Tech Talk iconTech Talk

Solar Storms Strike Earth in One-Two Punch

Two recent solar eruptions hurled writhing ribbons of magnetic field and plasma at the Earth. Luckily, the planet's own magnetic field helped to deflect most of the energy and limit the damage. But scientists say that the arrival of these solar storm events could have played some mild havoc with GPS satellites and terrestrial communications systems this past weekend.

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Google's First Quantum Computer Will Build on D-Wave's Approach

Most quantum computing labs hope to slowly build universal "gate-model" machines that could perform as super-fast versions of today's classical computers. Such labs have tended to cast a skeptical eye upon D-Wave, the Canadian company that has rapidly developed a more specialized type of quantum computing machine for lease to corporate customers such as Google and Lockheed Martin. In the latest twist, Google has hired an academic team of researchers to help build the first Google quantum computer based on the specialized D-Wave approach rather than on a universal gate-model blueprint.

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Quantum Photonics on a Single Chip?

Researchers from Nanjing University, Beijing Institute of Aerospace Control Devices, and Southeast University, Nanjing, in China have demonstrated the creation of entangled photons and their manipulation on a single chip. The group reported this research last week in Physical Review Letters.

The researchers used lithium niobate (LN) as the material for the chip. LN, widely used in cellphones and modulators in telecommunications, is a material with a highly nonlinear response to light. Because of these optical properties it allows the integration of a number of quantum devices, and it is becoming the material of choice for the fabrication of photonic chips.

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Satellite Links Help Speed Up Cancer Screening

In the United Kingdom, a fleet of vans patrol rural areas of the nation daily, providing breast cancer screenings for residents. These screenings are a boon to residents in far-flung areas, who may have a hard time accessing care otherwise, especially for procedures like cancer screenings, which can seem less than urgent much of the time.

Now, the nearly 30-year-old service is getting an upgrade to its data delivery system, using satellites to transmit patient data to hospitals from the remote areas where it is often gathered. The dedicated satellite links could help speed up diagnoses and let vans return to hospitals less frequently, allowing them to serve more patients each day.

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“Loading” Symbols Take Over Internet In Net Neutrality Protest

If the Internet seems a little slower than usual today, it’s probably not. But it may look that way due to a protest from Net Neutrality advocates around the web. Sites like Netflix, WordPress, and Reddit will be displaying loading symbols on their front pages to show their support for equal treatment of all the data flowing through the Internet.

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Wearable Tech Could Help Track Gun Violence

Some convicted criminals released on parole or probation are required to wear electronic monitoring devices so that police officers and court officials can track their movements. Despite these precautions, individuals serving their sentences in the community are still responsible for almost half of the incidents of gun violence prosecuted in the United States, says University of Pennsylvania criminology professor Charles Loeffler. Adding existing technology to current monitoring devices, though, could help deter these shooters by recording and reporting when they fire a gun.

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Intel Finally Goes Fanless

PC and laptop sales may be recovering, but tablets are still what's hot. So many hardware developers have tried, unsuccessfully, to generate interest in tablet-laptop hybrids that combine the best of both worlds. Consumers have been turned off by high prices, low battery life, noise, and bulk. Intel's hoping to solve those problems with the release of the Core M processor.

Codenamed Broadwell, the processor is the latest thrust in Intel's effort to develop lower-power processors, and the first to be implemented on the company's 14-nanometer FinFET manufacturing process.

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At the Mayo Clinic, IBM Watson Takes Charge of Clinical Trials

human os iconThe typical ways in which patients get matched up with clinical trials aren't exactly state of the art. At hospitals, clinical coordinators painstakingly sort through patient records, looking for people that fit the requirements of a given experimental treatment; meanwhile, patients bring their own Internet research to their doctors, asking if some new drug might help them. The Mayo Clinic is now seeking to improve this process by putting IBM Watson on the job.

The artificial intelligence known as IBM Watson can scan enormous troves of written information thanks to its natural language processing skills, and its machine learning programming means it quickly gets better at using that information to complete a given task. Most famously, it quickly got better at answering Jeopardy questions, and tromped the human competition in a 2011 exhibition match. More recently, IBM has been promoting the AI as the killer app for health care, where so much information is contained in written medical records and medical journal articles. Several hospitals and research institutions are testing Watson's abilities to suggest personalized treatment plans for cancer patients.

At the Mayo Clinic, Watson will start by analyzing the medical records of patients with breast, colorectal, and lung cancer. (If all goes well, other patients will gradually be included in the project.) Watson will also be continuously scanning databases that list clinical trials, such as ClinicalTrials.gov, and will suggest appropriate matches for patients. There will be a lot to look through: The Mayo Clinic has about 8,000 clinical trials going on right now, in addition to the 170,000 that are ongoing worldwide. Mayo doctors will start consulting Watson in early 2015.

IBM vice-president of healthcare Sean Hogan says this system will provide new treatment options and new hope for patients, and will also speed the pace of medical research. And once Watson gets to work, it should get better and better at its job. "It’s designed to learn and improve," he told IEEE Spectrum. "As it gets the iterative feedback, as it interacts with the experts, it gets better."

Google Hires Quantum Computing Expert John Martinis to Build New Hardware

Google recently unveiled its intention to build new quantum computing hardware—possibly laying the foundation for a super-fast computer capable of solving problems that would take forever on today's classical computers. The technology giant has already experimented with machines created by D-Wave, a Canadian company that says it has built the world's first commercial quantum computers. But Google's new project has recruited an outside expert with a very different mindset for transforming quantum computing into a practical technology.

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