Tech News

Microsoft-Led Team Retracts Disputed Quantum-Computing Paper

science - Posted On:2021-03-08 15:59:59 Source: slashdot

A Microsoft-led team of physicists has retracted a high-profile 2018 paper that the company touted as a key breakthrough in the creation of a practical quantum computer, a device that promises vast new computing power by tapping quantum mechanics. From a report: The retracted paper came from a lab headed by Microsoft physicist Leo Kouwenhoven at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. It claimed to have found evidence of Majorana particles, long-theorized but never conclusively detected. The elusive entities are at the heart of Microsoft's approach to quantum computing hardware, which lags behind that of others such as IBM and Google. WIRED reported last month that other physicists had questioned the discovery after receiving fuller data from the Delft team. Sergey Frolov, from the University of Pittsburgh, and Vincent Mourik, at University of New South Wales, in Australia, said it appeared that data that cast doubt on the Majorana claim was withheld. Monday, the original authors published a retraction note in the prestigious journal Nature, which published the earlier paper, admitting the whistleblowers were right. Data was "unnecessarily corrected," it says. The note also says that repeating the experiment revealed a miscalibration error that skewed all the original data, making the Majorana sighting a mirage. "We apologize to the community for insufficient scientific rigor in our original manuscript," the researchers wrote. Frolov and Mourik's concerns also triggered an investigation at Delft, which Monday released a report from four physicists not involved in the project. It concludes that the researchers did not intend to mislead but were "caught up in the excitement of the moment," and selected data that fit their own hopes for a major discovery. The report sums up that breach of the norms of the scientific method with a quote from physics Nobel laureate Richard Feynman: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself -- and you are the easiest person to fool." The Delft lab released raw data from its 2018 experiment Monday. Frolov and Mourik say that it should also release full data from its Majorana hunting project going back until 2010 for others to analyze. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Programmable optical quantum computer arrives late, steals the show

Science - Posted On:2021-03-08 14:45:00 Source: arstechnica

Excuse me a moment—I am going to be bombastic, overexcited, and possibly annoying. The race is run, and we have a winner in the future of quantum computing. IBM, Google, and everyone else can turn in their quantum computing cards and take up knitting.

OK, the situation isn’t that cut and dried yet, but a recent paper has described a fully programmable chip-based optical quantum computer. That idea presses all my buttons, and until someone restarts me, I will talk of nothing else.

There is no question that quantum computing has come a long way in 20 years. Two decades ago, optical quantum technology looked to be the way forward. Storing information in a photon's quantum states (as an optical qubit) was easy. Manipulating those states with standard optical elements was also easy, and measuring the outcome was relatively trivial. Quantum computing was just a new application of existing quantum experiments, and those experiments had shown the ease of use of the systems and gave optical technologies the early advantage.

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Fully Vaccinated Individuals Can Socialize Without Masks, Distancing, CDC Says

science - Posted On:2021-03-08 14:45:00 Source: slashdot

schwit1 writes: Americans who have received the full COVID-19 vaccine can gather with vaccinated grandparents or friends without wearing masks or keeping their distance, according to new CDC guidance announced Monday, and those grandparents can visit with and hug family members that aren't vaccinated as long as they don't have underlying medical conditions that put them at high risk for COVID-19. The new guidance also says that vaccinated individuals don't need to quarantine or get tested if they come in contact with someone positive for COVID-19 and don't have any symptoms. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Egyptologists translate the oldest-known mummification manual

Science - Posted On:2021-03-08 14:29:59 Source: arstechnica

Egyptologists have recently translated the oldest-known mummification manual. Translating it required solving a literal puzzle; the medical text that includes the manual is currently in pieces, with half of what remains in the Louvre Museum in France and half at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. A few sections are completely missing, but what’s left is a treatise on medicinal herbs and skin diseases, especially the ones that cause swelling. Surprisingly, one section of that text includes a short manual on embalming.

For the text’s ancient audience, that combination might have made sense. The manual includes recipes for resins and unguents used to dry and preserve the body after death, along with explanations for how and when to use bandages of different shapes and materials. Those recipes probably used some of the same ingredients as ointments for living skin, because plants with antimicrobial compounds would have been useful for preventing both infection and decay.

The Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg, as the ancient medical text is now called, is the oldest mummification manual known so far, and it’s one of just three that Egyptologists have ever found. Based on the style of the characters used to write the text, it probably dates to about 1450 BCE, which makes it more than 1,000 years older the other two known mummification texts. But the embalming compounds it describes are remarkably similar to the ones embalmers used 2,000 years earlier in pre-Dynastic Egypt: a mixture of plant oil, an aromatic plant extract, a gum or sugar, and heated conifer resin.

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Fully vaccinated Americans can safely visit unvaccinated family, CDC says

Science - Posted On:2021-03-08 12:45:00 Source: arstechnica

People who are fully vaccinated can safely have private visits with unvaccinated people who have a low risk for severe COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced today in highly anticipated guidance for vaccinated people.

In the guidance, the CDC considers people fully vaccinated once they have waited two weeks after their second dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or the Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Though it may still be possible for fully vaccinated people to contract the pandemic coronavirus, have an asymptomatic or mild infection, and possibly spread the virus, the risk is considered low.

As such, once people are fully vaccinated, they can meet in private indoor settings—such as a home—with other fully vaccinated people without masks and without physical distancing.

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SpaceX reveals the grand extent of its starport plans in South Texas

Science - Posted On:2021-03-08 09:59:57 Source: arstechnica

As part of a federal review process for its plans in South Texas, details of SpaceX's proposed spaceport have been made public. They were posted late last week in a public notice from the US Army Corps of engineers, which is soliciting public comments on the changes.

Most notably, the new documents include a detailed architectural drawing of the multi-acre site at the southern tip of Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico. Among the major hardware that exists, or will be built, includes:

What is striking about this architectural drawing is its compact nature, largely because SpaceX has limited land to work with at the facility, and must include stormwater ponds to mitigate against flooding. All of these facilities will be concentrated within a couple of dozen acres, which is in stark contrast to more expansive launch sites in Florida, at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

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Remembering Allan McDonald the Engineer Who Said 'No' To the Challenger Launch

science - Posted On:2021-03-07 19:59:59 Source: slashdot

Long-time Slashdot reader Nkwe shares an article from NPR: His job was to sign and submit an official form. Sign the form, he believed, and he'd risk the lives of the seven astronauts set to board the spacecraft the next morning. Refuse to sign, and he'd risk his job, his career, and the good life he'd built for his wife and four children. "And I made the smartest decision I ever made in my lifetime," McDonald told me. "I refused to sign it. I just thought we were taking risks we shouldn't be taking...." Now, 35 years after Challenger, McDonald's family reports that he died Saturday in Ogden, Utah, after suffering a fall and brain damage. He was 83 years old. "There are two ways in which [McDonald's] actions were heroic," recalls Mark Maier, who directs a leadership program at Chapman University and produced a documentary about the Challenger launch decision. One was on the night before the launch, refusing to sign off on the launch authorization and continuing to argue against it," Maier says. "And then afterwards in the aftermath, exposing the cover-up that NASA was engaged in...." He later co-authored one of the most definitive accounts of the Challenger disaster: Truth, Lies, and O-Rings — Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. In retirement, McDonald became a fierce advocate of ethical decision-making and spoke to hundreds of engineering students, engineers and managers. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Facebook’s new AI teaches itself to see with less human help

Science - Posted On:2021-03-07 07:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Most artificial intelligence is still built on a foundation of human toil. Peer inside an AI algorithm and you’ll find something constructed using data that was curated and labeled by an army of human workers.

Now, Facebook has shown how some AI algorithms can learn to do useful work with far less human help. The company built an algorithm that learned to recognize objects in images with little help from labels.

The Facebook algorithm, called Seer (for SElf-supERvised), fed on more than a billion images scraped from Instagram, deciding for itself which objects look alike. Images with whiskers, fur, and pointy ears, for example, were collected into one pile. Then the algorithm was given a small number of labeled images, including some labeled “cats.” It was then able to recognize images as well as an algorithm trained using thousands of labeled examples of each object.

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Elon Musk Plans New City in Texas - Called Starbase and Led by 'The Doge'

science - Posted On:2021-03-06 16:45:00 Source: slashdot

schwit1 shares an article from Entrepreneur: If anyone has the ability to surprise the world with his ambitious projects, it is Elon Musk . The billionaire announced that he is building a new city in Texas to be called Starbase, around the rocket launch site of his company SpaceX... Later, he alluded to his project to colonize the red planet, hinting that Starbase would be just the beginning to go further. "From there to Mars. And hence the Stars," detailed the CEO of Tesla. The tycoon, who is currently the second richest person in the world , said that his city will occupy an area "much larger" than Boca Chica , a place that houses a launch site for SpaceX and where the company is building its Starship rocket... Eddie Trevio, judge for Cameron County, Texas, confirmed that SpaceX informed the authorities of Elon Musk's intention: to incorporate Boca Chica into the city of Starbase . The official noted that the mogul and his company must comply with all state statutes of incorporation and clarified that the county will process any petition in accordance with the law. Musk also tweeted that the leader of his new city "shall be The Doge," linking to a Wikipedia definition for the Venetian word doge (meaning either "military commander" or "spiritual leader".) Musk made his remark in response to a Twitter user named Wootiez, who had asked him whether his new city would be dog friendly. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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How CRISPR Can Create More Ethical Eggs

science - Posted On:2021-03-06 12:45:00 Source: slashdot

Slashdot reader wooloohoo shares a new article from Cornell's Alliance for Science, a group who gives its mission as correcting misinformation and countering conspiracy theories slowing progress on issues including synthetic biology and agricultural innovations: There are two types of chickens: the broilers that we eat and the layers that produce the eggs. The layers don't have enough meat to make them useful for human consumption and since only hens can lay eggs, that leaves the male layers useless. As a result, billions of newly hatched male layer chicks are killed each year. Now the Israeli ag-tech startup eggXYt has found a way to humanely address this dilemma through the use of CRISPR — the gene editing technique that allows scientists to make targeted, specific genetic tweaks... By using CRISPR, eggXYt's scientists can edit the genes of chickens to make them lay sex-detectable eggs... The global egg industry saves the costs and the ethical conundrum of killing half of its product and billions of additional eggs are added to the global market to help meet growing demand. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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'Gravity Portals' Could Morph Dark Matter Into Ordinary Matter

science - Posted On:2021-03-06 02:14:58 Source: slashdot

fahrbot-bot shares a report from Live Science: Astrophysicists have an idea that could help to solve two mysteries: the reason for the bizarre abundance of super-high-energy radiation shooting from the center of our galaxy and the identity of invisible stuff called dark matter that has perplexed the world since its discovery some 50 years ago. And the idea has a super-cool name: gravity portals. The idea goes, when two dark matter particles (whatever they are) get sucked into one of these portals, they obliterate each other and spit out shockingly strong gamma rays. This line of thinking can potentially explain why the galactic center -- where dense clusters of dark matter are thought to lurk -- is full of gamma rays; and it could shed light on how the dark matter behaves and might occasionally interact with the normal matter of our universe. The study has been published to arXiv, but has yet to be peer-reviewed. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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CDC Study Says On-Premises Dining Linked To COVID-19 Spread

science - Posted On:2021-03-05 21:14:58 Source: slashdot

Thelasko shares a new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NPR reports on the key findings: As several states face criticism for lifting coronavirus-related public health restrictions, a study published Friday confirms that state-imposed mask mandates and on-premises dining restrictions help slow the spread of COVID-19. The study, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, looked at the impact of state-issued mask mandates and on-premises dining on county-level COVID-19 cases and deaths between March 1 and Dec. 31. It found that mask mandates were associated with "statistically significant" decreases in daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days of implementation. In contrast, allowing on-premises dining was associated with an increase in daily cases 41 to 100 days after reopening, and an increase in daily death growth rates after 61 to 100 days. "Policies that require universal mask use and restrict any on-premises restaurant dining are important components of a comprehensive strategy to reduce exposure to and transmission of SARS-CoV-2," the study authors wrote. "Such efforts are increasingly important given the emergence of highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants in the United States." The study says its analysis did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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French Stargazers Hunt for Meteorite the Size of Apricot

science - Posted On:2021-03-05 13:15:01 Source: slashdot

France's ranks of amateur astronomers have been urged to help find an apricot-size meteorite that fell to Earth last weekend in the south-west of the country. From a report: The rock, estimated to weigh 150 grams (just over five ounces), was captured plunging through the atmosphere by cameras at an astronomy education facility in Mauraux, and landed at exactly 10.43pm on Saturday near Aiguillon, about 100km (62 miles) from Bordeaux. The site is part of the Vigie-Ciel (Sky Watch) project of around 100 cameras in the Fireball Recovery and InterPlanetary Observation Network (FRIPON), which aims to detect and collect the 10 or so meteorites that fall on France each year. "Meteorites are relics of the solar system's creation, with the benefit of never being exposed to the elements," said Mickael Wilmart of the A Ciel Ouvert (Open Sky) astronomy education association that operates the Mauraux observatory. "A fresh meteorite like this, which fell just a few days ago, hasn't been altered by the Earth's environment and therefore contains very precious information for scientists," he said. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Under intense pressure, WHO skips summary report on coronavirus origin

Science - Posted On:2021-03-05 13:00:00 Source: arstechnica

Facing intense international pressure and criticism, the World Health Organization has abandoned plans to release a summary report of its investigation into the possible origin of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Instead, the health agency of the United Nations is skipping the summary report and plans to release a full report the week of March 15. The WHO had previously said it would release a summary report in mid-February.

“By definition, a summary report does not have all the details,” Dr. Ben Embarek, a WHO expert who led the investigation, told The Wall Street Journal. “So since there [is] so much interest in this report, a summary only would not satisfy the curiosity of the readers.”

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'Hovering Ship' Photographed Off Cornish Coast By Walker

science - Posted On:2021-03-05 12:30:01 Source: slashdot

Images of what appears to be a hovering ship have been captured as the result of a rare optical illusion off the coast of England. From a report: David Morris took a photo of the ship near Falmouth, Cornwall. BBC meteorologist David Braine said the "superior mirage" occurred because of "special atmospheric conditions that bend light". He said the illusion is common in the Arctic, but can appear "very rarely" in the UK during winter. Mr Morris said he was "stunned" after capturing the picture while looking out to sea from the hamlet of Gillan. Mr Braine said: "Superior mirages occur because of the weather condition known as a temperature inversion, where cold air lies close to the sea with warmer air above it. "Since cold air is denser than warm air, it bends light towards the eyes of someone standing on the ground or on the coast, changing how a distant object appears. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Rocket Report: SpaceX explains landing failure, More on New Glenn delays

Science - Posted On:2021-03-05 07:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Welcome to Edition 3.35 of the Rocket Report! There is an incredible amount of launch news this week, but I want to start with this: my new book on the origins of SpaceX, Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX, was published this week. Early reviews have been tremendous, and if you're at all interested in the company, or just want a rollicking story, please check it out.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Rocket Lab unveils plans for larger rocket. This week, the US rocket company said it had plans to go public, as well as develop a "Neutron" rocket capable of launching as much as 8 tons to low Earth orbit. "Rocket Lab solved small launch with Electron. Now we're unlocking a new category with Neutron," said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, in a news release. The company plans an initial launch in 2024 but is only now beginning work on a new engine.

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Indian State Government Website Exposed COVID-19 Lab Test Results

science - Posted On:2021-03-05 05:14:57 Source: slashdot

A security flaw in a website run by the government of West Bengal in India exposed the lab results of at least hundreds of thousands of residents, though likely millions, who took a COVID-19 test. TechCrunch reports: The website is part of the West Bengal government's mass coronavirus testing program. Once a COVID-19 test result is ready, the government sends a text message to the patient with a link to its website containing their test results. But security researcher Sourajeet Majumder found that the link containing the patient's unique test identification number was scrambled with base64 encoding, which can be easily converted using online tools. Because the identification numbers were incrementally sequenced, the website bug meant that anyone could change that number in their browser's address bar and view other patients' test results. The test results contain the patient's name, sex, age, postal address and if the patient's lab test result came back positive, negative or inconclusive for COVID-19. Majumder told TechCrunch that he was concerned a malicious attacker could scrape the site and sell the data. "This is a privacy violation if somebody else gets access to my private information," he said. Majumder reported the vulnerability to India's CERT, the country's dedicated cybersecurity response unit, which acknowledged the issue in an email. He also contacted the West Bengal government's website manager, who did not respond. TechCrunch independently confirmed the vulnerability and also reached out to the West Bengal government, which pulled the website offline, but did not return our requests for comment. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Meet Maxwell’s gambling demon—smart enough to quit while it’s ahead

Science - Posted On:2021-03-04 18:00:00 Source: arstechnica

Entropy (aka the second law of thermodynamics) is a harsh mistress. If you think of the universe as a cosmic casino, the laws of thermodynamics amount to the house edge: you can't win, you can't break even, and—barring opening a portal to an alternate universe with different physical laws—you can't get out of the game. You just have to keep playing, and hopefully come up with successful strategies to minimize your losses as much as possible—and maybe even come out ahead occasionally, at least in the short term.

That's the essence of a new paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, updating a classic 19th century thought experiment known as Maxwell's demon, which provides a potential loophole to subvert the second law—at least temporarily. Now physicists have proposed a gambling version of the demon playing a slot machine, unable to control when the machine pays out (in terms of free energy available for work), but able to choose when to stop playing to maximize its "winnings." The research might one day lead to improved efficiency of microscopic heat engines and motors.

As we've reported previously, around 1870, James Clerk Maxwell envisioned a tiny imp capable of creating order out of disorder in a closed container filled with gas. The imp accomplished this by making heat flow from a cold compartment to a hot one in apparent violation of the second law. The two compartments would be separated by a wall with a shutter covering a pinhole just large enough for a gas molecule to pass through. 

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Most Life on Earth Will Be Killed by Lack of Oxygen in a Billion Years

science - Posted On:2021-03-04 14:00:00 Source: slashdot

One billion years from now, Earth's atmosphere will contain very little oxygen, making it uninhabitable for complex aerobic life. From a report: Today, oxygen makes up around 21 per cent of Earth's atmosphere. Its oxygen-rich nature is ideal for large and complex organisms, like humans, that require the gas to survive. But early in Earth's history, oxygen levels were much lower -- and they are likely to be low again in the distant future. Kazumi Ozaki at Toho University in Funabashi, Japan, and Chris Reinhard at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta modelled Earth's climatic, biological and geological systems to predict how atmospheric conditions on Earth will change. The researchers say that Earth's atmosphere will maintain high levels of oxygen for the next billion years before dramatically returning to low levels reminiscent of those that existed prior to what is known as the Great Oxidation Event of about 2.4 billion years ago. "We find that the Earth's oxygenated atmosphere will not be a permanent feature," says Ozaki. One central reason for the shift is that, as our sun ages, it will become hotter and release more energy. The researchers calculate that this will lead to a decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as CO2 absorbs heat and then breaks down. Ozaki and Reinhard estimate that in a billion years, carbon dioxide levels will become so low that photosynthesising organisms -- including plants -- will be unable to survive and produce oxygen. The mass extinction of these photosynthetic organisms will be the primary cause of the huge reduction in oxygen. "The drop in oxygen is very, very extreme -- we're talking around a million times less oxygen than there is today," says Reinhard. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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African Researchers Use Gene Editing and Other Tools To Breed Heartier Livestock

science - Posted On:2021-03-04 11:15:01 Source: slashdot

wooloohoo shares a report: Livestock researchers in Africa are looking to genome editing and other new technologies to identify genes that could help them tame the spread of a parasite that spreads sleeping sickness in animals and humans. In addition to work aimed at eradicating African trypanosomiasis, scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi are using gene editing to introduce such desirable traits as heat tolerance and disease resistance into cattle and chickens, said Prof. Steve Kemp, program leader in livestock genetics at ILRI. However, he said the effort is still at the preliminary research stage. African animal trypanosomiasis is a parasitic disease that causes serious livestock losses due to anemia and lower reproduction rates, according to the Center for Food Security and Public Health. Losses in cattle are especially prominent, though other animals, including dogs, can also be affected. Untreated cases can be fatal, and the mortality rate is high in some outbreaks. "Eradicating African animal trypanosomiasis is extremely important as we estimate that Africa loses US$1 billion annually due to human and livestock diseases," Kemp said. The people keeping livestock have experienced huge losses due to animal diseases, said Abdikadir Mohamed, chief executive officer of the Kenya Livestock Marketing Council (KLMC). "This leads to people getting poorer. Some sickly animals are rejected during market days, yet they come from far to sell the livestock. There is also a security threat as herders go back with their livestock. We need to stop these persistent diseases by available technologies." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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