Since Rigetti Computing launched three years ago, the Berekely and Fremont-based startup has attracted a host of investors — including private American venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz (also known as A16Z). As of this week, Rigetting Computing has raised a total of $64 million after successfully hosting a Series A and Series B round of funding.
The startup is attracting investors primarily because it promises to revolutionize quantum computing technology: “Rigetti has assembled an impressive team of scientists and engineers building the combination of hardware and software that has the potential to finally unlock quantum computing for computational chemistry, machine learning and much more,” Vijay Pande, a general partner at A16Z, said when the fundraising was announced.
Quantum Problem Solving
Quantum computers are expected to change computing forever in large part due to their speed and processing power. Instead of processing information the way existing systems do — relying on bits of 0s and 1s operating on miniature transistors — quantum computers use quantum bits (or qubits) that can both be a 0 or a 1 at the same time. This is thanks to a quantum phenomenon called superposition. In existing versions of quantum computers, this has been achieved using individual photons.
“Quantum computing will enable people to tackle a whole new set of problems that were previously unsolvable,” said Chad Rigetti, the startup’s founder and CEO. “This is the next generation of advanced computing technology. The potential to make a positive impact on humanity is enormous.” This translates to computing system that are capable of handling problems deemed too difficult for today’s computers. Such applications could be found everywhere from advanced medical research to even improved encryption and cybersecurity.
How is Rigetti Computing planning to revolutionize the technology? For starters, they’re building a quantum computing platform for artificial intelligence and computational chemistry. This can help overcome the logistical challenges that currently plague quantum computer development. They also have an API for quantum computing in the cloud, called Forest, that’s recently opened up private beta testing.
Rigetti expects it will be at least two more years before their technology can be applied to real world problems. But for interested investors, investing in such a technological game-changer sooner rather than later makes good business sense.
As much as our understanding of the universe has grown over the past decade, we are still a few missing of the threads that make up the interstellar tapestry. Among other things, we’ve yet to understand what accounts for more than 25 to 27 percent of the mass and energy and 80 percent of the gravity in our observable universe. This Dark Matter, scientists believe, could be made up of particles that remain undetectable and largely unknowable for us.
However, scientists have recently put forward a new model to help us understand these particles — and possibly to “hear” them as well.
To do this, they combined several of the craziest concepts in physics — such as Black Holes, Gravitational Waves, and dark matter. “The basic idea is that we’re trying to use black holes…the densest, most compact objects in the universe, to search for new kinds of particles,” researcher Masha Baryakhtar told Gizmodo.
Tuning In and Listening
Of course, it helps that gravitational waves — a fundamental part of Einstein’s general theory of relativity — have been discovered and confirmed in 2016, providing a handle to work with. The theory Baryakhtara and colleagues developed, which was published in the journal Physical Review D, puts forward a way to understand black holes and axions by following a “gravity atom” model.
In this model, a black hole works like an Atom with axions as electrons. Atoms and electrons interact via electromagnetism, whereas axions interact with a black hole via gravity. Axions jump around a black hole, gaining and losing energy and releasing gravitational waves. As the black hole rotates, it supercharges the space around it, producing more axions through what’s known as a superradiance effect. This could produce 10^80 axions — as many as the total number of atoms in the entire universe.
Now, with the estimated abundance of axions, the researchers believe it’s possible to actually hear the hum of the gravitational waves produced by this atom-like behavior of the black hole-axion system. “You’d see this at a particular frequency which would be roughly twice the axion mass,” said Baryakhtar said in the Gizmodo interview. To detect these, scientists can rely on the very instrument that detected gravitational waves in the first place, giant detectors called Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).
These can be adjusted to tune in on axions. “With the current sensitivity we’re on the edge” of detecting axions, Baryakhtar explained. “But LIGO will continue improving their instruments, and, at design sensitivity, we might be able to see as many as 1000s of these axion signals coming in.”
Of course, this is still just theory, and theoretical physics is a tough field to work in. But instruments like LIGO are helping us understand the vast and largely unknown space outside of our world. Just as it’s helped discover gravitational waves, which previously existed only in theory, the LIGO may soon discover particles like axions. We may be entering a new era in physics.
Few subjects are quite as divisive right now as the potential impact of automation on employment. Some, like U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, believe we needn’t be concerned, while others assert that we are already at the start of the biggest workforce upheaval since the Industrial Revolution.
Now, a new paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) puts an actual number to the threat of automation: each industrial robot introduced in the workforce between 1990 and 2007 coincided with the elimination of 6.2 jobs within the commute area. Wages also saw a slight drop of between .25 and .50 percent per 1,000 employees when one or more robots was added to their workforce.
The report’s authors, economists Daron Acemoglu from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University, predict that we could see as much as a .94 to 1.76 percent decline in the employment-to-population ratio by 2025. By 2025, the Census Bureau estimates the United States’ population will reach 347.3 million. That means between 3.3 to 6.1 million jobs could be lost to automation.
In total, roughly 670,000 manufacturing jobs were lost to robots during the period of the study, a number that is expected to only go up given how more and more companies are looking toward automation as a way to improve operations in the coming years.
Add the Census Bureau’s predictions to the ever-growing list of studies that see robots disrupting the workforce, and the threat of automation becomes all-too-real. Even more modest scenarios see the number of industrial robots increasing by about threefold in the next 10 or so years.
That said, researchers and policy makers are already looking for ways to address the seemingly inevitable mass displacement that will be brought about by automation. Several are considering and testing universal basic income (UBI) programs, which would allow the government of a country to ensure that dramatic employee displacement wouldn’t lead to economic instability. Another suggested system involves taxing industrial robots, as suggested by Bill Gates.
The fact is, automation will have an impact on the current employment status quo. The gravity of its effects and what we can do to address them is an important conversation that we most definitely need to be having right now.
Elon Musk seems to be making headlines every day with his spaceships and solar panels and gigafactories and colonies on mars and secret tunnels and AI labs and self-driving cars. However, there is one thing he did that might be even more noteworthy yet did not draw nearly as much attention. He didn’t like the way his kids were being educated so he pulled them out of their fancy private school and started his own.
The school’s name is Ad Astra, meaning ‘to the stars’, and seems to be based around Musk’s belief that schools should “teach to the problem, not to the tools.” ‘Let’s say you’re trying to teach people how engines work. A traditional approach would be to give you courses on screwdrivers and wrenches. A much better way would be, here is an engine, now how are we going to take it apart? Well, you need a screwdriver. And then a very important thing happens, the relevance of the tool becomes apparent.’
Musk’s decision highlights a bigger issue, how we educate people needs to change. Education today really isn’t that much different from what it was a hundred years ago. It’s still classrooms crammed full of students all learning the same thing at the same pace from overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated teachers who spend thirty years teaching more or less the same thing.
Parents should be the most concerned. From the time kids are old enough to start school until they are independent enough to make their own decisions, parents consume themselves worrying about their child’s education. It made sense, after all getting your kids a good education was always thought to be the best thing you could do to assure them a bright future. And parents all around the world go to crazy lengths to do whatever they can to make sure their kids get the education they need. They’ll move houses to be in a better school district, spend thousands of dollars a year on after-school and summer programs, and hire tutors, all to make sure little Jimmy or Sally are prepared to face the world of tomorrow.
However for parents today things have gotten even more complicated. The world that the next generation will grow up in will be radically different from anything we have seen in the past. A world filled with artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, automation, virtual reality, personalized medicine, self-driving cars, and people on Mars. A world where people might not even have jobs and where society itself may be arranged in fundamentally different ways. How are parents, and society for that matter, supposed to know how to prepare them to succeed in a world that we cannot predict?
It starts by rethinking what a school is. Schools used to be the storehouses of human knowledge and going to school was the best way to learn anything. Now that is no longer the case, knowledge is no longer confined to dusty classrooms or old books. Thanks to the internet it is now accessible to anybody who wants it. All schools have to do is get them to want it.
The role of school should no longer be to fill heads with information, rather it should be a place that inspires students to be curious about the world they live in. Kids are born explorers, when they are young all they want to do is push boundaries and explore the limits of what they can do. Let’s not suffocate that curiosity by making them spend their childhoods preparing for one test after another while adhering to rigid school policies that stifle creativity and independent thought.
The ability to adapt and learn something new should be valued above all else. Gone are the days where you pick a profession and just do that one thing for the rest of your life. People will need to know how to learn something new multiple times over in their lives. Not only because it will be the only way you’ll still be able to contribute to society, but also because our knowledge of the world and who we are is progressing incredibly quickly. If the last time you learned anything new was when you were in school then you will be missing out on the new ways of understandings the world that are constantly opening up.
And this is not just something that we have to worry about for the younger generation, adults will also need to be re-educated as most of the skills they acquired in school will soon be obsolete.
All active learning should be task driven. No more lessons where you jot down notes off a blackboard, rather students are assigned tasks to complete and given all the tools they might need to figure out how to solve the problem. (3d printers, virtual learning environments, interactive displays, a connection to labs and research facilities all around the world, etc.)
Passive learning should not be rigidly structured. Students should be given a topic to learn about and a variety of educational materials to pick from to help them learn, it should then be up to them which they want to use. (podcasts, videos, books, virtual tours, etc.)
Teachers become facilitators of learning. Rather than lecturing everyone, they go from student to student or group to group helping them figure out how to learn what they need to know. Teachers no longer need a deep understanding of the given topic but they should know how to learn about it. Students eventually should also be supplied with their own virtual learning assistant to answer any question they may have and help them stay on task.
Classrooms themselves will need to be redesigned. No more square boxes with rows of desks, the classrooms of the future should be innovative spaces that promote curiosity while fostering creative social interaction with peers.
The goal of education should never be to get an A or pass a test. Making students and parents obsess about grades and scores sucks away all the joy of learning. The goal should be to make students literate in all core subjects and fluent at a select few. Being able to do something that you couldn’t do before or finding a new way of understanding the world is far more rewarding than any score on a piece of paper ever could be.
In addition, education should give people an understanding that the world is not divided up into discreet subjects. Separating knowledge into columns labeled science or history or Chinese is at times pedagogically useful but everyone should realize that the world is not made up of independent subjects, they bleed into each other and none can be fully understood in isolation. Subjects are simply tools to help you understand the world.
Students should also know that no subject is beyond them. We are told lies that some people just can’t do math or can’t draw. Other subjects like physics are presented to us as too dry or too complex for most people to grasp. What should be taught is that a certain level of literacy in any subject is not only attainable by everybody but is necessary to be able to appreciate the world we live in.
Much of this may seem idealistic or unrealistic, but radical change is needed if we are going to figure out how to live in the future we are creating.
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats
A company called Wright Electric made a presentation this week at the Tech Crunch Y Combinator Demo Day showing off a plan to design and develop a 150-seat commercial aircraft that operates completely (or at least partially) on electric power. Wright’s core is comprised by a team that was formerly working with NASA to investigate electric aircraft viability. Other design team members also have strong aviation backgrounds coming from Boeing and Cessna.
According to Wright Electric’s blog, its first step is to retrofit a Piper Cherokee into a flying testbed aircraft. Wright hopes to secure funding to prove its concept and then plans to build a nine-seat commercial aircraft that flies without jet fuel.
Fast-forwarding several years — and through layers of red tape in the government approval process — Wright envisions its 150-seat planes replacing the stalwart Boeing 737 on short-haul routes such as NYC to Boston. The BBC says Wright has the interest of European low-cost carrier EasyJet, which hopes for electric flights from London to Paris within ten years. The airline told the BBC, “EasyJet has had discussions with Wright Electric and is actively providing an airline operator’s perspective on the development of this exciting technology.”
The Road to Clean Flight
Apart from employee salary and the airplanes themselves, fuel is the top expense at most airlines. Alternative methods of powering planes aren’t really anything new, and other electric or hybrid concepts have come and gone. Airbus created its E-Fan aircraft to explore the realm of possibility of electric aircraft. Although it’s been successful in the form of a tiny plane with a solo pilot, Airbus has since realized a hybrid version of the plane — equipped with both electric and internal combustion engines — is more viable.
Wright has said it may end up with a hybrid system as well, depending how available battery technology progresses in the nest few years. But there can be no doubt that airlines will do whatever is reasonable and ethically possible to reduce operating costs.
Over the past few years, several airlines have even implemented alternative biofuels to power their jets on select flights. In 2016, United Airlines launched an initiative to use biofuels on every flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to San Francisco (SFO). Alaska Airlines has experimented with a sustainable biofuel based on leftover limbs and branches from the Pacific Northwest timber industry.
How much battery power would it take to power a plane for a 300-mile flight? The problems with batteries on aircraft have been well-publicized, from the fires on the early Boeing 787s, to bulk lithium-ion battery shipments on UPS. Is it possible? Yes. But ten years seems a bit too ambitious when they don’t even have a conceptual plane flying. Their mindset toward eliminating or reducing jet fuel use is commendable, and the reduction in jet fuel use would be beneficial to the environment.
It was only a matter of time before the impact of robots and automation would start having an effect on the white-collar workforce. Case in point: BlackRock, Inc, the world’s largest money manager, just announced that it plans to transition toward automated solutions.
The decision to transition comes after news of a massive overhaul that involved a reorganization within BlackRock. The purpose of the reorganization was to place a greater emphasis on computer algorithms that can inform investments. Quite simply, investors are now questioning whether having a human manage their money is worth the fees they require, especially since successful money management is essentially anchored on recognizing and following certain market indicators — the sort of things artificial intelligences (AI) can be programmed to do.
In light of that, BlackRock plans to merge traditional investing methods with technology and data science. This strategy marks the biggest shift in traditional stock picking by a major asset manager to date. It will impact $30 billion worth of assets, and roughly 13 percent of BlackRock’s portfolio managers will be laid off as part of the transition.
Talk of how much automation will disrupt the traditional workforce has mostly centered on blue-collar industries, but this move from BlackRock demonstrates that the very real implications of technology on the job market aren’t limited to professions defined by easily replicated manual labor.
Jobs in stock picking and money management are some of the most lucrative, and yet, given BlackRock’s decision to turn to machines and algorithms to refine their services, even those knowledge-based professions are vulnerable to automation.
“We are starting to see in fields like medicine, law, investment banking, dramatic increases in the ability of computers to think as well or better than humans. And that’s really the game-changer here. Because that’s something that we have never seen before,” public policy expert Sunil Johal told CBC News in reference to robots taking over white-collar professions. Millions of workers worldwide are expected to be displaced by automation, and even the best algorithm can’t predict right now what the impact of that will be.
Stephen Hawking is a real wonder to behold. The now 75-year-old astrophysicist was told that he wouldn’t see past his 25th birthday due to his diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. And, although he is bound to a wheelchair, his mind has wildly surpassed his physical limitations.
Embracing his lack of limitations, Hawking recently appeared as a hologram at an event in Hong Kong last week. During the talk, Hawking fielded questions about exoplanets, black holes, and other topics that firmly fit within his area of expertise. He also made a few enlightening comments about current affairs.
Hawking believes that “We are witnessing a global revolt against experts.” He expressed frustration at the lack of confidence world leaders are showing toward scientists. Hawking pointed to willful ignorance in politics which allows for the continued degradation of our environment.
Previously, Hawking has also shared some harsh words about the tendencies of our species. “We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity.”
Answers in Science and Tech
However, his talk wasn’t all doom and gloom. He explained, “The answer to these problems will come from science and technology.”
The development of artificial intelligence (AI) and a continuing push toward greater space exploration are two such areas of particular focus for Hawking. He has spoken at length on both the potential and dangers of AI, saying that it will be “either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity”. He notes the potential of AI to eradicate disease, and end poverty, but also warns of its ability to allow for “powerful autonomous weapons” and “new ways for the few to oppress the many.”
Earlier this year, Tesla Motors changed their name to Tesla Inc. — a move that signified the company’s intent to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy.
Instead of focusing on just one aspect of ensuring a sustainable future, Tesla wants to ensure that it is able to make broad solutions available to the public. It has determined that transitioning to renewable energy and technology is the best way to accomplish this.
A big part of this grand plan is anchored on the company’s acquisition of the solar energy company SolarCity. Tesla’s purchase will allow it to provide its customers with more comprehensive services, said Kurt Kelty, senior director of Battery Technology at Tesla, who spoke at the International Battery Seminar after the company won Innovator of the Year. He said that his vision was that Tesla customers would be able to have Tesla’s electronic vehicles (EVs) in their garage, Tesla’s solar panels on their roofs, and Tesla’s batteries powering their devices.
“You have solar, battery pack, the EV, and you’ve got all the controls on your cell phone,” Kelty said at the seminar. “This is the kind of future we see for [your] house.”
Kelty explained that Tesla’s energy storage solution makes the brand a “one-stop shop… it’s all a well-integrated system and it just makes it that much easier for the customer to use.”
Elon Musk’s Grand Plan
Tesla Inc. CEO, Elon Musk has always been very vocal about his grand plan to usher in a sustainable future. And Tesla’s pioneering legacy in car manufacturing is now lending itself to the development of Tesla’s energy storage technology — the Powerwalls and Powerpacks. Kelty described the rise of additional applications of these micro-grids in Hawaii and California.
“There are a lot of applications for the Powerpack that we’re just starting to explore,” Kelty said at the seminar. “We’re just starting to penetrate the market now, and the market potential is absolutely huge.”
And with the goal of becoming an integrated, “one-stop shop” for clean energy needs, the Gigafactory is also consistently trying to lower battery cost, making renewable and sustainable energy more accessible to the public. In addition, Tesla is monitoring their batteries’ usage to gain real time data that will ultimately lead to further advances in battery technology.
Should Tesla’s products be successful, they could allow the U.S. to not only lower its dependence on fossil fuels, thereby reducing its carbon footprint, but also cut down its usage of electricity as a whole by making energy storage more efficient. And, as the U.S. government contemplates cutting environmental programs from the budget, it may be more important than ever for private companies like Tesla to step up to the plate to address climate change.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is planning to make history today with the first relaunch and re-landing of a previously launched and landed Falcon 9 rocket booster. A successful operation will be revolutionary for future missions to space.
The booster was first launched on April 8, 2016, and was successfully recovered after it landed on a drone ship stationed out on the Atlantic Ocean. The original launch was also carrying a satellite into orbit.
Pending good weather, SpaceX is hoping to relaunch then recover the lower half of their Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket will be carrying a satellite into orbit for SES, a Luxembourg-based telecommunications company, that will provide internet and television service for a large portion of Central America as well as South America.
SES really wanted to be involved in the first launch from a reusable rocket, said Marcus Payer, the global communications director for SES.
“Wherever we can change the industry equation, we will do it. We were waving our hands to be the first,” Payer said in an interview with Business Insider. “We are not risk-averse, otherwise we would not be launching satellites.”
The goal of reusable rockets is to cut the cost of launching missions to space significantly. SpaceX already boasts the most affordable rocket launches in the world, but they could get even cheaper should reusing prove successful, especially since the boosters are the most expensive components of SpaceX’s rockets. The move could give SpaceX customers a 30 percent discount on launches, potentially saving companies $18 million per launch.
Cheap Rides to Space
A more cost effective way to get to space could really invigorate the space industry. Cheaper launches will enable more countries to get in on the cosmic action. Musk is confident that the rocket boosters could be reused more than 100 times.
SES CTO Martin Halliwell said his company is proud to play a role in this innovation. “We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” Halliwell said in an SES press release.
Another exciting potential of reusable rockets is the ability to travel to and from colonized planets. One of SpaceX’s major goals is to get humans onto Mars. The ability to launch multiple missions with the same rockets will significantly cut down the cost of colonizing such a planet.
Even before we see that lofty goal as a possibility, a lot of excellent work can be done with increased accessibility to space. The implications for commercial space travel, communications satellites, and astronomical research could truly make this technological feat one for the history books.
“This is not a one-off. If it works, it will become a key element in all future satellite constellations,” Payer said in the Business Insider interview. “We’ll be double-happy if this goes well, for both our sake and SpaceX’s.”