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How Google Software Won 2018
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 07:01 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
Google is relatively new to the hardware game -- at least compared to rivals Apple and Samsung. But it's not just what's outside that matters. An analysis, by Engadget : The Pixel 3 is the best example. Physically, the phone is a more premium version of the Pixel 2. But aside from that, nothing about the Pixel 3's design makes me yearn for the phone. In fact, the 3 XL even has one of the biggest screen notches in the market, which some people find hideous. And yet, the Pixel 3s were still one of our favorite phones of the year, and ended up on our best gadgets list. But if you can stomach the notch, or don't mind using the smaller phone, then boy, will you be blown away by Google's software. Let's start with my favorite -- Call Screening.

On the Pixels, you can have Assistant field calls for you without having to answer the phone or even say a single word. It's easy to dismiss this feature as simply a glorified voice messaging system, but it's so much more than that. Assistant will ask your caller what they want, transcribe what they're saying in real time and suggest actions for you. Say you realize it's your doctor calling. You could ask them more questions, dictate a real time reply, or use a preset action like hang up or promise to call back. Can your voicemail do that? I don't think so.

[...] Nowhere is the importance of software exemplified as effectively as it is in Google's imaging algorithms, which are so powerful they helped the Pixel 3 nab the smartphone camera crown in our tests. Not only can the phones capture clear, colorful pictures with just a single rear camera, but the Pixels produced the nicest Portrait mode effects using pure software alone. And with the magical Night Sight mode, Google easily kicked Apple and Samsung's butts in low light photography, turning dark, noisy pictures into shots that look like they were taken in daytime. [...]

Counter-point: DxOMark's Pixel 3 camera score shows AI isn't enough.

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Some Chinese Companies Are Giving Employees Incentives For Buying Huawei Devices or Just Giving Them One and Boycotting Apple
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 05:40 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's stranger-things department:
A growing number of Chinese companies are throwing their support behind Huawei Technologies following the recent arrest of its chief financial officer in Canada, taking such steps as offering subsidies for staff who buy the telecom equipment maker's smartphones. From a report: Many Chinese businesses have told employees they will receive subsidies if they buy Huawei smartphones to aid the company. Most are subsidizing 10% to 20% of the purchase price, with some even covering the full amount. Over 20 Chinese companies also took to social media to announce that they will increase purchases of other Huawei products, such as its business management system.

The show of support has been broad, from information technology providers to food companies. A regional government official said that several hundred businesses were conducting such programs nationwide. Electronics maker Shanghai Youluoke Electronic and Technology is fully subsidizing up to two Huawei smartphones per employee, while display equipment maker Shenzhen Yidaheng Technology will cover 18% of the price for Huawei or ZTE units. Fuchun Technology, a communications service company listed on Shenzhen Stock Exchange announced on social media on Dec. 11 that it would give each of its 200 employees who buy Huawei's smartphone before the end of 2018 between 100 and 500 yuan ($14.5 to $72.5).

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Microsoft's Emergency Internet Explorer Patch Renders Some Lenovo Laptops Unbootable
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 03:01 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's watch-out department:
Earlier this month, Microsoft issued an emergency patch for Internet Explorer to fix a zero-day vulnerability in the web browser. The problem affects versions of Internet Explorer from 9 to 11 across multiple versions of Windows, but it seems that the patch has been causing problems for many people. Specifically, people with some Lenovo laptop have found that after installing the KB4467691 patch they are unable to start Windows, reports BetaNews.

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Fortnite Was 2018's Most Important Social Network
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 12:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's interesting-perspective department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: Epic Games managed to produce a hit, sure, but the genius of it is how it's rewritten the idea of what hanging out online can be. Fortnite is a game, but it's also a global living room for millions of people, and a kind of codex for where culture has gone this year -- it's a cultural omnibus that's absorbed everything from Blocboy JB's shoot dance to John Wick. It got Ted Danson to learn how to floss. This thing is here to stay, as a new kind of social network.

Fortnite has achieved such a massive scale partially because of those network effects -- if all of your friends are hanging out there, you will be too. The game is both free to play and available on every device -- consoles, computers, even phones. That's created a kind of lingua franca, a base level of understanding among a large group of people about the experience of playing the game. And even though it's hugely popular, the experience of playing is extremely specific -- not so many people outside your peer group are going to know what you mean if you reference a "chug jug" in casual conversation. There's an in group thing going on here.

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Hot Tub Hack Reveals Washed-up Security Protection
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 12:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's security-woes department:
Thousands of hot tubs can be hacked and controlled remotely because of a hole in their online security, BBC Click has revealed. From a report: Researchers showed the TV programme how an attacker could make the tubs hotter or colder, or control the pumps and lights via a laptop or smartphone. Vulnerable tubs are designed to let their owners control them with an app. But third-party wi-fi databases mean hackers can home in on specific tubs by using their GPS location data. Balboa Water Group (BWG), which runs the affected system, has now pledged to introduce a more robust security system for owners and said the problem would be fixed by the end of February.

Pen Test Partners -- the UK security company that carried out the research -- warned that hot tubs were not the only household items at risk. Founder Ken Munro said that many Christmas gifts people would receive this year would connect to the internet and offer remote control through apps. "Manufacturers still are not taking security seriously enough, and until they do consumers have to be very vigilant," he said. "We recommend users reset any default passwords the device has immediately with a unique one of their own."

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A Christmas Menu Dreamed Up by a Robot
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 11:01 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
For most of us, using up the Christmas leftovers means endless rounds of turkey sandwiches and lashings of Brussel sprout curry in the days leading up to New Year. So, to help inject some creativity into this year's leftover eat-up, BBC turned to artificial intelligence for some culinary assistance. From a report: A number of research teams around the world have been developing AI systems that are capable of learning from existing recipes and then coming up with some of their own. We asked researchers behind two innovative algorithms to see what their AI's take would be on Christmas food. One, developed by computer scientists at Stanford University, can turn whatever food is left in your fridge into a unique recipe based on those ingredients. The other, created by AI researchers at the University of Illinois, puts a cultural twist on a meal by creating dishes from one country in the style of another cuisine.

The first algorithm, called Forage, uses a type of AI known as deep neural networks, which attempts to replicate the way the human brain works. Networks like these are able to handle problems involving complex data and are increasingly being used to tackle tasks as diverse as controlling self-driving cars and recognising the early signs of cancer in health scans. [...] The second algorithm we used was developed by Lav Varshney and his team at the University of Illinois. It was trained on nearly 40,000 recipes from 20 different countries using a system that can apply semantic reasoning to replace certain ingredients with those it considers to be equivalent from a different cuisine.

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iPhone Owners Irate After iOS Update Bricks Cellular Data
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 09:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's beware department:
According to several reports, iPhone users around the world who have upgraded to the latest version of iOS are finding that it cuts off mobile data services. From a report: One Twitter user @kevbruh says that "Apple update 12.1.1, I had no cellular data. I tried inserting my SIM card again, hard resetting my device, and tried resetting the network settings. Nothing happened and the problem persists." In addition to North America, similar issues are being reported in South America, Europe and Asia. Other iPhone owners are reporting that they can't make or receive calls and others are saying that they can't text or receive texts. [...] Many more iPhone users have come forward on Twitter claiming that they are having connectivity issues related to iOS 12.1.2. Apple is advising some to try to update their carrier settings using this guide.

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UK Now Has Systems To Combat Drones
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 08:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's once-bitten-twice-shy department:
Detection systems are now able to be deployed throughout the UK to combat the threat of drones, ministers say. It follows three days of disruption at Gatwick airport last week, when drones were sighted near the runway. From a report: Security minister Ben Wallace said those who use drones "either recklessly or for criminal purposes" could expect "the most severe sentence". It comes after the couple arrested and released without charge over the chaos at Gatwick said they felt "violated". About 1,000 flights were affected during 36 hours of chaos at Gatwick airport last week. The airport has spent 5 million Pound ($6.36 million) since Wednesday on new equipment and technology to prevent copycat attacks.

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Wall Street Banks Are Reportedly Backing Away From Cryptocurrency
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 08:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's smoke-vanishes department:
Squeamish from the start about pursuing profits in one of the darker corners of finance, established firms this year slowed their already halting efforts to make a business out of Bitcoin mania. While none has thrown in the towel, and some continue to develop a trading infrastructure, most flinched as the value of virtual coins collapsed.

From a report: Multiple leading firms had either announced or were rumored to be entering the market earlier in the year, but few have come to fruition. The report said that "while none has thrown in the towel, and some continue to develop a trading infrastructure, most flinched as the value of virtual coins collapsed." Notable among those firms was Goldman Sachs. In May it was reported that the company was preparing to launch a bitcoin trading desk that would involve the bank using its own money to trade with clients in a variety of contracts linked to the price of bitcoin.

It was presumed that clients would include hedge funds that deal in cryptocurrencies as well as bitcoin futures contracts such as those launched by CME Group Inc. and Cboe Global Markets Inc. in 2017. Fast forward to December and no such bitcoin trading desk has been launched. In September it was reported that the plan had been abandoned, but a day later Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer Martin Chavez denied the report, saying that the bank's "exploration of the digital asset class is an ever-evolving process and is in response to significant client interest." He added that the report was "fake news."

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India Wants Tech Platforms To Break Encryption And Remove Content The Government Thinks Is 'Unlawful'
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 07:00 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department:
India's government wants to make it mandatory for platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Google, to remove content it deems "unlawful" within 24 hours of notice, and create "automated tools" to "proactively identify and remove" such material. From a report: It also wants tech companies to build in a way to trace the source of the content, which would require platforms like WhatsApp to break end-to-end encryption. India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) published [PDF] the proposed rules on its website following a report on Monday by The Indian Express revealing the government's proposal to modify the country's primary IT law to work them in. The report comes days after India's government seemingly authorized 10 federal agencies to snoop into every computer in the country last week. The proposed measures have provoked concerns from privacy activists who claim they would threaten free speech and enable mass surveillance.

[...] If India does work these rules into its IT law, it would have precedent: Earlier this month, Australia passed a controversial encryption bill that would require technology companies to give law enforcement agencies access to encrypted communications, saying that it was essential to stop terrorists and criminals who rely on secure messaging apps to communicate.

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'Amazon Prime is Getting Worse'
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 03:00 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's upon-further-reflection department:
Mark Wilson, writing for FastCompany magazine: That little Prime logo used to mean something. Now it feels like a ruse that lulls shoppers into a false sense of security, until they go to checkout and see a shipping arrival date far later than anticipated. This cuts through the greatest promise of Prime. It's not just the free, two-day shipping. It's that it's so reliable, you never have to think for more than a second about buying something. In this sense, Prime was constructed to be great for the consumer (so efficient) and great for businesses (mindless impulse shopping!). I've been a Prime member myself for over a decade, so I've come to expect that the rush of the holiday season will clog the arteries of Amazon's fulfillment centers and delivery services alike and make shipping less than reliable. But anecdotally, to me and many of the people I know and work with, this year, it feels worse than ever.

It doesn't help that we've seen a slow dilution of Prime itself over time, with the rise of Prime Pantry and Add-on Items. They force you to buy a minimum number of items to get the best deal, adding back the very psychic burden Prime had eliminated from the equation of online shopping in the first place. As a result, it can be hard to find true, two-day Prime items that aren't marked up to insane prices by third-party sellers. But Prime was still Prime. This holiday, I've noticed things that are in stock and labeled "Prime" have nonsensical shipping dates. I'm not alone in experiencing Shipping Shock. Complaints about slow Prime shipping abound across the internet. Quora literally has a thread asking, "Has Amazon slowed down their free shipping speed intentionally?" The "top answer" with 22,000 views is a customer rant about late shipments. Many others chime in to confirm the slowdowns, and offer conspiracy theories as to what could be going on.

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US Geological Survey Unable To Provide Indonesia Tsunami Data Due To Government Shutdown
Posted by News Fetcher on December 24 '18 at 11:00 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's unintended-repercussions department:
An underwater landslide caused by activity from the Anak Krakatau volcano is being blamed for a tsunami that struck Indonesia late Saturday, killing at least 222 people and injuring more than 800 others. Normally, the U.S. Geological Survey would report on such events and provide any necessary data it had to the public. But it can't due to America's partial government shutdown, which began Saturday after President Donald Trump refused to sign legislation that didn't include funding for his southern border wall. From a report: The USGS website is dormant as of Sunday, except for a notice at the top. "Due to a lapse in appropriations, the majority of USGS websites may not be up to date and may not reflect current conditions," the note reads. "Websites displaying real-time data, such as Earthquake and Water and information needed for public health and safety will be updated with limited support." According to the government shutdown contingency plan, the USGS will retain just 75 of its estimated 8,032 employees, or 0.9 percent. "The USGS will suspend the majority of its activities with the exception of those functions to protect life and property," the plan states. The document also claims that 450 employees will be "on call" for natural disasters, but it's unclear if that process has been enacted, as the USGS website says the agency is not "able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted."

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The Dollar Store Backlash Has Begun
Posted by News Fetcher on December 24 '18 at 08:20 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
The U.S. has added 10,000 of these budget retail outlets since 2001. But some towns and cities are trying to push back. From a report: A recent research brief [PDF] by the Institute of Local Self Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit supporting local economies, sheds light on the massive growth of this budget enterprise. Since 2001, outlets of Dollar General and Dollar Tree (which bought Family Dollar in 2015) have grown from 20,000 to 30,000 in number. Though these "small-box" retailers carry only a limited stock of prepared foods, they're now feeding more people than grocery chains like Whole Foods, which has around 400-plus outlets in the country. In fact, the number of dollar-store outlets nationwide exceeds that of Walmart and McDonalds put together -- and they're still growing at a breakneck pace. That, ILSR says, is bad news. "While dollar stores sometimes fill a need in cash-strapped communities, growing evidence suggests these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress," the authors of the brief write. "They're a cause of it."

Dollar stores have succeeded in part by capitalizing on a series of powerful economic and social forces -- white flight, the recent recession, the so-called "retail apocalypse" -- all of which have opened up gaping holes in food access. But while dollar store might not be causing these inequalities per se, they appear to be perpetuating them. The savings they claim to offer shoppers in the communities they move to makes them, in some ways, a little poorer. Using code made public by Jerry Shannon, a geographer at University of Georgia, CityLab made a map showing the spread of dollar stores since the recession.

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Using Data To Determine if 'Die Hard' is a Christmas Movie
Posted by News Fetcher on December 24 '18 at 05:41 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Stephen Follows, a writer and producer who also researches data and statistics on the film industry, writes: Today we're going to use data to answer the question "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" Along the way, we're going to test Die Hard's Christmas bona fides against all movies in US cinemas for the past thirty years, using a variety of methods. I have put details of my sources and methodology at the end of the article. The short story is that unless I say otherwise, the data for 'all movies' relates to all movies shown in US cinemas between 1988 (ie the year of our Lord John McClane) and 2017.

Part 1 - Creative: Let's start by assessing the artistic work of Die Hard (as opposed to the commercial product or cultural icon). We'll do this by measuring the Christmas references in the script, on-screen and in the soundtrack. By going back to the film's script we are able to see what the screenwriters saw as part of their vision. The word "Christmas" appears 18 times in the script, which is more than the words "explode" (4), "die" (5), "hard" (11), "shoot" (12), "kill" (13) and "blood" (13), although far fewer times than "gun" (73), "terrorist" (51) and "suddenly" (45). [...] There are a total of 21 distinct Christmassy elements in the movie, ranging from Santa hats and Christmas Trees to festive treats and a pivotal piece of "Christmas Greetings" tape.

< article continued at Slashdot's closer-look department >

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Why One Tiny Island is Still a Domain Name Giant
Posted by News Fetcher on December 24 '18 at 04:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
The small Pacific island Tokelau is still the most populated country-level domain in the world, outnumbering the 20.8 million domains that use China's .cn. From a report: UK registry for .uk domains has published its latest topsy-turvy map of the world, with land mass weighted according to the number of registered country-level domains. As it was two years ago, Tokelau remains the world's 'largest' country, thanks to its free registration policy; the number of .tk domains reaching nine million in 2012 and from there tripling to 31 million by 2016. Today, the number of .tk domains stands at 21.2 million, but it still remains the largest, just ahead of China. The number of domains with China's .cn has increased over the past two years from 17 million to 20.8 million, making it the second most widely used country-level domain in the world.

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50 Years Ago Today, Apollo 8 Changed Humanity's Vision of Earth Forever
Posted by News Fetcher on December 24 '18 at 03:01 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's pushing-humanity-forward department:
No one told them to look for the Earth. It was Christmas Eve 1968 and the first manned mission to the moon had reached its destination. As Apollo 8 slipped into lunar orbit the crew prepared to read passages of Genesis for a TV broadcast to the world. But as the command module came around on its fourth lap, there it was visible through the window -- a bright blue and white bauble suspended in the black above the relentless grey of the moon. The Guardian: Before that moment 50 years ago, no one had seen an earthrise. The sight sent Bill Anders, the mission photographer, scrambling for his camera. He slapped a 70mm colour roll into the Hasselblad, set the focus to infinity, and started shooting though the telephoto lens. What he captured became one of the most influential images in history. A driving force of the environmental movement, the picture, which became known as Earthrise, showed the world as a singular, fragile, oasis.

On previous laps Anders had snapped the far side of the moon for the geologists and the near side of it for Apollo's landing site planners. "It didn't take long for the moon to become boring. It was like dirty beach sand," Anders told the Guardian. "Then we suddenly saw this object called Earth. It was the only colour in the universe." Apollo 8 launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on 21 December 1968. The enormous Saturn V rocket, more than 110 metres tall, had flown only twice before and never with a crew. But on that day the rocket performed. Tucked inside the command module, Anders, Frank Borman and James Lovell looped the planet twice before the third stage blasted them onwards to the moon. They arrived nearly three days later, completed 10 lunar orbits, and headed home for a splashdown in the north Pacific.

< article continued at Slashdot's pushing-humanity-forward department >

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Domain Registrar Can be Held Liable for Pirate Site, Court Rules
Posted by News Fetcher on December 24 '18 at 01:41 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's holding-accountable department:
The Higher Regional Court of Saarbrucken (a city in Germany) concluded Key-Systems, a German-based registrar, can be held secondarily liable for the infringing actions of a customer if it fails to take action if rightsholders point out "obvious" copyright infringing activity online. From a report: This means that, if a site owner is unresponsive to takedown requests, Key-Systems and other registrars can be required to take a domain name offline, even when the infringing activity is limited to a single page. The local music group BVMI is happy with the outcome of the case. They believe it will help copyright holders to take action against infringing activity. "This is a further important clarification in the legal space of the internet, helping it to become clearer and fairer for creatives and their partners," says Rene Houareau, BVMI's Managing Director Legal & Political Affairs. "The [court] affirms, with clearly outlined criteria, the responsibility of so-called registrars and thus gives affected rightsholders an important legal tool to defend themselves against the unlawful use of their content on the internet."

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The Top Free Online University Courses of 2018, Ranked by Popularity
Posted by News Fetcher on December 24 '18 at 12:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Free online courses -- also called Massive Open Online Courses -- have quite a year. An anonymous reader shares a blog post: It's been seven years since these courses rose to prominence, when a few Stanford professors decided to offer their courses online free. Since then over over 900 universities have launched over 11,000 courses. And in its seven years these Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have achieved new milestone: 100 million plus learners. [...] At the end of every year, I do an extensive analysis of the MOOC space. To help me with analysis, I send the top MOOC providers a set of questions, one of them being the top enrolled courses of 2018.

The list below contains the top enrolled courses from the major MOOC providers: Coursera, edX, Udacity, and FutureLearn. Combined, these providers represent a big chunk of the MOOC learners (70 million plus). Without further ado, here are the most popular free online university courses of 2018:
Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects from University of California, San Diego.
Machine Learning from Stanford University.
The Science of Well-Being from Yale University.
Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
CS50's Introduction to Computer Science from Harvard University.

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Congress Approves Act that Opens US Government Data To the Public; Requires Federal Agencies To Publish 'Non-Sensitive' Info in 'Machine-Readable' Format
Posted by News Fetcher on December 24 '18 at 12:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's in-the-interest-of-public department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: Congress has passed a bill that could make it easier for you to access public data released by the government. The House approved the OPEN Government Data Act on Saturday, while all eyes were on the shutdown, as part of a larger bill to support evidence-based policymaking. It requires that federal agencies must publish any "non-sensitive" info in a "machine-readable" format (essentially in a way that's legible on your smartphone or laptop). The act also insists that agencies appoint a chief data officer to oversee all open data efforts. Having passed the Senate last Wednesday, the bill is next headed to the President's desk.

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Trump Signs Legislation To Boost Quantum Computing Research With $1.2 billion
Posted by News Fetcher on December 24 '18 at 11:01 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's marching-forward department:
President Donald Trump last week signed legislation ramping up quantum computing research and development. From a report: The National Quantum Initiative Act (H.R. 6227) authorizes $1.2 billion over five years for federal activities aimed at boosting investment in quantum information science, or QIS, and supporting a quantum-smart workforce. The law also establishes a National Quantum Coordination Office, calls for the development of a five-year strategic plan and establishes an advisory committee to advise the White House on issues relating to quantum computing. "This next great technological revolution has far-reaching implications for job creation, economic growth and national security," Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, said in a White House statement. "We look forward to building upon efforts to support the quantum-smart workforce of the future and engage with government, academic and private-sector leaders to advance QIS."

[...] Earlier this month, a report from the National Academies of Science said there is an urgent need to develop "post-quantum" encryption protocols in order to protect commerce and national security. QIS research could also produce new types of quantum processors, sensors, navigation tools and security systems. The challenges could bring about "new approaches to understanding materials, chemistry and even gravity through quantum information theory," according to a White House strategy paper issued in September.

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