Letters: Letters to the editor

Print section Print Fly Title:  On British diplomacy, Brazil, cyber-crime, India, parking UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How to have a better death Fly Title:  Letters The diplomatic front Bagehot is correct: Britain needs a reinvigorated foreign policy led by a stronger Foreign Office (April 15th). The world is full of new uncertainties, not least Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump. The British are conflicted about what they want. For many the Brexit vote was about reducing our exposure to the world. If Britain expects a place at international top tables, we will need to be clear what we bring to the party. That will not be achieved with Potemkin diplomacy. Fortunately, Britain still spends a lot on international action, but only a fraction of it on diplomacy, less than on pensioners’ winter fuel allowance. Of every £1,000 of public spending, over £33 goes on defence, £12 on foreign aid and £2 on the Foreign Office. Seven government departments now handle aspects of international policy. That includes the departments for aid, trade, ...

Read More > >

Cloning voices: Imitating people’s speech patterns precisely could bring trouble

Print section Print Rubric:  It is now possible to imitate people’s speech patterns easily and precisely. That could bring trouble Print Headline:  You took the words right out of my mouth Print Fly Title:  Cloning voices UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why an election offers the chance of a better Brexit Fly Title:  Cloning voices Main image:  20170422_STD001_0.jpg UTTER 160 or so French or English phrases into a phone app developed by CandyVoice, a new Parisian company, and the app’s software will reassemble tiny slices of those sounds to enunciate, in a plausible simulacrum of your own dulcet tones, whatever typed words it is subsequently fed. In effect, the app has cloned your voice. The result still sounds a little synthetic but CandyVoice’s boss, Jean-Luc Crébouw, reckons advances in the firm’s algorithms will render it increasingly natural. ...

Read More > >

Telecomulonimbus: Cloudification will mean upheaval in telecoms

Print section Print Rubric:  Turning networks into software will trigger a storm in the telecoms world Print Headline:  Telecomulonimbus Print Fly Title:  Cloud computing and telecoms UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  As Turkey votes on a new constitution, it is sliding into dictatorship Fly Title:  Telecomulonimbus Main image:  20170415_WBD001_0.jpg IN THE computing clouds, startups can set up new servers or acquire data storage with only a credit card and a few clicks of a mouse. Now imagine a world in which they could as quickly weave their own wireless network, perhaps to give users of a fleet of self-driving cars more bandwidth or to connect wireless sensors. As improbable as it sounds, this is the logical endpoint of a development that is picking up speed in the telecoms world. Networks are becoming as flexible as computing clouds: they are being ...

Read More > >

Automatic for the people: How Germany’s Otto uses artificial intelligence

Print section Print Rubric:  How Otto, a German e-commerce firm, uses artificial intelligence Print Headline:  Automatic for the people Print Fly Title:  Algorithmic retailing UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  As Turkey votes on a new constitution, it is sliding into dictatorship Fly Title:  Automatic for the people Location:  HAMBURG Main image:  20170415_wbp501.jpg A GLIMPSE into the future of retailing is available in a smallish office in Hamburg. From there, Otto, a German e-commerce merchant, is using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve its activities. The firm is already deploying the technology to make decisions at a scale, speed and accuracy that surpass the capabilities of its human employees. Big data and “machine learning” have been used in retailing for years, notably by ...

Read More > >

Safety last: How to manage the computer-security threat

Print section Print Rubric:  Computers will never be secure. To manage the risks, look to economics rather than technology Print Headline:  The myth of cyber-security Print Fly Title:  Computer security UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How to manage the computer-security threat Fly Title:  Safety last Main image:  20170408_LDD001_0.jpg COMPUTER security is a contradiction in terms. Consider the past year alone: cyberthieves stole $81m from the central bank of Bangladesh; the $4.8bn takeover of Yahoo, an internet firm, by Verizon, a telecoms firm, was nearly derailed by two enormous data breaches; and Russian hackers interfered in the American presidential election. Away from the headlines, a black market in computerised extortion, hacking-for-hire and stolen digital goods is booming. The problem is about to get worse. Computers increasingly deal not ...

Read More > >

Why everything is hackable: Computer security is broken from top to bottom

Print section Print Rubric:  Computer security is broken from top to bottom. As the consequences pile up, though, things are starting to improve Print Headline:  Why everything is hackable Print Fly Title:  Computer security UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How to manage the computer-security threat Fly Title:  Why everything is hackable Main image:  20170408_STD001_0.jpg OVER a couple of days in February, hundreds of thousands of point-of-sale printers in restaurants around the world began behaving strangely. Some churned out bizarre pictures of computers and giant robots signed, “with love from the hacker God himself”. Some informed their owners that, “YOUR PRINTER HAS BEEN PWND’D”. Some told them, “For the love of God, please close this port”. When the hacker God gave an interview to Motherboard, a technology website, he claimed to be a British ...

Read More > >

Cramville: Ameerpet, India’s unofficial IT training hub

Print section Print Rubric:  For real knowledge, not just a degree, come to Ameerpet Print Headline:  Cramville Print Fly Title:  Indian education UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Britain’s brutal encounter with reality Fly Title:  Cramville Location:  HYDERABAD Main image:  Eat your heart out, Stanford Eat your heart out, Stanford UNIVERSITY campuses can take a while to get going in the mornings, as students recover from extra-curricular antics. Contrast that with Ameerpet, a squeezed neighbourhood of Hyderabad that has become India’s unofficial cramming-college capital. By 7.30am the place is already buzzing as 500-odd training institutes cater to over 100,000 students looking to improve their IT skills. If there are ivory towers here, they are obscured by a forest of fluorescent ...

Read More > >

Vaulting ambition: New European rules will open up retail banking

Print section Print Rubric:  New European rules herald a welcome challenge to incumbent retail banks Print Headline:  Vaulting ambition Print Fly Title:  Open banking UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Amazon’s empire Fly Title:  Vaulting ambition Main image:  20170325_LDD003_0.jpg MORE treasured than the bullion in its vaults are the data a bank has stored on its servers. Bankers know what their customers eat, where they shop and, increasingly, what they get up to online. It is possible for customers to share these data with others, but the process is cumbersome. In effect, banks enjoy a monopoly over data that has helped them get away with lousy service and fend off newcomers with better ideas. In Europe, at least, that is all about to change. The source of this upheaval is a new set of regulations, snappily named the Second Payment Service Directive, ...

Read More > >

Head in the cloud: What Satya Nadella did at Microsoft

Print section Print Rubric:  The world’s biggest software firm has overhauled its culture. But getting cloud computing right is hard Print Headline:  Head in the cloud Print Fly Title:  Microsoft UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The global economy enjoys a synchronised upswing Fly Title:  Head in the cloud Location:  REDMOND Main image:  20170318_WBP004_0.jpg A DECADE ago, visiting Microsoft’s headquarters near Seattle was like a trip into enemy territory. Executives would not so much talk with visitors as fire words at them (one of this newspaper’s correspondents has yet to recover from two harrowing days spent in the company of a Microsoft “brand evangelist”). If challenged on the corporate message, their body language would betray what they were thinking and what Bill Gates, the ...

Read More > >

An entangled web: The promise of quantum encryption

Print section Print Rubric:  Quantum networks could underpin unhackable communications links Print Headline:  Oh what entangled web we weave Print Fly Title:  Communications UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Quantum technology is beginning to come into its own Fly Title:  An entangled web Main image:  20170311_TQD003_0.jpg IN 2004 the Bank of Austria and Vienna’s city hall notched up the first quantum-encrypted bank transfer. Anton Zeilinger, a quantum-cryptography pioneer whose lab facilitated the transfer, expressed his hope that “all problems of implementation will be solved within three years.” They were not. The technology was put to the test again in 2007 when quantum-encrypted vote tallies from the Swiss federal election were sent from polling stations to the Geneva state government. Engineers insisted that the transmission was utterly impervious ...

Read More > >

Cue bits: Why all eyes are on quantum computers

Print section Print Rubric:  Tech giants and upstarts alike are piling into a technology with huge potential Print Headline:  Cue bits Print Fly Title:  Quantum computers UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Quantum technology is beginning to come into its own Fly Title:  Cue bits Main image:  20170311_TQD004_0.jpg IN 1981 Richard Feynman, a visionary physicist, had a clever idea. Could the odd properties of quantum mechanics, he wondered aloud in a lecture, be used to carry out simulations of physical systems that computers of the time could not cope with? Others took up the question. In 1985, David Deutsch, now at Oxford University, showed how quantum systems could be set up as a “universal” computer—that is, like current computers, able to run any program. Though fascinating, at that point it was all rather theoretical, involving hardware that no one ...

Read More > >

Here, there and everywhere: Quantum technology is beginning to come into its own

Print section Print Rubric:  After decades as laboratory curiosities, some of quantum physics’ oddest effects are beginning to be put to use, says Jason Palmer Print Headline:  Here, there and everywhere Print Fly Title:  Quantum devices UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Quantum technology is beginning to come into its own Fly Title:  Here, there and everywhere Main image:  20170311_TQD001_0.jpg PATRICK GILL, a director of the new Quantum Metrology Institute at Britain’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in south-west London and an expert in atomic clocks, points to a large table full of lenses and mirrors, vacuum chambers and electronics. “And there’s a smaller one over there,” he says. NPL is part of a consortium of the planet’s official timekeepers. In all its atomic-clock laboratories, each of the flagship devices—some of which are huge—is flanked ...

Read More > >

Commercial breaks: The uses of quantum technology

Print section Print Rubric:  The most exciting thing about a quantum-enhanced world is the promise of what it may yet bring Print Headline:  Commercial breaks Print Fly Title:  Uses UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Quantum technology is beginning to come into its own Fly Title:  Commercial breaks Main image:  20170311_TQD006_1.jpg WHEN the first atomic clocks were built and swiftly commercialised, no one used the term “quantum technology”. The clocks simply harnessed the power of quantum mechanics to improve results. At the time there were no other examples of how the odd predictions of quantum mechanics such as entanglement and superposition could be put to practical use. Mostly they informed fundamental science, yielding an ever-subtler view of the world at the tiniest scales. Here and there, quantum weirdness did escape the lab, as in the case of the ...

Read More > >

Program management: Quantum computers will require a whole new set of software

Print section Print Rubric:  Quantum-computer code could do wonders—but also unravel well-kept secrets Print Headline:  Program management Print Fly Title:  Software UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Quantum technology is beginning to come into its own Fly Title:  Program management Main image:  20170311_TQD005_0.jpg IT DOESN’T help to have a quantum computer if no one knows how to program it,” says Tim Polk, of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington. Although academic efforts to build quantum-computer hardware have been going on for two decades, comparatively little has been done to develop the software needed to run the machines when they come. That is changing, because in the past few years it has become clear that those machines are getting closer. Two parallel efforts are under way. One is to create software as ...

Read More > >

Brain scan: David Deutsch, father of quantum computing

Print section Print Rubric:  The father of quantum computing sees it as a fundamentally new way of harnessing nature Print Headline:  David Deutsch Print Fly Title:  Brain scan UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Quantum technology is beginning to come into its own Fly Title:  Brain scan Main image:  20170311_TQP047_0.jpg “I OCCASIONALLY go down and look at the experiments being done in the basement of the Clarendon Lab, and it’s incredible.” David Deutsch, of the University of Oxford, is the sort of theoretical physicist who comes up with ideas that shock and confound his experimentalist colleagues—and then seems rather endearingly shocked and confounded by what they are doing. “Last year I saw their ion-trap experiment, where they were experimenting on a single calcium atom,” he says. “The idea of not just accessing but manipulating it, in incredibly ...

Read More > >

Subatomic opportunities: Quantum leaps

Print section Print Rubric:  After a century stuck in textbooks, mind-bending quantum effects are about to power mainstream innovation Print Headline:  Quantum leaps Print Fly Title:  Subatomic opportunities UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Quantum leaps Fly Title:  Subatomic opportunities Main image:  20170311_LDD001_1.jpg A BATHING cap that can watch individual neurons, allowing others to monitor the wearer’s mind. A sensor that can spot hidden nuclear submarines. A computer that can discover new drugs, revolutionise securities trading and design new materials. A global network of communication links whose security is underwritten by unbreakable physical laws. Such—and more—is the promise of quantum technology. All this potential arises from improvements in scientists’ ability to trap, poke and prod single atoms and wispy particles of light called ...

Read More > >

The Economist explains: How to make sense of Snapchat

Main image:  FOR much of its short life, Snapchat, a messaging app wildly popular with young users, has befuddled those older than its core user base of 18- to 24-year-olds. The app makes little effort to help new users understand its appeal (a built-in user guide is buried deep within the app). But that did not stop 158m people from using Snapchat every day by the end of 2016, up 48% on the previous year. Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, starts trading as a public company today, March 2nd, at an expected valuation of more than $20bn. To mark the most anticipated tech-industry flotation since Alibaba’s in 2014, The Economist explains how the confounding service actually works. Snapchat is best known as an app used by teenagers to send pictures, or “snaps”, that self-destruct a few seconds after being seen. Unlike on Facebook its users do not leave behind a digital trail of embarrassing pictures. But in the past two years it has added several other features, including a chat function, filters that overlay graphics on photos, a “stories” function that allows users to document their days and, not least, a place for media companies (including The Economist) to publish journalism and entertainment content. Yet finding all these features can be a challenge. Fortunately, Snap’s IPO ...

Read More > >

Intel on the outside: The rise of artificial intelligence is creating new variety in the chip market, and trouble for Intel

Print section Print Rubric:  How the rise of artificial intelligence is creating new variety in the global chip market, and trouble for Intel Print Headline:  Silicon crumble Print Fly Title:  The semiconductor industry UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems Fly Title:  Intel on the outside Location:  SANTA CLARA Main image:  20170225_WBD001_0.jpg “WE ALMOST went out of business several times.” Usually founders don’t talk about their company’s near-death experiences. But Jen-Hsun Huang, the boss of Nvidia, has no reason to be coy. His firm, which develops microprocessors and related software, is on a winning streak. In the past quarter its revenues increased by 55%, reaching $2.2bn, and in the past 12 months its share price has almost ...

Read More > >

Real virtuality: In Cuba, app stores pay rent

Print section Print Rubric:  On the communist island, app stores pay rent Print Headline:  Real virtuality Print Fly Title:  Technology in Cuba UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  An insurgent in the White House Fly Title:  Real virtuality Location:  HAVANA Main image:  20170204_amp503.jpg CUBANS, like citizens of most countries in the digital age, are familiar with app stores. But theirs have actual doors, windows and counters. Los Doctores del Celular, a mobile-phone repair shop a few blocks from Havana’s Malecón seaside promenade, is one example. Inside, a Super Mario effigy, kitted out with lab coat and stethoscope, keeps vigil while technicians transfer apps to customers’ smartphones via USB cables attached to the shop’s computers. Although the United States’ embargo on Cuba makes it hard ...

Read More > >

Augmented reality: Why augmented reality will be big in business first

Print section Print Rubric:  The technology is coming, even if it takes time for consumers to embrace AR Print Headline:  Say AR Print Fly Title:  Augmented reality UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  An insurgent in the White House Fly Title:  Augmented reality Main image:  20170204_LDP001_0.jpg THE history of computers is one of increasing intimacy. At first users rented time on mainframe machines they did not own. Next came the “personal computer”. Although PCs were confined to desks, ordinary people could afford to buy them, and filled them with all manner of personal information. These days smartphones go everywhere in their owners’ pockets, serving as everything from a diary to a camera to a voice-activated personal assistant. The next step, according to many technologists, is to move the computer from the pocket to the body itself. The idea is to ...

Read More > >

Reality, only better: The promise of augmented reality

Print section Print Rubric:  Replacing the actual world with a virtual one is a neat trick. Combining the two could be more useful Print Headline:  Better than real Print Fly Title:  Augmented reality UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  An insurgent in the White House Fly Title:  Reality, only better Main image:  20170204_STD001_0.jpg SCIENCE fiction both predicts the future and influences the scientists and technologists who work to bring that future about. Mobile phones, to take a famous example, are essentially real-life versions of the hand-held communicators wielded by Captain Kirk and his crewmates in the original series of “Star Trek”. The clamshell models of the mid-2000s even take design cues directly from those fictional devices.  If companies ranging from giants like Microsoft and Google to newcomers like Magic Leap and Meta have their way, ...

Read More > >

Podcast: Babbage: Adding to reality

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Podcast: Babbage Main image:  20170204_mma903.jpg Rubric:  Augmented reality technology blends the virtual with the real world, so how might this alter the way humans interact with computers, and each other? Also, we explore how artificial intelligence can enhance selling techniques Published:  20170201 Source:  Online extra Enabled

Read More > >

Difference Engine: The woes of Windows 10

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Difference Engine Location:  LOS ANGELES Main image:  20170204_stp501.jpg DESPITE its having been available for 18 months, three out of four PC owners have not bothered to upgrade their computers to the latest version of Microsoft's operating system, Windows 10. More than 700m of the world's 1.5bn or so computers continue to run on Windows 7, a piece of software three generations old. A further 300m users have stuck with other versions—half of them stubbornly (and rashly) clinging to 16-year-old Windows XP that Microsoft pensioned off three years ago. The business world has been even more recalcitrant. In a recent study by Softchoice, an info-tech consultancy, corporate computers were found to be running a whole gamut of legacy versions of Windows. Fewer than 1% of them had been upgraded to Windows 10.That said, some 400m or so copies of Windows 10 are now thought to be in circulation. Normally, such a market penetration, after only 18 months, would be considered a huge success. It is what the warmly ...

Read More > >

Forever present: Digital immortality for the Holocaust’s last survivors

Main image:  STEVEN FRANK’S face is calm, his dark eyes sunken and flickering slightly. At 81, he is one of a dwindling number of survivors of the Holocaust who dedicate their lives to speaking with children about their experience. Seated in a red leather armchair, he perks up when the schoolgirl from Nottingham asks the inevitable question: “Are you related to Anne Frank?” There is a slight pause as Mr Frank shifts; his face becomes animated. “Frank is a name as common in Holland as Smith in England,” he answers, smiling. 20170126 13:32:49 Comment Expiry Date:  Fri, 2017-02-10

Read More > >

Gas puzzlers: American regulators investigate Fiat Chrysler for emissions cheating

Print section Print Rubric:  The Italian-American carmaker is in regulators’ headlights over emissions Print Headline:  Gas puzzlers Print Fly Title:  Fiat Chrysler UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  Gas puzzlers Main image:  An exhausting process An exhausting process THE priorities of America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will doubtless change under Donald Trump. Mr Trump may well relax emissions rules for carmakers in return for concessions, such as keeping production in America rather than relocating to Mexico or other lower-cost countries. So it is perhaps no coincidence that on January 12th, before conditions change, the agency took action against Fiat Chrysler Automobile. It accused FCA (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using software in 104,000 Dodge ...

Read More > >