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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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, ...

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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

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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 ...

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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

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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 ...

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Road outrage: To stop carmakers bending the rules on emissions, Europe must get much tougher

Print section Print Rubric:  To stop carmakers bending the rules, Europe must get much tougher Print Headline:  Road outrage Print Fly Title:  Regulating car emissions UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  Road outrage Main image:  20170121_LDD002_0.jpg AMERICA’S system of corporate justice has many flaws. The size of the fines it slaps on firms is arbitrary. Its habitual use of deferred-prosecution agreements (a practice that is spreading to Britain; this week Rolls-Royce, an engineering firm, was fined for bribery—see article) means that too many cases are settled rather than thrashed out in court. But even crude justice can be better than none. To see why, look at Europe’s flaccid approach to the emissions scandal that engulfed Volkswagen (VW) in 2015 and now threatens others. Diesel-engined vehicles belch out poisonous ...

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Daily chart: Toxic emissions from cars may be several times higher than the legal limit

Main image:  CARMAKERS are again in regulators’ headlights over emissions, on both sides of the Atlantic. On January 13th French prosecutors announced they were investigating Renault for “suspected cheating” on diesel emissions. A day earlier, America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused Fiat Chrysler (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using undeclared software in 104,000 diesel-engined Jeeps and Dodge Ram pick-ups. The EPA says that the software increases emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the vehicles in normal use, and was not declared or justified by the carmaker. It is illegal to fail to inform the EPA of software that might affect emissions, although the agency stopped short of saying it was a "defeat device". In 2015 Volkswagen (VW) admitted installing “defeat devices” in several models that were designed to hide the true level of emissions from vehicles during the testing process. VW has coughed up more than $20bn so far in fines and compensation for the 600,000 American vehicles in question. America has much tougher laws on toxic NOx emission than Europe, with a limit of 40 mg per kilometre—half of the maximum allowed from European diesel models sold since September 2014. The United States also has far fewer diesel ...

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Something nasty from the tail pipe: American regulators accuse Fiat Chrysler of emissions cheating

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Something nasty from the tail pipe Main image:  20170114_wbp503.jpg FOR each of the past three years, Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s (FCA) 3 litre V6 turbodiesel has made it to a list of the industry’s top ten engines compiled by Ward’s, a distinguished American car-industry trade publication. Its place on the shortlist for 2017 must now be in doubt. On January 12th America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused FCA (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using illegal software in conjunction with the engines. This, it says, allowed 104,000 vehicles—mostly Dodge pickups and some Jeeps, fitted with the 3 litre V6 turbodiesel—to exceed legal limits of toxic emissions. The news sent the firm’s shares plummeting by 17%, before recovering somewhat. Nervous investors feared a repeat of the huge penalty imposed on Germany’s Volkswagen (VW) for cheating American emissions laws. A day earlier VW had agreed to pay a criminal fine of $4.3bn for selling around 500,000 cars fitted with so-called “defeat devices” that are designed to ...

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The Economist explains: How machines learned to speak human language

Main image:  THIS past Christmas, millions of people will have opened boxes containing gadgets with a rapidly improving ability to use human language. Amazon’s Echo device, featuring a digital assistant called Alexa, is now present in over 5m homes. The Echo is a cylindrical desktop computer with no interface apart from voice. Ask Alexa for the weather, to play music, to order a taxi, to tell you about your commute or to tell a corny joke, and she will comply. The voice-driven digital assistants from America’s computer giants (Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri) have also vastly improved. How did computers tackle the problems of human language?Once, the idea was to teach machines rules—for example, in translation, a set of grammar rules for breaking down the meaning of the source language, and another set for reproducing the meaning in the target language. But after a burst of optimism in the 1950s, such systems could not be made to work on complex new sentences; the rules-based approach would not scale up. Funding for human-language technologies went into hibernation for decades, until a renaissance in the 1980s.In effect, language technologies teach themselves, via a form of pattern-matching. For speech recognition, computers are fed sound files on the one hand, and human-written ...

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Where humans still beat computers: Brain scan: Terry Winograd

Print section Print Rubric:  The Winograd Schema tests computers’ “understanding” of the real world Print Headline:  Terry Winograd Print Fly Title:  Brain scan UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  Where humans still beat computers Main image:  20161210_TQP046_0.jpg THE Turing Test was conceived as a way to judge whether true artificial intelligence has been achieved. If a computer can fool humans into thinking it is human, there is no reason, say its fans, to say the machine is not truly intelligent. Few giants in computing stand with Turing in fame, but one has given his name to a similar challenge: Terry Winograd, a computer scientist at Stanford. In his doctoral dissertation Mr Winograd posed a riddle for computers: “The city councilmen refused the demonstrators a permit because they feared violence. ...

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I hear you: Speech recognition

Print section Print Rubric:  Computers have made huge strides in recognising human speech Print Headline:  I hear you Print Fly Title:  Speech recognition UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  I hear you Main image:  20161210_TQD002_0.jpg WHEN a person speaks, air is forced out through the lungs, making the vocal chords vibrate, which sends out characteristic wave patterns through the air. The features of the sounds depend on the arrangement of the vocal organs, especially the tongue and the lips, and the characteristic nature of the sounds comes from peaks of energy in certain frequencies. The vowels have frequencies called “formants”, two of which are usually enough to differentiate one vowel from another. For example, the vowel in the English word “fleece” has its first two formants at around 300Hz and ...

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For my next trick: Coming to grips with voice technology

Print section Print Rubric:  Talking machines are the new must-haves Print Headline:  For my next trick Print Fly Title:  Looking ahead UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  For my next trick Main image:  20161210_TQD005_0.jpg IN “WALL-E”, an animated children’s film set in the future, all humankind lives on a spaceship after the Earth’s environment has been trashed. The humans are whisked around in intelligent hovering chairs; machines take care of their every need, so they are all morbidly obese. Even the ship’s captain is not really in charge; the actual pilot is an intelligent and malevolent talking robot, Auto, and like so many talking machines in science fiction, he eventually makes a grab for power. Speech is quintessentially human, so it is hard to imagine machines that can truly speak ...

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Finding a voice: What language technology can and can’t do

Print section Print Rubric:  Computers have got much better at translation, voice recognition and speech synthesis, says Lane Greene. But they still don’t understand the meaning of language Print Headline:  Finding a voice UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  Finding a voice Main image:  20161210_TQD001_0.jpg I’M SORRY, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” With chilling calm, HAL 9000, the on-board computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, refuses to open the doors to Dave Bowman, an astronaut who had ventured outside the ship. HAL’s decision to turn on his human companion reflected a wave of fear about intelligent computers. When the film came out in 1968, computers that could have proper conversations with humans seemed nearly as far away as manned flight to Jupiter. Since then, humankind has progressed quite a lot farther with building machines that it can talk to, and that ...

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