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Showing posts with label Computer Science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Computer Science. Show all posts

Thursday, 31 October 2019

The US military has finally stopped using floppy disks to control its nuclear weapons

Do you know what a floppy disk is? You should probably be surprised by the title of this article. You do not know what a floppy disk is? Know that our lives depend on it, literally.

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Fortunately for all of us, the future of humanity is no longer at the mercy of this obsolete data storage medium. Indeed, now the US military has finally stopped using this technological relic to control its arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Developed in the 1960s, floppy disks disappeared from common use in the late 1990s, especially since the use of compact discs and the Internet, both of which have gradually replaced some uses of floppy disks. Then, during the 2000s , USB sticks and memory cards give the coup de grace floppy disks, on new personal computers. And it is finally in March 2011 that Sony permanently stops the manufacture of 3.5-inch floppies (the latest floppy disk still existing, created 30 years ago).

Floppies survive in our memories as save button icons, in some programs. Credits: PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

However, they remained the main data storage system of the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS), which coordinates the operations of US nuclear missiles and bombers.

But now Lieutenant-Colonel Jason Rossi of 595 Strategic Communications Squadron of the US Air Force, who oversees the day-to-day operations of SACCS, said the diskettes were finally removed in June of this year. Few details about the upgrade have been made public, but Rossi said the old drives have been replaced by a " highly secure solid state digital storage solution ."

The SACCS elements seen here are subjected to diagnostic tests by the 595th Airborne Strategic Communications Squadron. Credits: Valerie Insinna / Staff

Despite the many limitations of using technology dating back half a century, Rossi also said that the continued use of floppy disks has actually helped to make the world safer because "  you can not hack something that does not have an IP address ...  "

However, maintenance problems eventually led to the need for modernization. Indeed, it is often impossible to find replacement parts for defective components, which means that they must all be repaired, a process that takes a lot of time and usually requires re-wiring and soldering the circuits to the using a microscope. Note that modern technicians are not trained in this.

This is why the military relies mainly on relatively old civilian technicians to repair floppy disks, as new recruits simply do not have the skills to maintain this equipment.

A 2016 report by the US Government Accountability Office (USGAO) indicated that SACCS was still running on a 1970s IBM Series / 1 computer, and that $ 61 billion was spent on maintaining the system every year.

The USGAO also pointed out that the Ministry of Defense is considering " updating its data storage solutions, port expansion processors, handheld devices and desktop terminals ", thus permanently ending the age of floppy disk ...


Friday, 25 October 2019

Quantum Supremacy: Quantum Computing Passes Another Critical Milestone

In recent years, physicists have taken the concept of quantum computer science fiction to reality by developing functional prototypes demonstrating all the potential power of this new technology. Researchers even say today they have reached an important milestone in achieving "quantum supremacy". Indeed, recently, a quantum computer called Sycamore solved a mathematical problem in 3.5 minutes, while the world's most powerful supercomputer Summit, it would have taken more than 10'000 years of work to achieve the same result.

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For the first time, a quantum computer has solved a problem that a traditional computer can not solve, reports a team of researchers in the journal Nature . " A calculation that would take 10'000 years on a conventional supercomputer took 200 seconds on our quantum computer, " says Brooks Foxen, physicist at the Google AI Quantum and at the University of California.

" It is likely that the typical simulation time of 10,000 years will be reduced by the improvement of conventional hardware and algorithms, but since we are currently 1.5 million million times faster, we are proud of to affirm this success "adds Foxen.

Sycamore: the quantum computer with 53 qubits

Due to the superposition principle, quantum computers can store and manipulate much more information per unit of volume than traditional computers, which encode information in a binary way using 0 and 1. The research team directed by Frank Arute of the Google AI Quantum , used a quantum computer called Sycamore, which has 53 functional qubits.

(a) The 54 qubits (53 functional and 1 dysfunctional) of Sycamore, connected to each other via couplers. (b) The Sycamore processor. Credits: Frank Arute et al. 2019

Physicists placed these 53 qubits in a complex overlay state, then asked Sycamore to perform a task similar to generating random numbers. The results were then compared to simulations performed on the Summit supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The Sycamore quantum computer, contained in its cryostructure. Credits: Eric Lucero / Google

Summit is currently the most powerful supercomputer in the world, able to perform about 200 million billion operations per second, " said William Oliver, a physicist at MIT. " It includes about 40,000 processing units, each containing billions of transistors, and has 250 million gigabytes of storage. Approximately 99% of Summit's resources were used for conventional sampling . "

A demonstration of quantum supremacy on classical computers

Sycamore completed the operation in about 3.5 minutes, and the results suggested that even the most powerful traditional supercomputer would have to tackle the problem for about 10,000 years.

Graph showing the performance results of Sycamore against the Summit supercomputer. For the latter, the resolution of the problem studied would have required 10'000 years of calculation. Credits: Frank Arute et al. 2019
This demonstration of quantum supremacy over the current classical algorithms on the fastest supercomputers in the world is truly a remarkable achievement and milestone for quantum computing. This shows that quantum computers represent a computer model that is fundamentally different from that of conventional computers. It also combats critics of the controllability and viability of quantum computing in an extraordinarily large computing space (containing at least the 253 states used here) . "

Oliver also pointed out, however, that there is still a long way to go before quantum computers can be democratized. For example, researchers will need to develop new algorithms that can work with error-prone quantum processors, which will be available in the near future. And, to make the technology commercially viable in the long run, scientists will have to design robust protocols to correct quantum errors.