universe? Is my religion a terrestrial or a universal religion? As people work to reconcile the discovery of extrasolar life with their theological and philosophical worldviews, adapting to the news of life beyond Earth will be discomfiting and perhaps even disruptive.