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Why quantum computing matters

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A new government initiative will direct hundreds of millions of dollars to support new centers for quantum computing research.

Why it matters: Quantum information science represents the next leap forward for computing, opening the door to powerful machines that can help provide answers to some of our most pressing questions. The nation that takes the lead in quantum will stake a pole position for the future.


Details: The five new quantum research centers — established in national labs across the country — are part of a $1 billion White House program announced Wednesday morning that includes seven institutes that will explore different facets of AI, including precision agriculture and forecast prediction.

  • “The future of American prosperity and national security will be shaped by how we invest, research, develop and deploy these cutting-edge technologies today,” said U.S. chief technology officer Michael Kratsios.

How it works: While AI is better known and increasingly integrated into our daily lives — hey, Siri — quantum computing is just as important, promising huge leaps forward in computer processing power.

  • Quantum computing harnesses the esoteric workings of quantum mechanics. While conventional or classical computers manipulate binary bits — the electrical or optical pulses representing 1s and os — to perform computation, quantum computers use what are known as qubits.
  • Qubits are subatomic particles like electrons or photons, and thanks to quantum mechanics they can represent numerous possible combinations between 1 and 0. The ability to exist simultaneously in multiple states is called superposition, and it means a quantum computer — unlike a classical one — can compute huge numbers of potential outcomes simultaneously.
  • Pairs of qubits can be entangled, meaning that they exist in a single quantum state, and changing the state of one qubit in the pair will instantaneously alter the state of its partner, even if they’re separated by vast distances. While classical computers only double their processing power when they double their bits, entanglement means that quantum computers exponentially increase their power as they add qubits.

Of note: Albert Einstein famously hated the concept of entanglement, describing it as “spooky action at a distance.” But the idea has held up over decades of research in quantum science.

Quantum computers won’t replace classical ones wholesale — in part because the process of manipulating quantum particles is still highly tricky — but as they develop, they’ll open up new frontiers in computing:

  • Cryptography: The sheer processing power of quantum computers means that at some point in the near future they’ll be able to unlock all known digital encryption — which is why there’s an international race to develop post-quantum cryptography.
  • Chemistry: At its foundation, nature is the process of quantum forces, but classical computers don’t have the power to simulate matter at the subatomic level. Quantum computers do, which means they can be used to simulate the actions of molecules in order to break some of chemistry’s toughest challenges, like making better batteries.
  • Quantum internet: Entanglement can be leveraged to send information via quantum communication, which promises to be far faster and more secure than current methods.

What they’re saying: “Quantum is the biggest revolution in computers since the advent of computers,” says Dario Gil, director of IBM Research. “With the quantum bit, you can actually rethink the nature of information.”

The catch: While the underlying science behind quantum computer is decades old, quantum computers are only just now beginning to be used commercially.

  • The quantum state of a qubit is extremely fragile, and slight changes in vibration or temperature can cause them to lose their quantum state in a process called decoherence. As a result, quantum computers tend to be more error-prone than their classical ancestors.

What to watch: Who ultimately wins out on quantum supremacy — the act of demonstrating that a quantum computer can solve a problem that even the fastest classical computer would be unable to solve in a feasible time frame.

  • Last year Google claimed to have achieved quantum supremacy, performing a computation on a quantum computer in 200 seconds that the company claimed would have taken a classical supercomputer 10,000 years to complete. Its competitor IBM, though, cast doubt on the claim.
  • What to actually watch: The recent sci-fi show “Devs,” where an all-powerful quantum computer is capable of perfectly predicting the future, which as far as I know is not yet on the menu.

The bottom line: The age of quantum computers isn’t quite here yet, but it promises to be one of the major technological drivers of the 21st century.

Source: https://www.axios.com/quantum-computing-google-ibm-b0b90670-a36b-443a-b45f-eff3ceb79ec2.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Bryan Walsh

Facebook cracks down on political content disguised as local news

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Facebook is rolling out a new policy that will prevent U.S. news publishers with “direct, meaningful ties” to political groups from claiming the news exemption within its political ads authorization process, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: Since the 2016 election, reporters and researchers have uncovered over 1,200 instances in which political groups use websites disguised as local news outlets to push their point of view to Americans.


  • Now, Facebook is ensuring that Pages connected to those groups are held to the same standard as political entities when it comes to advertising on the platform.
  • The “news exemption” means that promoted content about social issues, elections or politics from news publishers is not labeled as political within Facebook’s political archive.

With the new policy, Pages on Facebook belonging to news outlets that are backed by political groups or people will still be allowed to register as a news Page and advertise on Facebook, but they will no longer be eligible for inclusion in the Facebook News tab, and they won’t have access to news messaging on the Messenger Business Platform or the WhatsApp business API. 

Be smart: Key to Facebook’s new policy is the way that it’s differentiating a straight news outlet from a political persuasion operation. Facebook will consider an outlet to be political if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • It’s owned by a political entity or a political person (definitions below).
  • If a political person is leading the company in an executive position, such as a CEO, board member, chairman of its board, or a publisher or editor-in-chief.
  • If the publisher shares proprietary information about any of its Facebook accounts or account passwords, API access keys, and/or data about their Facebook readers — like location, demographics, or consumption habits — directly with a Political Person or Entity as they are defined below.
  • If the Page lists a political entity or a political person as its “Confirmed Page Owner” or “Confirmed Page Partner” on Facebook.

Definitions: Facebook defines a “political person” as “a candidate for elected office, a person who holds elected office, a person whose job is subject to legislative confirmation, or a person employed by and/or vested with decision-making authority by a political person or at a political entity.”

  • It defines a “political entity” as “an organization, company, or other group whose predominant purpose is to influence politics and elections.”
  • That definition would include political parties, campaigns for elected office, ballot initiative campaigns, PACs and Super PACs, and entities regulated as “Social Welfare Organizations” under Section 501(c)(4) of the IRC.
  • For-profit businesses that provide political consulting or strategic communications services to other types of Political Entities will also be considered Political Entities themselves.

Between the lines: The move comes days after Google confirmed to Axios that come September, it will ban politically-motivated advertisers that disguise themselves as local news websites to promote their political point of view.

  • Earlier this year, Twitter banned all political advertising. According to a Twitter spokesperson, this includes self-identified “news” sites that are funded by a PAC, SuperPAC or a 501(c)(4).
  • News publishers who meet Twitter’s exemption criteria may run ads that reference political content and/or prohibited advertisers under Twitter’s political content policy, but they can’t include advocacy for or against those topics or advertisers.

The big picture: Ahead of the 2020 election, big-money political groups have been exploiting the huge gaps in local news in America by propping up fake local news websites that are disguised as non-partisan.

  • Many of these sites leverage social media advertising, especially on Facebook, to boost their content.
  • The practice of setting up these types of websites has been used by political groups for years, dating back to 2014, and picking up steam during the 2018 midterms.
  • As Axios has previously reported, some of these efforts are done openly with the backing of big donors, while others are done in a secretive, spammy fashion. Both tactics are manipulative, and Facebook’s new policies address both.

Be smart: While many of the big local news spam networks initially uncovered by researchers belonged to conservatives, Democrats have been throwing millions at it too.

  • One of the tactics they’ve been using to potentially skirt election rules is to establish newsrooms as “for-profits.”
  • Still, according to Facebook’s rules, these “for-profits” would be defined as having “direct, meaningful ties” to a political entity or group due to being majority funded by a progressive nonprofit organization.
  • The biggest and most sophisticated example of this type of website is Courier Newsroom, which is backed by ACRONYM, a 501(c)4 progressive nonprofit organization that invests in multiple for-profit companies in the media and technology space.

Yes, but: Some news sites may fall in a grey area. For example, they could be backed or owned by a person with ties to a partisan foundation, but they are not influenced by that person’s political affiliations.

  • Facebook’s policy team will ultimately be responsible for making decisions around which news sites would be subject to these policies.

The bottom line: It was a deceptive and effective practice while it lasted. These new policy changes by Facebook and its tech rivals should help to reduce the distribution of these sites, or at least provide more transparency to users about who is really behind them.

Go deeper:

Source: https://www.axios.com/facebook-pages-news-exemption-e66d92ce-2abd-4293-b2ad-16cf223e12f1.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Sara Fischer

The coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a new wave of fraud

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Criminals are getting busy — and creative — with an onslaught of new frauds preying on people’s fears and anxieties about the coronavirus pandemic.

The big picture: Desperate people are finding their unemployment checks and stimulus payments stolen. They’re also being bombarded with offers for fake cures, fake work-at-home offers and messages asking for personal financial information.


In perhaps the most widespread scam, criminals are filing fake unemployment claims on behalf of real people who haven’t lost their jobs, hitting one state after another.

  • The rush to get relief money in people’s hands has introduced new vulnerabilities to unemployment systems — state agencies and corporate human-resources departments alike are quick to approve claims without requiring much proof.
  • A Nigerian crime ring called “Scattered Canary” may be responsible for a lot of this fraud, which is made more attractive by the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits Congress enacted.
  • Washington state — an early locus of coronavirus in the U.S. — seems to have been hit hardest, with hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits siphoned off, per the Seattle Times.

Where it stands: The Federal Trade Commission says consumers have reported about $50 million in losses to the agency.

  • TransUnion, the credit bureau, runs a weekly survey that shows that 29% of consumers say they’ve been targets of digital fraud related to COVID-19.

“Some of the really pernicious stuff that we were seeing were about people ordering P.P.E.-type materials — face masks, hand sanitizer — and then it never arrives,” Monica Vaca of the FTC tells Axios.

“Fraud is big business, and it runs just like every other corporation out there,” Will LaSala of OneSpan, which sells antifraud software, tells Axios.

  • Misinformation about COVID-19 — plus runs on items like soap and toilet paper —  prompted a lot of people to try to buy things on merchant websites that turned out to be fake, or to click on phishing offers.
  • Fraudsters dangled lures like “check your $1,200 stimulus pay status” to get people to divulge information via email, phone and text.
  • Other scams include fake charity websites, false offers of Small Business Administration loans; sham work-at-home schemes that get people to pay money up front, and calls from a local area code that purport to be from a person’s doctor.

Official-looking notices claiming to be from the government might say you’ve been overpaid in stimulus or unemployment benefits and need to return the money immediately.

  • “A lot of times, they’ll say you have to do it right now or you’ll be arrested — and, oh, by the way, put it on an Apple gift card,” Paul Stephens of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse tells Axios.

Then there are W-2 scams, in which a hacker spoofs the email address of a CEO and asks the H.R. department for a list of employees’ tax information.

  • “When we were working from offices, there were firewalls in place that really blocked a lot of this, but now that we’re working from home, we don’t have those safeguards in place,” LaSala says. “That really led to a lot of these attacks.”

Who’s scammin’ whom: While the elderly are frequent victims, more unexpected are millennials (who are at the prime age to be home, online, idle and jittery) and college students, who are nervous about their academic future and tuition status.

  • “They pretend that they’re from the school’s financial department and they’re giving you choices,” Paige Hanson, chief of cyber safety education at NortonLifeLock, tells Axios. “They’ll say, ‘click on this link to verify your personal information.’ It will go to a fake landing page” where criminals collect the information they need to take advantage of the student.

Even if only a tiny percentage of these fraud attempts works, “the payoff is significant,” Crane Hassold, senior director of cyber intelligence at the email security firm Agari, tells Axios.

  • “Some of these attackers are working 40 hours a week. These attacks are becoming more sophisticated, more realistic.”

Experts offered some advice to try to protect yourself:

  • “Be suspicious of any unsolicited phone call email or text message you might receive from anyone, unless you initiated the contact with that person,” Stephens said. If in doubt, call back to a number you know is legit.
  • Talk to someone before taking action. “Tell a friend, tell your sibling or somebody,” Hanson said. “Even though you’re in that moment and you want to react, they might know about this scam.”

Source: https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-fraud-is-everywhere-b3e7122f-67d2-4a0d-bed4-d5ddb492b0ad.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Jennifer A. Kingson

Many tech workers won’t be going back to the office

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Tech companies are gaming out how to bring employees back to the office, but many are expecting a new normal in which a significant portion of their workers stay home for good.

Why it matters: Some tech firms may find they are just as productive with a remote workforce. But a shift away from in-office work will have profound impacts on everything from the commercial real estate market to the vast number of support jobs that were built around serving Silicon Valley’s sprawling campuses.


Driving the news:

  • Twitter told workers that they can work from home permanently if they want.
  • Others haven’t gone that far, but many tech companies have acknowledged publicly or privately that they don’t expect most workers to return to the office this year.
  • On a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday evening, the CEOs of Box, Okta, PagerDuty and Twilio all expressed a sense that they will end up with more remote workers permanently, even after the pandemic ends.

Some companies were headed toward more remote staff even before the coronavirus crisis.

  • “We were already trying to reduce our dependency on the Bay Area because of competition for talent and cost of doing business here,” said PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada.
  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had announced in January, when COVID-19’s impact remained a distant threat, that Twitter was moving toward a remote-first workplace.

Others found themselves having to quickly switch gears.

  • Box CEO Aaron Levie said that he used to like to manage by walking around the office, but has found other benefits from a remote workforce.
  • Remote meetings have been a decent substitute for talking in person, connecting Levie to workers in Australia, Japan and England all on the same day, with no need to travel.

Between the lines: Embracing remote work has a number of benefits for companies beyond just the costs of hiring and retaining workers.

  • Many tech companies have built up a massive army of contractors and vendors to support their workers, including food service, shuttle bus drivers and janitorial staff. Even a partial shift away from the office would likely add up to significant savings over time for the firms — although fewer jobs for those support workers.
  • For workers, meanwhile, the ability to work remotely means more than just cutting down a commute. It also means the ability to live wherever they want, rather than being tied to the Bay Area or another tech hub, like Austin, New York or Boston. Considering the high cost of real estate and other expenses in the Bay Area, that could lead to a significant exodus, though people have long predicted “peak Silicon Valley” — and long been wrong.

Yes, but: Some companies have invested significantly in their campuses and have a vested interest in maintaining an office culture.

  • Apple is the poster child for this. It spent a fortune on its Apple Park HQ and likes its products designed behind closed (and locked) doors.
  • Bloomberg recently reported Apple is making plans for some office workers to return this summer.

The big picture: Companies’ stances will range from Twitter’s “stay home forever if you want” to Apple’s “can’t wait for you to come back in.” Software companies are likely to have an easier time than hardware producers relying on a largely distributed workforce.

What’s next: Not all the changes we are seeing as a response to the coronavirus will be permanent. Some jobs that are being done remotely at the moment, including many roles in sales and support, will require more travel once shelter-in-place rules ease.

  • “We are going to have to feel our way around this,” said Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, a subscription management company. “I don’t think we know the end game.”

Source: https://www.axios.com/tech-work-from-home-remote-coronavirus-83658822-1cd8-4fbf-91f6-a2ee14401730.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Ina Fried