A quantum leap for computers
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A quantum leap for computers

According to Prof Winfried Hensinger of the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, he and his team have the first practical design for a quantum computer. Like millions of others, I have struggled to come to an understanding of quantum mechanics and how a quantum computer might work.

It would use qubits rather than standard on/off or 1 and 0 bits used in traditional computers. A qubit can have a state of anywhere between zero and one, including all the "states" in between. Theoretically, a quantum computer can perform a very large number of calculations simultaneously using the ideas of super positioning and quantum entanglement. The theory is that all the necessary calculations are carried out at virtually the same time, e.g. working out all the factors of a very large number. This kind of problem can take a regular computer quite a while.

Prof Hensinger claims he has produced a "how to build it" template, published in Science Advances journal, with a scalable construction plan which you can read here: www.advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/2/e1601540.full. It involves ions, long wave radiation, overlapping fields, vacuum chambers and other pieces of exacting technology. To be honest, I have never quite understood how you program in the questions and read the answers from quantum computers.

That said, D-wave already has a 2000 pseudo qubit machine and Google has been researching the technology for some time now. Since Hensinger's paper doesn't mention any other technology, it is difficult to make any comparisons with what people have done to date in the field. It will be some time before the results of Prof Hensinger's research is realised in a practical manner but I can say that you won't be using it to compose and send emails.

There are moves afoot to build better machine learning algorithms to detect malware earlier and react accordingly. This and other malware solutions were all presented at the RSA conference held last week in San Francisco. Terms like artificial intelligence and next-generation antivirus were bandied about but were not well defined, hidden among all the marketing speak. There is no doubt that we need better protection from ransomware, online scams and Trojans. The problem is that the criminals are researching and testing their products just as quickly as those building the defences. The marketing people know the buzzwords and the managers often lap it up, believing they will be protected, but it is never that simple.

The reality is that no matter what the term -- pattern recognition, theorem proving, neural networks, expert systems, machine vision -- it has for the most part all been tried before with varying degrees of success. For general commercial use, there is really no such thing as 100% protection, so any claims made will need to be watched carefully in the coming months to see just how well they do this time around.

In related news, Britain has been attacked just under 200 times in the last few months by what are termed high-level malware attacks. These included Russian and Chinese state-approved attacks aimed at stealing defence and other government secrets, none of which should be a surprise to anyone. Western business concerns are also targets of such attacks. High-level attacks are typically well co-ordinated and occur with a sophistication that the single agent cannot hope to match. Stuxnet is an excellent example of a sophisticated, state sponsored attack.

It has been about six years since Google launched their Chrome operating system and the CR-48 Chromebook it came on. I have never used it but apparently around 50% of US schoolchildren are using it in classrooms and it is the second most popular OS in the US. A Chromebook is inexpensive, typically around US$200 (5,700 baht), which is a lot better than forcing parents to buy an Apple iPad, as occurs in countries like Australia. They are used to watch videos, send emails or surf the internet so not a lot of strain on any device if that's all you're doing.

There is also not much profit on such devices, so since 2013 Google has been trying to get market penetration with more expensive versions. Samsung have recently entered the market with a $550 Chrome OS based laptop that will be available in April this year. It will come with a 12.3-inch 2400 by 1600 pixel touch screen, built-in stylus, in a 1kg magnesium case that folds over for tablet like use. Intel 2.2GHz processor, 4GB of RAM but a skimpy 32GB of storage, though microSD expansion is supported. Two USB-C ports. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and about nine hours of performance. Not sure why they put the lock screen button immediately above a cut down backspace key though. It will be interesting to see if this one gets any interest.

Finally this week, for the last few years different groups have been running out of IPv4 internet addresses. LACNIC is down to under 5 million but Africa still has plenty. It may really be time to switch to IPv6.

James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at jclhein@gmail.com.

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