Quantum Computing Research May Back Controversial Company

A quantum computer without its protective thermal canister. The kind of computing D-Wave pursues seeks to define a problem’s answer in terms of an optimal outcome among a near-infinitude of possibilities.

Kim Stallknecht for The New York TimesA quantum computer without its protective thermal canister. The kind of computing D-Wave pursues seeks to define a problem’s answer in terms of an optimal outcome among a near-infinitude of possibilities.

In the fight to prove it really has developed a quantum computer,D-Wave Systems may have won a big round.

In a paper published on arXiv.org, researchers from University College London, and the University of Southern Californiacompared the data obtained from a D-Wave computer with three possible explanations from classical physics, and one from the type of quantum computing that D-Wave is pursuing. None of the classical outcomes fit the data, while the quantum outcome fit the data from the machine.

If proved out, the results will be a significant boost for D-Wave, a 13-year-old company that has won contracts with Lockheed Martinand a joint research endeavor by Google and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, as well as significant skepticism from many academic quantum physicists. Taking an applied approach sharply different from that previously tried by most academics, D-Wave has reported computing gains vastly better than anyone else.

Scientists at D-Wave, which is based in British Columbia, were quick to cheer the results.

“This is analogous with the transition from classical physics to relativity,” said Colin Williams, a quantum physicist who serves as D-Wave’s director of business development. “This slays the objections.”

Not entirely. “What I think is going on here is that they didn’t model the ‘noise’ correctly,” said Umesh Vazirani, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. He was referring to possible distortions to the data caused by a technique in the experiment that effectively turned up the temperature, affecting the behavior of qubits. “One should have a little more respect with the truth.”

Quantum computing proposes to solve problems using properties of quantum physics that differ from the classical understanding of matter. In quantum physics, subatomic particles can inhabit a range of states, even at the same time, and appear to affect one another over great distances – even, it is posited, across different universes.

The kind of computing D-Wave pursues seeks to define a problem’s answer in terms of an optimal outcome among a near-infinitude of possibilities. This is analogous to the way a plant uses quantum processes to efficiently harvest sunlight for carbohydrates in photosynthesis

Mr. Vazirani seemed more charitable to D-Wave than in the past. In January, he and others published a paper of their own that indicated D-Wave had not cracked quantum computing. Since then, he said, “after talking with them I feel a lot better about them. They are working hard to prove quantum computing.”

In a paper also published on arXiv.org in January, scientists from D-Wave, U.S.C., and the University of British Columbia said they had found evidence in their machine of quantum entanglement, which is when one unit, or qubit, can affect another without direct contact.

“None of the classical models show what D-Wave hardware does,” said Mr. Williams.

While the controversy has gone on for years, it may reach an end within a year or two. Mr. Williams said that in April, D-Wave will be conducting experiments with a machine managing over 1,000 qubits, about twice the number currently inside its best machine.

A 2,000-qubit machine is scheduled for the end of the year, and will be ready for experiments within a few months after that. If D-Wave can rapidly solve the kind of large problems a machine like that is expected to, that would perhaps be the most persuasive evidence possible that we have entered a new computing era.

How Advanced Mobile Networks Could Power Themselves

 

Cellular networks guzzle electricity and diesel fuel, but researchers are showing how new versions could be cleaner but still reliable.

By David Talbot on March 24, 2014

A dirty secret of mobile communications is that it uses lots of electricity. It’s also sometimes powered by giant tanks of diesel fuel, especially in poor countries. But new research shows that it’s possible to build complex networks that run on renewable or other local power sources, with no need for backup from the electricity grid or diesel fuel.

Small transmitters, called small cells, will provide much of the capacity for future networks. These small cells might be tethered to small windmills or solar panels and batteries, or even include their own built-in power sources and batteries, as in this prototype. But fluctuations in the electricity generated at each cell could make the networks they serve less reliable.

The model, led by USC postdoc Harpreet Dhillon, has been accepted forpublication in IEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications. It’s still theoretical and requires a practical demonstration, but the work is “very important,” says Jeff Reed, director of the wireless research center at Virginia Tech. “One of the chief obstacles of setting up modern communications in emerging countries is finding a steady source of power. He has shown theoretically the mechanism that allows renewable energy harvesting alone to power the network.”

Some estimates hold that telecommunications accounts for 1 percent of human carbon emissions and that energy consumption related to telecommunications will triple in the next several years. In some markets, energy-related costs already account for as much as half of a mobile network operator’s expenses. “We need to continue to pursue improvements in energy harvesting technologies and energy storage and battery technologies; however the bigger impact will come from reduced energy consumption of the network equipment itself,” says Thierry Klein, network energy research program leader at Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs.

Some simple networks are already powered entirely by renewable energy and batteries, such as one in a Zambian village that uses a single low-power base station (see “A Tiny Cell Phone Transmitter Takes Root in Rural Africa”). “We take the approach of trying to ramp down the power requirements of the network so that with solar and battery we can make it through the night and a couple days of a rainstorm,” says Vanu Bose, whose company, Vanu, deployed that network. “There is no diesel there, but we did it by really reducing the power consumption of the base station overall.”

The concept should gain traction as more kinds of small base stations, called pico cells and femto cells, get physically closer to users and need only a few watts of power, making renewable technologies more feasible as the main energy source.

Palo Alto Networks to buy Israeli cybersecurity firm for $200 million

Mon Mar 24, 2014 7:21am EDT

Security software maker Palo Alto Networks Inc (PANW.N) said it agreed to buy privately-held Israeli cybersecurity company Cyvera for about $200 million to expand its offerings that protect businesses from cyber attacks.

Palo Alto said the deal would close in the second half of its fiscal year 2014.

Palo Alto said Cyvera’s software - which protects businesses from cyber threats by blocking unknown, zero-day attacks – would help its customers to safely enable applications and protect them against threats on any device, across any network.

Zero-day cyber attacks exploit a vulnerability in computer systems and networks known only to the attacker.

Tel Aviv-based Cyvera has 55 employees, Palo Alto said.

(Reporting by Soham Chatterjee in Bangalore; Editing by Kirti Pandey)

Cisco joins cloud computing race with $1 billion plan

A visitor walks past a Cisco advertising panel as she looks at her mobile phone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 27, 2014. REUTERS/Albert Gea

A visitor walks past a Cisco advertising panel as she looks at her mobile phone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 27, 2014.

 Cisco Systems Inc plans to offer cloud computing services, pledging to spend $1 billion over the next two years to enter a market currently led by the world’s biggest online retailerAmazon.com Inc.

Cisco said it will spend the amount to build data centers to help run the new service called Cisco Cloud Services.

Cisco, which mainly deals in networking hardware, wants to take advantage of companies’ desire to rent computing services rather than buying and maintaining their own machines.

The company said it plans to deliver the service with and through partners including Australian telecom service provider Telstra, tech distributor Ingram Micro Inc, and Indian IT company Wipro Ltd.

“Customers, providers and channel partners … want to rapidly deploy valuable enterprise-class cloud experiences for key customers — all while mitigating the risk of capital investment,” Rob Lloyd, Cisco’s president of development and sales, said in a statement.

Cisco’s plans were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Enterprise hardware spending is dwindling across the globe as companies cope with shrinking budgets, slowing or uncertain economies and a fundamental migration to cloud computing, which reduces demand for equipment by outsourcing data management and computing needs.

Microsoft Corp last year said it was cutting prices for hosting and processing customers’ online data in an aggressive challenge to Amazon’s lead in the growing business of cloud computing.

Shares of Cisco, which closed at $21.64 on Friday on the Nasdaq, were up 0.28 percent at $21.70 in pre-market trading on Monday.

(Reporting by Arnab Sen and Supriya Kurane in Bangalore; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Savio D’Souza)

Graphene Helps Copper Wires Keep Their Cool

 

An exotic form of carbon could help relieve a growing problem with the copper used in computer processors.

WHY IT MATTERS

 

When people in the chip industry talk about the thermal problems in computer processors, they get dramatic. In 2001, Pat Gelsinger, then vice president of Intel, noted that if the temperatures produced by the latest chips kept rising on their current path, they would exceed the heat of a nuclear reactor by 2005, and the surface of the sun by 2015. Fortunately, such thermal disaster was averted by slowing down the switching speeds in microprocessors, and by adopting multicore chip designs in which several processors run in parallel.

Now the semiconductor industry has another thermal problem to sort out. As chip components shrink, the copper wiring that connects them must shrink, too. And as these wires get thinner, they heat up tremendously.

A potential solution to this interconnect fever has been found in the form of graphene, an exotic material made from single-atom-thick sheets of carbon that is a superlative conductor of both electrons and heat.

Materials scientists already use copper as a catalyst to grow graphene for other uses. So Alexander Balandin of the University of California, Riverside, and Kostya Novoselov, a physicist at University of Manchester, U.K., who won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for his foundational work with graphene (see “Graphene Wins Nobel Prize”), decided to leave the graphene on the copper to see how it affected the metal’s thermal properties. In a paper published in the journal Nano Letters, they report that a sandwich made of graphene on both sides of a sheet of copper improves the copper’s ability to dissipate heat by 25 percent—a significant figure for chip designers.

Balandin says that the graphene itself doesn’t seem to conduct the heat away. Rather, it alters the structure of the copper, improving the metal’s conductive properties. Heat moving through copper is usually slowed by the crystalline structure of the metal. Graphene changes this structure, causing those walls to move farther apart, and allowing heat to flow more readily, says Balandin.

Studies were done with relatively thick sheets of copper—much larger than the copper wires found in computer chips—but Balandin expects that the heat-conducting effect will be seen in thinner copper wires, too. He’s now working on copper-graphene wires as small as those used in commercial computer chips.

The problem is an urgent one. This year, Intel is expected to announce products containing 14-nanometer transistors, with copper interconnects about on this scale or even smaller. Copper wires will not work below 10 nanometers, and it’s not clear what will. “We haven’t yet found an interconnect material that can work beyond 10 nanometers,” partly due to overheating, says Saroj Nayak, a physicist at the Center for Integrated Electronics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Majeed Foad, an electrical engineer at Applied Materials, a semiconductor-equipment maker headquartered in Santa Clara, California, who helps the company track research on new materials, says graphene’s properties are exciting, but adds that as chip components are miniaturized, they become more sensitive to high temperatures. It takes a lot of heat to make good quality graphene—Balandin and Novoselov heated their wires to over 1,000 °C. Foad says such temperatures would degrade transistors and other chip components. Balandin, however, points to lab experiments that demonstrate that graphene can be grown at lower temperatures, at least in the research setting.

Regardless, Foad says, chip makers won’t be in any rush to embrace graphene. “Changing materials is very painful, so we will squeeze every last drop of performance out of what we have,” he says.

 

Sony Joins Virtual Reality Race with New Headset for PlayStation

 

Inspired by Oculus Rift, Sony is adding virtual reality to the PlayStation 4.

Sony gaming headset

Sony unveiled its long-rumored virtual reality headset on Tuesday at the 2014 Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios, stood in front of a packed auditorium of game developers and said: “Virtual reality is the next innovation from PlayStation that could shape the future of video games.”

Code-named Project Morpheus (a name Yoshida admitted the company only settled on within the past few weeks), the headset will work with Sony’s PlayStation 4 video game console (see “Xbox vs. PlayStation: Beginning of the End for Consoles?”). The headset, which Sony said has been in development for three years, will use inertial sensors built into the head-mounted unit and the PlayStation camera to track a user’s orientation and movement. As the player’s head rotates, the image of the virtual world rotates in real-time.

The headset includes a five-inch LCD panel and 90-degree field of vision. It contains a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and 3-D audio. Morpheus has a light, slick design: a black, rounded visor that hangs solidly from a white curved headband. However, Sony has been quick to point out that neither the specifications nor design are fixed as yet.

“Morpheus enables developers to create experiences that deliver a sense of presence—where players feel as though they are physically inside the virtual world of a game,” said a Sony spokesperson. “Presence is like a window into another world that heightens the emotions gamers experience as they play.”

Richard Marks, one of Project Morpheus’s creators, described his experience with the technology: “When I first experienced presence it shifted my skepticism into complete belief.”

The decision to unveil the technology at an event for game developers rather than to the general public was a tactical one. Sony no doubt hopes to replicate the groundswell of independent developer support that created such a buzz around Oculus Rift. This rival headset, first announced in 2012 and slated for release later this year, is a PC-compatible device that has dominated the conversation around virtual reality (see “Virtual Reality Startups Look Back to the Future”). Sony’s Yoshida paid tribute to Oculus Rift in his presentation. “I have an enormous amount of respect for them,” he said. “We were inspired in our work by the enthusiastic reactions of developers and journalists who tried their prototypes.”

Enthusiasm for Oculus Rift has been tempered by some skepticism. Some observers argue that VR is a gimmick that soon wears thin—as evidenced by the technology’s disappearance in the 1990s. Others complain that such headsets often make players nauseated.

Even so, Sony’s announcement adds to the sense that VR’s time has come. While Oculus Rift has the sizeable benefit of being first, Project Morpheus will benefit from Sony’s marketing clout and the installed base of six million PlayStation 4 owners. And unlike Oculus Rift, Sony’s device will benefit from running on hardware with fixed specifications.

 

Endocyte Doubles After Drug Shown to Slow Lung Cancer

By Anna Edney  Mar 21, 2014 8:11 AM PT

Endocyte Inc., a biotechnology company with no marketed products, more than doubled in value after its experimental medicine slowed the progression of lung cancer in a study.

The drug, vintafolide, also won the backing of a European Union panel to treat ovarian cancer along with an imaging agent that will help the therapy target the patients who will respond best, the West Lafayette, Indiana-based company said today in a statement. Endocyte surged 89 percent to $27.60 at 10:52 a.m. New York, after rising to as high as $33.70 in the largest intraday increase since the shares began trading in 2011.

The trial results in non-small cell lung cancer are key because that study involves a larger patient population,Adnan Butt, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in San Francisco, said in an e-mail. The mid-stage study showed vintafolide combined with chemotherapy reduced the risk of patients’ lung cancer worsening or of death by 25 percent compared with chemotherapy alone.

“We’ve studied vintafolide in two of the toughest-to-treat cancers and seen positive results and we view this as a continuing validation of the drug and the platform,” Chief Executive Officer Ron Ellis said on a conference call today.

Attractive Candidate

The company could be a candidate for a merger or acquisition “with an attractive product, pipeline and technology,” said Butt, the analyst, who didn’t mention any potential suitors by name. The study confirms that Endocyte is “a platform technology company, along the same lines as” ImmunoGen Inc. and Seattle Genetics Inc. he said.

The start of a final-phase trial required for approval to sell the drug will depend on data still being gathered on how long vintafolide extends patients’ lives, Ellis said. That data may be available later this year, he said.

The timing will be up to partner Merck & Co., Endocyte said. Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck, which joined Endocyte in the development of vintafolide in 2012, fell less than 1 percent to $55.36.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anna Edney in Washington at aedney@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net Bruce Rule, Robert Valpuesta

Vermillion launches metals fund as Carlyle rebuilds commodities

Vermillion, the commodity arm of U.S. private equity group Carlyle Group LP (CG.O), has started trading a new gold and base metals fund this month as it seeks to rebuild market presence after losing more than half of its capital, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

In a regulatory filing dated February 14, Vermillion’s Chief Operating Officer Christopher Zuech said the Aeris Metals Fund had raised $122.5 million from 23 investors in total. The filing did not state the launch date.

Carlyle spokesman Randy Whitestone declined comment.

Aeris, focused on both physical and derivatives trading, is one of the first commodity fund launches of the year, after a tumultuous 2013 when institutional cash left the space to chase a rally in equities. Commodity-focused hedge funds were also roiled by lower volatility last year.

Trading at Aeris will be overseen by Greg Buechele, the portfolio manager for precious and base metals at New York-based Vermillion Asset Management, sources said.

Buechele was a commodity index products manager and timber trader at Goldman Sachs (GS.N) before he joined Vermillion in 2007 to assist in trading base and precious metals and develop livestock market strategies, the Carlyle Group said on its website. Carlyle bought Vermillion in 2012.

“Vermillion has had its ups and downs in commodities, but it’s won a liking for its physical premium play in metals combined with options trading done by Buechele,” said the manager of a rival metals hedge fund in New York.

“That’s one reason they’ve been able to get good support from outside investors for this new venture.”

Separately, Carlyle, with prominent hedge fund manager Louis Bacon and other investors, is acquiring a majority stake in metals trader Traxys Group. The investment comes as big banks scale back on commodities.

Aeris is the sixth fund within Vermillion, which lost more than a $1 billion in assets under management last year.

Vermillion’s assets fell from above $2 billion in March 2013 to around $900 million by December.

In January, Carlyle said Vermillion will also be responsible for one of its upcoming commodity mutual funds, called the Carlyle Enhanced Commodity Real Return.

Founded by Drew Gilbert and Chris Nygaard in 2005, Vermillion trades agricultural products, metals, energy and staples such as coffee, sugar and cocoa beans. Gilbert and Nygaard remain co-chief investment officers at the firm.

(Corrects Christopher Zuech’s title to Chief Operating Officer, not Chief Investment Officer)

(Reporting by Barani Krishnan; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Airbnb in funding talks valuing it at about $10 billion: source

Online home-rental marketplace Airbnb Inc is in advanced talks with private equity firms including TPG Capital Management LP TPG.UL to raise funds that would value the company at about $10 billion, a person briefed on the matter said Thursday.

TPG is likely to lead the funding round, which could exceed $400 million. Texas-based TPG recently made a large investment in ride-sharing company Uber, another major player in the burgeoning sector known as the sharing economy.

The Airbnb talks were first reported Thursday by The Wall Street Journal. (r.reuters.com/fup77v)

Airbnb, whose website rental listings range from private rooms to manors and islands, has become one of Silicon Valley’s most successful start-ups in the five years since it was founded by a trio of graduates from the Rhode Island School of Design and Harvard.

But its foray into the hospitality business has been met with controversy in critical marketslike New York state, which prohibits renters from subletting their homes for less than 30 days if they are not present. The company remains locked in a legal battle with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who subpoenaed Airbnb for information about its hosts in the state last year to determine which were in violation of state law.

The San Francisco city attorney’s office has also looked into the legality of such short-term rentals after coming under pressure from tenant advocates, who say the proliferation of Airbnb rentals has sapped the rental housing market of supply and driven up rent prices.

A valuation of $10 billion would make Airbnb worth more than Hyatt Hotels Corp (H.N), which has a market value of $8.43 billion, and Wyndham Worldwide Corp (WYN.N), valued at $9.39 billion.

(Reporting by Gerry Shih in San Francisco and Sweta Singh in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Leslie Adler)

Alibaba invests $280 million in messaging app Tango

Tango, the mobile messaging app-maker, announced Wednesday it has raised $280 million in a new funding round led by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

By almost any measure, the investment amounted to a staggering sum for a mobile app developer. The deal, which came one month after Facebook Inc’s stunning $19 billion acquisition of Whatsapp, underscored the lengths that Internet companies are willing to go to gain a foothold in mobile communications.

Alibaba invested $215 million while the remainder of the funding came from Tango’s prior investors, which include Access Industries, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Jerry Yang, a co-founder of Yahoo Inc, Tango said.

The investment gives Alibaba a minority stake in a messaging service with 200 million registered users and 70 million active users. Tango claims significant traction in North America, the Middle East, Taiwan and Singapore.

Alibaba, which views Chinese rival Tencent as its most serious competitor, has long recognized the threat posed by Tencent Holding’s WeChat, a massively popular messaging app that has slowly morphed into an e-commerce platform. Alibaba recently introduced a WeChat competitor called Laiwang, but the service has so far struggled to the extent that Alibaba founder Jack Ma, according to various media reports, urged Alibaba’s entire workforce last year to recruit new users.

Tango, the mobile messaging app-maker, announced Wednesday it has raised $280 million in a new funding round led by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

By almost any measure, the investment amounted to a staggering sum for a mobile app developer. The deal, which came one month after Facebook Inc’s stunning $19 billion acquisition of Whatsapp, underscored the lengths that Internet companies are willing to go to gain a foothold in mobile communications.

Alibaba invested $215 million while the remainder of the funding came from Tango’s prior investors, which include Access Industries, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Jerry Yang, a co-founder of Yahoo Inc, Tango said.

The investment gives Alibaba a minority stake in a messaging service with 200 million registered users and 70 million active users. Tango claims significant traction in North America, the Middle East, Taiwan and Singapore.

Alibaba, which views Chinese rival Tencent as its most serious competitor, has long recognized the threat posed by Tencent Holding’s WeChat, a massively popular messaging app that has slowly morphed into an e-commerce platform. Alibaba recently introduced a WeChat competitor called Laiwang, but the service has so far struggled to the extent that Alibaba founder Jack Ma, according to various media reports, urged Alibaba’s entire workforce last year to recruit new users.

Tango is the latest in a string of investments for Alibaba, which is preparing for an highly anticipated initial public offering in New York that could value the company at $200 billion.

MESSAGING WARS

In an interview, Tango co-founder Eric Setton told Reuters that he believed his company, which offers games, multimedia sharing and other content, would eventually beat Whatsapp, which offers purely text and voice communications.

“The platform approach I believe is the winning strategy,” Setton said. “We’ve now seen it in a number of key markets, with Kakao in Korea or Line in Japan.”

Tango, which has offices in Mountain View, California, Beijing and Austin, Texas, was introduced to Alibaba through Yang, who in 2005 led Yahoo’s investment in the Chinese company.