Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

source-codesource codeauthorMike MurphyNoneWant your finger on the pulse of everything that's happening in tech? Sign up to get David Pierce's daily newsletter.64fd3cbe9f
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Power

The White House wants to win the race to quantum supremacy

The Trump administration is reaching deep with funds for AI and quantum research to keep the U.S. in the driver's seat for the future of computing.

A man working on a quantum computer

One of IBM's quantum computers, technology that the company is racing to commercialize, along with competitors such as as Honeywell and D-Wave.

Photo: Misha Friedman/Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday is announcing two new initiatives, partnering national resources with private industry and academia to further innovation in AI and quantum computing. The National Science Foundation will create seven AI research facilities across the U.S., and the Department of Energy will work with the country's national labs to build a "national quantum information center." The goal, according to participants, is to ensure the U.S.' dominance in AI and quantum information technology over other countries — especially China.

The new quantum centers fulfill the requirements of the 2018 National Quantum Initiative Act, which called for the creation of centers for quantum research. The Department of Energy has established five of these centers at national labs, each tackling different aspects of the problem of trying to turn the idea of powerful quantum computers into a reality.

IBM, which first launched its commercial quantum computing business in 2017, is one of the private-industry partners involved. It'll be working with three of the five national labs chosen to take part in the initiative, including Brookhaven, Argonne and Oak Ridge (the two other labs involved are Fermi and Lawrence Berkeley). The Department of Energy will allot $625 million in funding to the five labs over the next five years, with the goal of tackling some of the most fundamental quandaries in quantum today.

At a high level, the problems fall into making quantum computers that work well, that can talk to each other, and that are relatively easy to use. At Brookhaven, along with academic partners like Caltech, CUNY, Columbia, Harvard, Howard, Johns Hopkins and MIT, researchers will attempt to make a breakthrough in error correction. The goal is to build quantum computers that have less noise in their output, making them more-reliable computing devices, which is currently a massive stumbling block. "Realizing the promise of quantum computing, you need to ultimately build machines that can compute without errors," IBM's research director Dario Gil said.

At Argonne, along with Northwestern, the University of Chicago, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, Intel, Boeing and Microsoft, the team will be working on building a sort of quantum intranet, figuring out how to connect together multiple machines in the same way processors are connected in a modern server farm.

At Oak Ridge, the task will be to build applications that can actually run on these machines, so that more than a handful of quantum physicists and deeply knowledgeable programmers can harness the potential of quantum computers. "I'd say there's on the magnitude of a low-five-digit number of people who can usefully use one of these things," James Sanders, an analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence's 451 Research, told Protocol. "That's the requirement this industry is going to face, bringing the domain experts together with quantum physicists to develop the algorithms that would be useful for businesses."

"Broadly speaking, the manufacturing of quantum computers for the most part was already done in the U.S. Having people who can actually program them usefully is altogether a different question, because of how specialized this field is," Sanders said.

The NSF plans to delve into fundamental AI research as well, including machine learning, but also many areas where AI could transform society. For instance, the University of Oklahoma, Norman, is leading a team to research climate and weather forecasting using AI, and teams at UC Davis and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are both delving into how AI can help us more effectively feed future generations with new crop designs and advanced robotics.

Quantum computing is still in its earliest days, even less further along than ENIAC was when compared to today's smartphones, let alone modern supercomputers. Although companies like IBM, Honeywell and D-Wave are all vying to commercialize the industry as it emerges, it's still trying to agree upon things like the best ways of measuring the performance of any given quantum computer. It's why things like this initiative are so important, according to Gil, as they lay the groundwork for future innovations, comparing this effort to what the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors has done for classical computers. "We care deeply that we succeed together; we want a quantum industry to emerge," Gil said. "The impact to society will be huge."

Solving quantum's toughest problems could alter the way the world researches. Current supercomputers have been used to effectively rule out the need to live-test nuclear weapons again. Quantum computers that could either compute things far faster than classical machines, or things they couldn't compute at all, could have similar impacts on research like drug discovery, materials science, the development of new battery technology, climate forecasting and myriad other world-changing applications. But getting to this point requires a national effort, Gil argued, especially when things like the current pandemic and climate change can get worse the longer we have to wait to come up with solutions. "Achieving what we used to be able to do in a decade in a year, that's essential to our future," Gil said.

But while quantum computing could potentially unlock transformative changes in our world, the Trump administration has put a particular focus on quantum computing and AI research for another reason. Trump's latest budget set ambitious goals for quantum research over the next few years, but slashed funding for other basic research. That was partially driven by one of the president's most common targets: China. The Middle Kingdom has been investing heavily into quantum, especially quantum cryptography, which could alter the balance of power online if one country figures out how to break into even the most hardened modern security programs.

"It is absolutely imperative the United States continues to lead the world on AI and quantum. We know our adversaries around the world are pursuing their own advances," White House CTO Michael Kratsios said on a call with reporters Tuesday. "The future of American economic prosperity and national security will be shaped by how we invest, research, develop and deploy these cutting-edge technologies today."

Although the current initiative is only funded through five years, Gil is bullish that we'll see progress in all the areas the labs are tackling this decade. "We need many breakthroughs, but it's amazing what's happening now," Gil said. Sanders, however, thinks progress is going to be far slower: "It's going to be a multi-decade endeavor," he said. "It would require advances in manufacturing the hardware that goes inside a quantum computer, and a deeper understanding of the physics behind all of this stuff."

Putting U.S. minds on the task of quantum and AI may go some way to helping keep America at the forefront of computational research and security, but even participants in this initiative such as Gil warn about cutting off funding for science more generally. "We need to reset America's commitment to science," he said. Gil was recently appointed to the National Science Foundation's board, and called for a deeper pursuit of science in the U.S.

"There is a revolution in computing happening, and we need to make sure that not only we lead, but that we apply those advances to how we do science," Gil said.

Additional reporting by Issie Lapowsky.

Protocol | China

China’s era of Big Tech Overwork has ended

Tech companies fear public outcry as much as they do regulatory crackdowns.

Chinese tech workers are fed up. Companies fear political and publish backlashes.

Photo: Susan Fisher Plotner/Getty Images

Two years after Chinese tech workers started a decentralized online protest against grueling overtime work culture, and one year after the plight of delivery workers came under the national spotlight, a chorus of Chinese tech giants have finally made high-profile moves to end the grueling work schedules that many believe have fueled the country's spectacular tech boom — and that many others have criticized as exploitative and cruel.

Over the past two months, at least four Chinese tech giants have announced plans to cancel mandatory overtime; some of the changes are companywide, and others are specific to business units. ByteDance, Kuaishou and Meituan's group-buying platform announced the end of a policy called "Big/Small Week," where a six-day workweek is followed by a more moderate schedule. In early June, a game studio owned by Tencent rolled out a policy that mandated employees punch out at 6 p.m. every Wednesday and take the weekends off.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

That's why we've created the Crypto Maturity Model: an iterative roadmap for cryptocurrency product rollout, enabling financial institutions to evaluate market opportunities while addressing compliance requirements.

Keep Reading Show less
Caitlin Barnett, Chainanalysis
Caitlin’s legal and compliance experience encompasses both cryptocurrency and traditional finance. As Director of Regulation and Compliance at Chainalysis, she helps leading financial institutions strategize and build compliance programs in order to adopt cryptocurrencies and offer new products to their customers. In addition, Caitlin helps facilitate dialogue with regulators and the industry on key policy issues within the cryptocurrency industry.
Power

Brownsville, we have a problem

The money and will of Elon Musk are reshaping a tiny Texas city. Its residents are divided on his vision for SpaceX, but their opinion may not matter at all.

When Musk chose Cameron County, he changed its future irrevocably.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for Protocol

In Boca Chica, Texas, the coastal prairie stretches to the horizon on either side of the Gulf of Mexico, an endless sandbar topped with floating greenery, wheeling gulls and whipping gusts of wind.

Far above the sea on a foggy March day, the camera feed on the Starship jerked and then froze on an image of orange flames shooting into the gray. From the ground below, onlookers strained to see through the opaque sky. After a moment of quiet, jagged edges of steel started to rain from the clouds, battering the ground near the oceanside launch pad, ripping through the dunes, sinking deep into the sand and flats.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

People

Facebook’s push to protect young users is a peek at the future of social

More options, more proactive protections, fewer one-size-fits-all answers for being a person on the internet.

Social media companies are racing to find ways to protect underage people on their apps.

Image: Alexander Shatov/Unsplash

Social media companies used to see themselves as open squares, places where everyone could be together in beautiful, skipping-arm-in-arm harmony. But that's not the vision anymore.

Now, Facebook and others are going private. They're trying to rebuild around small groups and messaging. They're also trying to figure out how to build platforms that work for everyone, that don't try to apply the same set of rules to billions of people around the world, that bring everyone together but on each user's terms. It's tricky.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Power

Who owns that hot startup? These insiders want to clear it up.

Cap tables are fundamental to startups. So 10 law firms and startup software vendors are teaming up to standardize what they tell you about investors' stakes.

Cap tables describe the ownership of shares in a startup, but they aren't standardized.

Illustration: Protocol

Behind every startup, there's a cap table. Startups have to start keeping track of who owns what, from the moment they're created, to fundraising from venture capitalists, to an eventual IPO or acquisition.

"Everything that happens that is a sexy thing that's important to the tech world, it really is something having to do with the cap table," said David Wang, chief innovation officer at the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati law firm.

Keep Reading Show less
Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

Latest Stories