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IBM Shows Off a Quantum Computing Chip

Wed, 04/29/2015 - 17:55

A new superconducting chip made by IBM demonstrates a technique crucial to the development of quantum computers.

A superconducting chip developed at IBM demonstrates an important step needed for the creation of computer processors that crunch numbers by exploiting the weirdness of quantum physics. If successfully developed, quantum computers could effectively take shortcuts through many calculations that are difficult for today’s computers.

Smartphone Secrets May Be Better Than a Password

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 00:00

Researchers are investigating whether recalling text messages, calls, and Facebook likes could be a useful log-in strategy.

Before you read this story, try to answer the following question: Who was the first person to text you today?

Rethinking the Manufacturing Robot

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 00:00

A company that makes robots designed to work closely with humans has a new version that addresses the limitations of its first effort.

In a workshop at the Boston headquarters of Rethink Robotics, engineers are tending to a troop of eight bright red robots called Baxter. Each robot has a humanoid upper torso and a pair of friendly blue eyes on a small screen that track the robots’ two arms as the engineers move them.

A Swiss Army Knife for Neuroscience

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 00:05

Neural probes that combine optics, electronics, and drugs could help unlock the secrets of the brain.

Various powerful new tools for exploring and manipulating the brain have been developed over the last few years. Some use electronics, while others use light or chemicals.

Machine Dreams

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 00:05

To rescue its struggling business, Hewlett-Packard is making a long-shot bid to change the fundamentals of how computers work.

There is a shrine inside Hewlett-Packard’s headquarters in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley. At one edge of HP’s research building, two interconnected rooms with worn midcentury furniture, vacant for decades, are carefully preserved. From these offices, William Hewlett and David Packard led HP’s engineers to invent breakthrough products, like the 40-pound, typewriter-size programmable calculator launched in 1968.

A Potato Made with Gene Editing

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 00:00

Plant scientists can swiftly modify crops in ways that would take years with conventional breeding.

Dan Voytas is a plant geneticist at the University of Minnesota. But two days a week he stops studying the fundamentals of DNA engineering and heads to a nearby company called Cellectis Plant Sciences, where he applies them.

A Way to Get Much-Higher-Resolution Selfies

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 00:00

A startup called Light uses a cluster of small camera modules to create top-notch photos. First stop: Your smartphone.

Most digital cameras are limited by a key aspect of their design: they have one lens and one image sensor. Light hits the lens and is directed at the sensor to produce a picture. A photography startup called Light is not making most digital cameras, though.

Lake Kivu’s Great Gas Gamble

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 00:00

In a first-of-its-kind endeavor, electricity-starved Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are trying to get power from a lake—and avert catastrophe.

It’s a Friday afternoon on the Rwandan side of Lake Kivu, and in what was once a quiet cove, a daring venture is taking shape.

Putting Technology in Its Place

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 00:00

Kentaro Toyama went to India with noble intentions for using technology to improve people’s lives. Now he’s wrestling with why the impact was so small.

A Way to Hide Corporate Data from Hackers

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 08:00

A system that keeps data on corporate computers and mobile devices encrypted until it is viewed may help prevent breaches.

Social-security and credit-card numbers frequently leak or are stolen from corporate networks—and surface on the black market. Adam Ghetti, founder of Ionic Security, says he has invented technology that could largely end the problem. His software keeps corporate data such as e-mails and documents encrypted at all times, except for when someone views it on an authorized computer or mobile device.

Why Zapping the Brain Helps Parkinson's Patients

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 14:00

Deep brain stimulation could lead to a more effective, self-tuning device for Parkinson’s.

Sending pulses of electricity through the brain via implanted electrodes—a procedure known as deep brain stimulation—can relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s and other movement disorders.

IBM’s Watson Could Make a Knowledgeable Tour Guide

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 14:45

IBM researchers are exploring Watson’s abilities to answer museumgoers’ questions.

IBM’s Watson, the machine-learning computer that won Jeopardy! in 2011 and has found work searching medical and scientific data for insights, could soon have yet another job: museum tour guide.

Paralyzed Again

Thu, 04/09/2015 - 00:00

We have the technology to dramatically increase the independence of people with spinal-cord injuries. The problem is bringing it to market and keeping it there.

One night in 1982, John Mumford was working on an avalanche patrol on an icy Colorado mountain pass when the van carrying him and two other men slid off the road and plunged over a cliff. The other guys were able to walk away, but Mumford had broken his neck. The lower half of his body was paralyzed, and though he could bend his arms at the elbows, he could no longer grasp things in his hands.

AI Doomsayer Says His Ideas Are Catching On

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 00:00

Philosopher Nick Bostrom says major tech companies are listening to his warnings about investing in “AI safety” research.

Over the past year, Oxford University philosophy professor Nick Bostrom has gained visibility for warning about the potential risks posed by more advanced forms of artificial intelligence. He now says that his warnings are earning the attention of companies pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence research.

A Startup’s Plans for a New Social Reality

Mon, 04/06/2015 - 00:00

AltspaceVR is building virtual hangouts that it hopes you’ll use to watch a movie with friends or play a game of life-size chess.

We know what social networks are like on the Web and in apps, but what will they be like in virtual reality? While Facebook, the owner of Oculus VR, is surely pondering this behind the scenes, a startup called AltspaceVR is already offering a few clues about how we may connect with each other in a simulated world.

Work Begins on Brain Stimulator to Correct Memory

Fri, 04/03/2015 - 13:30

Can deep brain stimulation affect how well and what we remember?

For some of the approximately 10 million people worldwide with traumatic brain injury (TBI), forming and holding onto new memories can be one of the hardest things they’ll do in a day. Now imagine a device implanted in the brain that can help them encode memories by means of small electric shocks.

Toolkits for the Mind

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 00:00

Programming languages shape the way their users think—which helps explain how tech startups work and why they are able to reinvent themselves.

When the Japanese computer scientist Yukihiro Matsumoto decided to create Ruby, a programming language that has helped build Twitter, Hulu, and much of the modern Web, he was chasing an idea from a 1966 science fiction novel called Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany. At the book’s heart is an invented language of the same name that upgrades the minds of all those who speak it. “Babel-17 is such an exact analytical language, it almost assures you technical mastery of any situation you look at,” the protagonist says at one point. With Ruby, Matsumoto wanted the same thing: to reprogram and improve the way programmers think.

Adding Greater Realism to Virtual Worlds

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 13:00

A startup is borrowing techniques used in high-frequency trading to enable more realistic simulated worlds.

What new possibilities might open up in video game design—and beyond—when an unlimited number of people can inhabit a truly realistic virtual world simultaneously? This is just one of several questions that Improbable, a company that’s developing a new environment for building virtual worlds of unprecedented scale and complexity, hopes to answer.

The Problem with Fake Meat

Tue, 03/31/2015 - 00:00

It might be possible to create a burger that helps the environment and improves your health. But will it taste good enough to win over the masses?

People want burgers. It seems hardwired. You can read Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire to learn how man evolved into a thinking primate by learning to cook the animals he killed. You can talk to the stylish proprietor of a leading cooking school in Japan, who co-owns an artful Manhattan sushi restaurant. What does he find the most efficient fuel for his triathlon training? A couple of McDonald’s quarter-pounders a day.

Broadcast Every Little Drama

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 14:26

Meerkat and Periscope show how simple, fun, and weird live-streaming can be.

Like the frequent posture of its cute, furry namesake, a live-streaming video app called Meerkat recently got people to stand up and take notice.