California certified its presidential election on Friday and appointed 55 electors pledged to vote for Democrat Joe Biden, officially handing him the Electoral College majority needed to win the White House.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s formal approval of Mr Biden’s win in the state brought his tally of pledged electors so far to 279, according to a tally by The Associated Press. That’s just over the 270 threshold for victory.
These steps in the election are often ignored formalities. But the hidden mechanics of electing a US president have drawn new scrutiny this year as President Donald Trump continues to deny Mr Biden’s victory and pursues increasingly specious legal strategies aimed at overturning the results before they are finalised.
Although it’s been apparent for weeks that Mr Biden won the presidential election, his accrual of more than 270 electors is the first step toward the White House, said Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University.
“It is a legal milestone and the first milestone that has that status,” Mr Foley said. “Everything prior to that was premised on what we call projections.”
Donald Trump’s niece says her uncle is “criminal, cruel and traitorous” and belongs in prison after he leaves the White House.
Mary Trump, a psychologist, author and outspoken critic of her estranged relative, rejects the notion that putting a former president on trial would deepen the nation’s political divisions.
“It’s quite frankly insulting to be told time after time that the American people can handle it and that we just need to move on,” Mary Trump told The Associated Press in an interview this week.
“If anybody deserves to be prosecuted and tried, it’s Donald,” she added. “(Otherwise) we just leave ourselves open to somebody who, believe it or not, is even worse than he is.”
Asked about her comments, a spokesperson for Mr Trump’s presidential campaign emailed a one-sentence response: “Did she mention she has a book to sell?”
Mary Trump, the daughter of the president’s elder brother, Fred Jnr, announced this week she is writing a follow-up to this summer’s scathing bestseller about her uncle, Too Much and Never Enough, How My Family Created The World’s Most Dangerous Man.
Her new book, “The Reckoning”, from publisher St Martin’s Press, won’t be out until next July.
It will trace what she says is America’s collective trauma from its founding on the backs of enslaved Africans to the burgeoning economic and mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
America is “looking down the barrel of an explosion of psychological disorders” from the “trauma of living in a country in which the pandemic didn’t just strike, but it was completely mishandled”, Ms Trump told AP.
Former White House counsellor, Kellyanne Conway, has acknowledged that Joe Biden won last month’s presidential election.
“If you look at the vote totals in the Electoral College tally, it looks like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will prevail,” she said in an interview with The 19th, a non-partisan political website.
“I assume the electors will certify that and it will be official. We, as a nation, will move forward, because we always do.”
While she defended Mr Trump’s right to exhaust “all legal avenues”, Ms Conway appealed for a smooth transition.
“You always need a peaceful transfer of democracy, no matter whose administration goes into whose administration,” she added. “We want the engines of government to keep going.”
The legalisation of cannabis across the US cleared a major hurdle yesterday when the House of Representatives voted to decriminalise the drug, although significant obstacles remain before it can be passed into law.
While recreational cannabis will soon be legal in 15 states and medicinal use allowed in 36, it remains outlawed at a federal level.
As a result, cannabis businesses are denied access to the banking system and, in theory, carrying a small quantity of pot from one state to another is an offence – even if the drug is legal in both.
The Democrat-led House of Representatives backed the change by 228 to 164 in a landmark vote that marked the first time either chamber of Congress had voted on decriminalising cannabis.
However the chances of the US falling into line with Canada, where the drug was legalised two years ago, could depend on the Democrats winning the two outstanding Senate seats in next month’s run-off election in Georgia.
China is conducting “human testing” to create “biologically enhanced soldiers,” the head of US intelligence has claimed as he warned that Beijing poses the biggest threat to America’s national security.
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, warned that the US must be prepared for an “open-ended” confrontation with China which he likened to the Cold War.
Mr Ratcliffe, who oversees America’s intelligence agencies, said he believed China’s intention was to “dominate” the planet in every sense: economically, militarily and technologically.
He claimed that US intelligence showed China has “conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities”.
“There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power,” he said.
Mr Ratcliffe said his unique vantage point on the current security threats facing the US had led him to conclude that “the People’s Republic of China poses the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom world-wide since World War II”.
He went on to outline in granular detail China’s strategy of economic espionage, which he framed as: “rob, replicate and replace.”
“China robs US companies of their intellectual property, replicates the technology, and then replaces the US firms in the global marketplace,” he said.
A teenage scientist whose inventions include an app capable of detecting and discouraging cyberbullying has been named TIME magazine’s first-ever “kid of the year”.
Gitanjali Rao, 15, was one of 5,000 nominees considered for the accolade which was inspired by the magazine having named 16-year-old environmentalist Greta Thunberg as its person of the year in 2019.
The Colorado teenager’s fascination with science began when an uncle gave her a chemistry set when she was only four or five years old.
“I am a very curious person, if that’s one thing you need to know about me,” she told TIME. “I cannot see a world filled with kindness without science and technology being involved.”
“I don’t look like your typical scientist. Everything I see on TV is that it’s an older, usually white man as a scientist.” Recently she has turned her attention to cyberbullying, with statistics showing that one in three students are victims every day.
She has devised a phone app and browser extension known as Kindly. It uses artificial intelligence to scan messages before they are sent and warn people that they could be accused of bullying.
“You type in a word or phrase, and it’s able to pick it up if it’s bullying, and it gives you the option to edit it or send it the way it is,” she explained.
“As a teenager, I know teenagers tend to lash out sometimes. Instead, it gives you the chance to rethink what you’re saying so that you know what to do next time around.”
Angered by the scandal of contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan, Gitanjali came up with TETHYS, which not only detects lead but sends a notification to a mobile phone using an app she created.
It relies on a sensor which can be put into the water which is capable of detecting chemical changes.
“It was so unacceptable that kids of my age were drinking poison every day. I realised something needed to be done to solve that problem.”
Gitanjali has also mentored 30,000 students who want to follow in her footsteps.
“I have been wanting to change the world and hopefully I am changing the world.”
For the first time, a quantum computer made from photons—particles of light—has outperformed even the fastest classical supercomputers.
Physicists led by Chao-Yang Lu and Jian-Wei Pan of the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Shanghai performed a technique called Gaussian boson sampling with their quantum computer, named Jiŭzhāng. The result, reported in the journal Science, was 76 detected photons—far above and beyond the previous record of five detected photons and the capabilities of classical supercomputers.
Unlike a traditional computer built from silicon processors, Jiŭzhāngis an elaborate tabletop setup of lasers, mirrors, prisms and photon detectors. It is not a universal computer that could one day send e-mails or store files, but it does demonstrate the potential of quantum computing.
Last year, Google captured headlines when its quantum computer Sycamore took roughly three minutes to do what would take a supercomputer three days (or 10,000 years, depending on your estimation method). In their paper, the USTC team estimates that it would take the Sunway TaihuLight, the third most powerful supercomputer in the world, a staggering 2.5 billion years to perform the same calculation as Jiŭzhāng.
This is only the second demonstration of quantum primacy, which is a term that describes the point at which a quantum computer exponentially outspeeds any classical one, effectively doing what would otherwise essentially be computationally impossible. It is not just proof of principle; there are also some hints that Gaussian boson sampling could have practical applications, such as solving specialized problems in quantum chemistry and math. More broadly, the ability to control photons as qubits is a prerequisite for any large-scale quantum internet. (A qubit is a quantum bit, analogous to the bits used to represent information in classical computing.)
“It was not obvious that this was going to happen,” says Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer scientist now at the University of Texas at Austin who along with then-student Alex Arkhipov first outlined the basics of boson sampling in 2011. Boson sampling experiments were, for many years, stuck at around three to five detected photons, which is “a hell of a long way” from quantum primacy, according to Aaronson. “Scaling it up is hard,” he says. “Hats off to them.”
Over the past few years, quantum computing has risen from an obscurity to a multibillion dollar enterprise recognized for its potential impact on national security, the global economy and the foundations of physics and computer science. In 2019, the the U.S. National Quantum Initiative Act was signed into law to invest more than $1.2 billion in quantum technology over the next 10 years. The field has also garnered a fair amount of hype, with unrealistic timelines and bombastic claims about quantum computers making classical computers entirely obsolete.
This latest demonstration of quantum computing’s potential from the USTC group is critical because it differs dramatically from Google’s approach. Sycamore uses superconducting loops of metal to form qubits; in Jiŭzhāng, the photons themselves are the qubits. Independent corroboration that quantum computing principles can lead to primacy even on totally different hardware “gives us confidence that in the long term, eventually, useful quantum simulators and a fault-tolerant quantum computer will become feasible,” Lu says.
A LIGHT SAMPLING
Why do quantum computers have enormous potential? Consider the famous double-slit experiment, in which a photon is fired at a barrier with two slits, A and B. The photon does not go through A, or through B. Instead, the double-slit experiment shows that the photon exists in a “superposition,” or combination of possibilities, of having gone through both A and B. In theory, exploiting quantum properties like superposition allows quantum computers to achieve exponential speedups over their classical counterparts when applied to certain specific problems.
Physicists in the early 2000s were interested in exploiting the quantum properties of photons to make a quantum computer, in part because photons can act as qubits at room temperatures, so there is no need for the costly task of cooling one’s system to a few kelvins (about –455 degrees Fahrenheit) as with other quantum computing schemes. But it quickly became apparent that building a universal photonic quantum computer was infeasible. To even build a working quantum computer would require millions of lasers and other optical devices. As a result, quantum primacy with photons seemed out of reach.
Then, in 2011, Aaronson and Arkhipov introduced the concept of boson sampling, showing how it could be done with a limited quantum computer made from just a few lasers, mirrors, prisms and photon detectors. Suddenly, there was a path for photonic quantum computers to show that they could be faster than classical computers.
The setup for boson sampling is analogous to the toy called a bean machine, which is just a peg-studded board covered with a sheet of clear glass. Balls are dropped into the rows of pegs from the top. On their way down, they bounce off of the pegs and each other until they land in slots at the bottom. Simulating the distribution of balls in slots is relatively easy on a classical computer.
Instead of balls, boson sampling uses photons, and it replaces pegs with mirrors and prisms. Photons from the lasers bounce off of mirrors and through prisms until they land in a “slot” to be detected. Unlike the classical balls, the photon’s quantum properties lead to an exponentially increasing number of possible distributions.
The problem boson sampling solves is essentially “What is the distribution of photons?” Boson sampling is a quantum computer that solves itself by being the distribution of photons. Meanwhile, a classical computer has to figure out the distribution of photons by computing what’s called the “permanent” of a matrix. For an input of two photons, this is just a short calculation with a two-by-two array. But as the number of photonic inputs and detectors goes up, the size of the array grows, exponentially increasing the problem’s computational difficulty.
Last year the USTC group demonstrated boson sampling with 14 detected photons—hard for a laptop to compute, but easy for a supercomputer. To scale up to quantum primacy, they used a slightly different protocol, Gaussian boson sampling.
According to Christine Silberhorn, an quantum optics expert at the University of Paderborn in Germany and one of the co-developers of Gaussian boson sampling, the technique was designed to avoid the unreliable single photons used in Aaronson and Arkhipov’s “vanilla” boson sampling.
“I really wanted to make it practical,” she says “It’s a scheme which is specific to what you can do experimentally.”
Even so, she acknowledges that the USTC setup is dauntingly complicated. Jiŭzhāng begins with a laser that is split so it strikes 25 crystals made of potassium titanyl phosphate. After each crystal is hit, it reliably spits out two photons in opposite directions. The photons are then sent through 100 inputs, where they race through a track made of 300 prisms and 75 mirrors. Finally, the photons land in 100 slots where they are detected. Averaging over 200 seconds of runs, the USTC group detected about 43 photons per run. But in one run, they observed 76 photons—more than enough to justify their quantum primacy claim.
It is difficult to estimate just how much time would be needed for a supercomputer to solve a distribution with 76 detected photons—in large part because it is not exactly feasible to spend 2.5 billion years running a supercomputer to directly check it. Instead, the researchers extrapolate from the time it takes to classically calculate for smaller numbers of detected photons. At best, solving for 50 photons, the researchers claim, would take a supercomputer two days, which is far slower than the 200-second run time of Jiŭzhāng.
Boson sampling schemes have languished at low numbers of photons for years because they are incredibly difficult to scale up. To preserve the sensitive quantum arrangement, the photons must remain indistinguishable. Imagine a horse race where the horses all have to be released from the starting gate at exactly the same time and finish at the same time as well. Photons, unfortunately, are a lot more unreliable than horses.
As photons in Jiŭzhāng travel a 22-meter path, their positions can differ by no more than 25 nanometers. That is the equivalent of 100 horses going 100 kilometers and crossing the finish line with no more than a hair’s width between them, Lu says.
The USTC quantum computer takes its name, Jiŭzhāng, from Jiŭzhāng Suànshù, or “The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art,” an ancient Chinese text with an impact comparable to Euclid’s Elements.
Quantum computing, too, has many twists and turns ahead. Outspeeding classical computers is not a one-and-done deal, according to Lu, but will instead be a continuing competition to see if classical algorithms and computers can catch up, or if quantum computers will maintain the primacy they have seized.
Things are unlikely to be static. At the end of October, researchers at the Canadian quantum computing start-up Xanadu found an algorithm that quadratically cut the classical simulation time for some boson sampling experiments. In other words, if 50 detected photons sufficed for quantum primacy before, you would now need 100.
For theoretical computer scientists like Aaronson, the result is exciting because it helps give further evidence against the extended Church-Turing thesis, which holds that any physical system can be efficiently simulated on a classical computer.
“At the very broadest level, if we thought of the universe as a computer, then what kind of computer is it?” Aaronson says. “Is it a classical computer? Or is it a quantum computer?”
So far, the universe, like the computers we are attempting to make, seems to be stubbornly quantum.
Leading American infectious disease scientist Dr Anthony Fauci on Thursday walked back his criticism of Britain’s drug regulator after saying it had rushed through its coronavirus vaccine approval.
His comments came a day after Britain became the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for general use, prompting some scepticism among the country’s European neighbors and suggestions of politicisation.
Widely respected Dr Fauci, who leads the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the BBC: “I have a great deal of confidence in what the UK does both scientifically and from a regulator standpoint.”
“Our process is one that takes more time than it takes in the UK. And that’s just the reality,” he said, adding: “I did not mean to imply any sloppiness even though it came out that way.”
Dr Fauci had earlier described Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as having “ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile” and “rushed through that approval.”
Chinese scientists claim to have built a quantum computer that is able to perform certain computations nearly 100 trillion times faster than the world’s most advanced supercomputer, representing the first milestone in the country’s efforts to develop the technology.
The researchers have built a quantum computer prototype that is able to detect up to 76 photons through Gaussian boson sampling, a standard simulation algorithm, the state-run Xinhua news agency said, citing research published in Science magazine. That’s exponentially faster than existing supercomputers.
The breakthrough represents a quantum computational advantage, also known as quantum supremacy, in which no traditional computer can perform the same task in a reasonable amount of time and is unlikely to be overturned by algorithmic or hardware improvements, according to the research.
While still in its infancy, quantum computing is seen as the key to radically improving the processing speed and power of computers, enabling them to simulate large systems and drive advances in physics, chemistry and other fields.
Chinese researchers are competing against major US corporations from Google to Amazon and Microsoft for a lead in the technology, which has become yet another front in the US-China tech race.
A third monolith was spotted – this time in California – before a group of men apparently removed the huge structure chanting: “Christ is king” and “America first”.
The shining metal edifice was found on the pinnacle of a Californian trail, days after the discovery and swift disappearance of two similar objects in Utah and Romania.
After photos were posted on social media, the tall, silver metallic structure drew hikers to the top of the Pine Mountain trail in an Atascadero park, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, KEYT-TV reported on Wednesday.
The 3-sided, 10-foot-tall, 200-pound monolith was similar to the other two and, like those structures, the origin of the California edifice is also unknown.
But by Thursday, the California monolith had vanished, apparently torn down by a group of young men that travelled five hours from farther south to remove it, the city of Atascadero said in a Facebook post.