Tech

Making quantum computers reliable

CALCULATING machines that run on quantum bits (known as qubits, for short) are, by some accounts, the future of computation. Quantum computers have the theoretical advantage that they can solve with ease certain mathematical problems, such as the factorisation of large numbers, which are hard or impossible for classical machines. This is possible thanks to a qubit’s ability to remain, ...

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The ramifications of a new type of gene

WHAT’S a gene? You might think biologists had worked that one out by now. But the question is more slippery than may at first appear. The conventional answer is something like, “a piece of DNA that encodes the structure of a particular protein”. Proteins so created run the body. Genes, meanwhile, are passed on in sperm and eggs to carry ...

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Finding more time to detect a tsunami

TSUNAMI are terrible things. And part of their terror lies in their unpredictability. Even when a submarine earthquake that may cause one is detected, the information that is needed to determine whether a giant wave has actually been created takes time to gather. That is time unavailable for the evacuation of coastlines at risk. Contrariwise, issuing a warning when no ...

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For artificial intelligence to thrive, it must explain itself

SCIENCE fiction is littered with examples of intelligent computers, from HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey” to Eddie in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. One thing such fictional machines have in common is a tendency to go wrong, to the detriment of the characters in the story. HAL murders most of the crew of a mission to Jupiter. ...

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Computer programs recognise white men better than black women

SOFTWARE that recognises faces has bounded ahead in recent years, propelled by a boom in a form of artificial intelligence called deep learning (see article). Several firms now offer face recognition as a commercial service, via their respective clouds. The ability to recognise in faces such things as an individual’s sex has improved too, and this is also commercially available. ...

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Home-made drones now threaten conventional armed forces

AN ATTACK on Russian forces in Syria on January 5th by 13 home-made drones is a good example of “asymmetric” warfare. On one side, exquisite high-tech weapons. On the other, cheap-as-chips disposable robot aircraft. Ten of the drones involved attacked a Russian airbase at Khmeimim. The other three went for a nearby naval base at Tartus. Rather than being quadcopters, ...

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Searching for lithium deposits with satellites

CORNWALL, a rugged peninsula that forms Britain’s south-western extremity, has a history of mining going back thousands of years. Its landscape is dotted with the ruins of long-closed tin and copper mines, along with mountains of spoil from the extraction of china clay (also known as kaolin), a business that still clings to life today. Now, though, prospectors are back ...

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A strange fossil spider. Or maybe not

THE picture above is of one of the five known specimens of Chimerarachne yingi, a newly discovered arthropod that lived 100m years ago, during the Cretaceous period. It is preserved in amber and was found in the Hukawng Valley amber mines in northern Myanmar. It, and one of the other specimens, are described in a paper that has just been published ...

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