Motherboard feed for https://motherboard.vice.comenFri, 19 Oct 2018 20:27:52 +0000<![CDATA[Professional 'Counter-Strike' Player Caught Cheating in Tournament]]>, 19 Oct 2018 20:27:52 +0000 A Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team, OpTic India, was disqualified from a tournament and disbanded entirely today after one of the players was caught cheating with an auto-aim program. Something about the way Nikhil "forsaken" Kumawat was playing caught the attention of tournament administrators, and the Shanghai, China-based event came to a standstill while they sorted things out.

The uncomfortable moment came during OpTic India's second match of the tournament. An administrator paused the action and came over to check out Kumawat's computer. According to video from the stream, the administrator was reaching over Kumawat's shoulder and using the mouse. Kumawat tried to bat the administrator's hands away while his teammates watch.

Pictures from the event show parts of what happened next: Kumawat packing a backpack and leaving, the rest of the team looking grim around his computer alongside tournament officials, and a file explorer window showing a suspicious-looking program innocently named "word.exe."

As for what actually happened in the game, esports writer Rod Breslau captured a few highlights on Twitter. In them, Kumawat's crosshair can be seen snapping to enemies and locking onto them whenever he gets points near them. At one point, Kumawat fires a burst of shots at a wall that perfectly track an enemy hiding behind it—an enemy that he couldn't possibly see for himself.

"We want to apologize to all the other teams and organizations involved," Jesal Parekh, the director of international development for OpTic India, told the esports news site HLTV. "It is unfair for everyone involved. We also want to apologize to our country and to the fans who have supported us. This will be a big setback for the country, and it is really unfortunate that one selfish person is capable of causing this." Parekh also said that the other four players on the team didn't know about Kumawat's cheating.

A few hours later, though, OpTic India released an official statement confirming that Kumawat's contract had been "terminated," but that the rest of the players on the team had also been "released" to pursue other events.

This isn't the first time cheating has marred an esports event. As esports glory grows to carry with it more prestige and, more importantly, more money, the potential gain for cheating will encourage more people to take the risk. This is partially why in-person LAN events have become the standard across all competitive leagues: when you've got everyone in the same room using unfamiliar computers and surrounded by cameras, no one would dare try to cheat. It's too easy to get caught.

43eexpIan BurnbaumEmanuel MaibergGamingcheatingPCCounter Strike
<![CDATA[Russian Woman Charged With Influencing US Elections on Social Media]]>, 19 Oct 2018 20:08:43 +0000 On Friday, the Department of Justice charged Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova—a 44-year-old woman from St. Petersburg, Russia—with conspiring to influence US elections including the upcoming midterms on social media.

The indictment marks the first official acknowledgement that Russians are working to influence the 2018 midterm elections.

Khusyaynova was allegedly the chief accountant for “Project Lakhta,” a Russian effort composed of hundreds of people and numerous entities including the notorious “troll factory” Internet Research Agency (IRA). The program began in 2014 and was meant to sow political division in the US through social networks, according to a press release by the Department of Justice. Khusyaynova is accused of managing the financing for the project, which was aimed at conducting “information warfare against the United States,” as the organization allegedly called it internally.

“Since at least May 2014, Project Lakhta’s stated goal in the United States was to spread mistrust towards candidates for political office and the political system in general,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment.

The disinformation campaigns, according to prosecutors, focused on topics such as the Second Amendment, race relations, LGBTQ issues, and the NFL anthem debate. The members of the organization had the goal of creating “political intensity through supporting radical groups” and “[aggravating] the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population,” according to the DOJ.

Do you have a tip or a story to share? You can contact this reporter securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, OTR chat at, or email

To convincingly pretend they were regular American voters, the Russians working in the disinformation campaign used Virtual Private Networks and created “thousands” of fake profiles and emails with names like Helen Christopherson and Bertha Malone, according to prosecutors.

Khusyaynova and the other members of the project “operated fictitious social media personas, pages, and groups designed to attract US audiences and to address divisive US political and social issues or advocate for the election or electoral defeat of particular candidates,” the indictment reads. For example, the operators used sockpuppet accounts on Twitter to attack Democratic Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, and to support Democratic candidate Doug Jones in Alabama.

The Russian operators also convinced real Americans to participate in the effort by moderating Facebook groups, the indictment claims.

“Hey girl! How u doing?” one of the Russian operators wrote to someone only identified as US Person 2 over Facebook. “Remember u wanted to help me with that page i’m working on? It’s a little bit unorthodox, but nwm that. Content is not of my choosing. So what tell ya? Help a sister out?”

Khusyaynova faces charges in Alexandria, Virginia.

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evwwzpLorenzo Franceschi-BicchieraiJordan PearsonEmanuel MaibergJason KoeblerFacebookTwitterrussiaDonald TrumpElectionsSocial MediaInformation WarfareInfluence Campaign
<![CDATA[Canadian Researchers Are Stoked About Access to Legal Weed]]>, 19 Oct 2018 19:15:44 +0000 Canada’s legalization of pot this week isn’t just a boon to formerly closeted stoners—Canadian scientists are also stoked about easier access and better funding to the devil’s lettuce, kickstarting a new wave of cannabis research.

Research on cannabis has been going on in Canada for years. Several Canadian post-secondary schools already offer classes and degrees related to the industry, and schools such as McMaster University and the University of Guelph in Ontario have entire labs dedicated to cannabis.

But restrictions on obtaining the plant for research purposes continue to be a barrier. As a result, there’s a lot we still don’t know about cannabis—its genetic makeup and effects—compared to other, more easily studied plants.

Read More: Still More Evidence That All Weed Is the Same

“Just preliminarily, even getting data on this extraordinarily valuable crop proved very, very challenging,” said Sean Myles, research chair in Dalhousie University’s Department of Plant, Food, and Environmental Sciences, over the phone.

According to Myles, in the past it was difficult to find research partners that had the proper licenses to produce cannabis—most were only allowed to grow hemp, which doesn’t contain enough THC to make it worth lighting up or to research.

Now that cannabis is legal nationwide, Myles said that it will increasingly be treated—and studied—like any other organism.

“Most of the potential comes from the fact that you can grow large numbers of plants under controlled conditions, measure them, and do the kind of work that really opens [the research] up,” Myles said.

Myles said he’s wanted to study cannabis since as early as 2009. He and his colleagues had been focused on gathering the genetic information of different organisms—mostly apples and grapes—and thought that cannabis studies were an untapped area.

“What attracted us to cannabis in the first place is the fact that it's such an enormously valuable economic crop,” Myles said. “Cannabis has a tremendous value, despite having very poor genomic resources. The amount we know about genetics is way out of whack with its economic value.”

According to the business consulting firm Grand View Research, the global legal cannabis industry is set to be worth more than $100 billion worldwide in the next decade, and Statistics Canada reported that Canadians spent $5.7 billion on cannabis in 2017.

On the first day of legalization, CTV News reported that Alberta sold about $730,000 worth of the stuff on its online store.

But compared to other profitable crops such as rice and corn, which have been extensively researched for years, Myles says we still have a lot to learn about cannabis. There’s such a lack of information that we can’t even get the strains right.

Read More: The Best Science Stories to Read When You’re High

A 2015 study that Myles co-authored found that what’s marketed as C.Indica and C.Sativa, the two main strains of cannabis widely known by consumers, isn’t always based in biology but by their perceived effects. A strain called Cold Creek Kush, for example, could be produced and sold by multiple vendors with little biological similarities, but all be advertised as a stress-reliever.

For Amy Porath, the director of research at the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction, legalization means that more people will be able to access science-based information about cannabis instead of relying on anecdotes from their local dealer.

Last year, the CCSA released a report detailing its research priorities for cannabis in the next few years, which included its effects on the brain and a person’s mental health. Porath said she’s heard all sorts of false beliefs about cannabis—like it makes you a better driver (it’s still illegal to drive high) and prevents cancer.

“There is a lot of misinformation on the internet,” Porath told me. “There's a lot of mixed messages out there in the popular media, so there's a real need to have balanced, evidence-based public education for youth.”

Myles said that he’s excited that Canadian researchers will be able to work on the forefront of the huge scientific shift happening with cannabis.

The federal government, as well as private institutions, has been pouring money into cannabis research since legalization was announced in 2015. Last year, the Canadian government launched a research grant of $1 million ($766,000 US), giving up to $100,000 to ten cannabis-related projects, with at least one project specifically dedicated towards research involving Canada’s Indigenous peoples. In May, four researchers from the University of Alberta received $300,000 in cannabis-research funding through two private companies, Mitacs Canada and Aurora Cannabis.

“It's super exciting,” Myles said. “Like, this never happens. All of a sudden, there's an organism on the planet that's worth a tremendous amount, that nobody knew anything about, and you're allowed to investigate it with some pretty deep pockets behind it.”

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vbkkd9Jacob DubéJordan PearsonNatasha GrzincicMARIJUANAScienceCannabisCanadaLegalizationmarijuana legalizationstrains of weed
<![CDATA[DHS Seized Aftermarket Apple Laptop Batteries From Independent Repair Expert Louis Rossman ]]>, 19 Oct 2018 18:25:56 +0000Earlier this year, Louis Rossmann, the highest-profile iPhone and Mac repair professional in the United States, told Motherboard that determining “the difference between counterfeiting and refurbishing is going to be the next big battle” between the independent repair profession and Apple. At the time, his friend and fellow independent repair pro, Jessa Jones, had just had a shipment of iPhone screens seized by Customs and Border Patrol.

Rossmann was right: His repair parts were also just seized by the US government.

Last month, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized a package containing 20 Apple laptop batteries en route to Rossman’s store in New York City. The laptop batteries were en route from China to Rossmann Repair Group—a NYC based repair store that specializes in Apple products. “Apple and customs seized batteries to a computer that, at [the Apple Store], they no longer service because they claim it’s vintage,” Rossmann, the owner and operator of Rossmann Repair Group, said in a YouTube video. “They will not allow me to replace batteries, because when I import batteries that are original they’ll tell me the they’re counterfeit and have them stolen from by [CBP].”

CBP seized the batteries on September 6, then notified Rossmann via a letter dated October 5. Rossmann produced the letter in its entirety in his video. “The property contains markings which are substantially indistinguishable and, therefore, bear a counterfeit design/word/mark as indicated below,” the letter said.

A CBP spokesperson told Motherboard in an email: “CBP officers and trade specialists detained the shipment and submitted samples to CBP’s Consumer Products and Mass Merchandising Centers for Excellence and Expertise (CEE), the agency’s trade experts, who determined the batteries to be counterfeit."

According to the phrasing of the complaint, it was the use of the Apple logo on the batteries and not the batteries themselves that CBP took issue with. “It is assumed that if something has that Apple logo on it, it must be counterfeit,” Rossmann said. “It couldn't be that someone who has these batteries sold them to me. It couldn’t be that someone took these batteries out of machines that were on demo in stores….machines that they owned, packaged them up and sent them to me,” Rossmann said. “No, they must be counterfeit. There’s no other explanation for it.”

"There has to be a line where putting your logo somewhere no longer means 'this can be confiscated at the border'—I think on the LCD flex cable is far past that line," Rossmann told Motherboard earlier this year. "Your logo is for brand recognition. Using it as a weapon is misuse of the law."

Apple has a contentious history with right to repair advocates, and this isn’t the first time the Department of Homeland Security has seized the property of third party repair stores. In May, CBP seized iPhone LCD screens worth a total of $1,727 from prominent right to repair advocate Jessa Jones. In 2013, ICE agents raided independent repair stores in South Florida and seized between around $300,000 in parts apple claimed were counterfeit. In Norway, customs officials seized repair parts headed for an independent repair shop there. Apple ultimately lost a lawsuit against a Norwegian repair shop after it claimed the owner violated Apple’s trademark by using unauthorized parts; the court ruled that he was free to import and use them.

Rossmann is now at the center of the fight that he predicted earlier this year. Rossmann is by far the most famous independent iPhone and Mac repair person in the United States (and probably on Earth)—he is regularly quoted by the press and has 622,000 YouTube subscribers. On that channel, he shows people how to do complex repairs and often rails against Apple’s repair policies.

His 20 laptop batteries are worth $1,068 and, according to the letter from CBP, he has little recourse to release them from custody. He can file a petition, offer a compromise, abandon all claims to the property, or fight the seizure in court. “I don’t care if I have to spend $50,000 in legal fees to get back my $1,000 worth of stuff,” Rossmann said. “This is principle. Apple, you are not going to get away with this. We are going ensure that people know exactly how you treat your customers and exactly what you put people through that simply want to replace a battery on a laptop that you won’t even touch.”

Rossmann explained that there’s no authorized method for him to purchase the laptop batteries his customers need to keep their devices working. If they were to take the faulty devices to a Genius Bar, the Genius Bar would turn them away.

“If I become an Apple authorized service provider and I wish to obtain parts to a machine they consider vintage, Apple will say no,” he said. “If I talk to somebody in China...they get taken by a company that’s using the power of the government to seize my stuff. Apple is working with the government to shut down those who mislead customers, aka trying to fix machines that they won’t fix because they consider them vintage after four or five years. Just around the time that your battery starts to die.”

He’s right: Apple does not sell replacement parts to customers or to independent repair shops, and its “Authorized Service Provider Program” has strict limitations about the types of repairs that shops can perform. Meanwhile, Apple has strongly fought “right to repair” legislation that would make it easier for people to buy replacement parts.

Louis Rossmann and Apple did not immediately respond to our request for comment for this article.

In May, when we reported about CBP’s seizure of Jones’s parts, Apple declined to comment on the record. CBP told us that it seized Jones’s parts and was not instructed by Apple to do so (we do not know the specifics of what happened in Rossmann’s case.)

Legal experts told us that importing genuine parts for the purpose of repair is not illegal. From our earlier article:

The US Department of Justice, for its part, has said that gray market goods are legal to import as long as they are not substantially different from the original product; this is called “parallel importation.”

“Congress did not intend the criminal provisions to apply to [company logos] on so called ‘parallel imports’ or ‘gray market’ goods, in which both the goods and the marks are genuine, but which are sold outside of the trademarks owners authorized distribution channels,” the DOJ’s criminal resources manual states. Similarly, the “ first sale doctrine” protects the ability of people to resell goods that have trademarked logos on them; even if the parts are refurbished or repaired, the trademark holder has still gotten money from the “first sale” of that good.

Aaron Perzanowski, a trademark, copyright, and intellectual property law professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law, told me that Jones’s parts likely can’t be considered “counterfeit.”

“Assuming that: (1) the cable bearing the Apple mark is a genuine Apple product, (2) the cable used on these screens is the same as the one Apple uses in the U.S., and (3) the importer/seller clearly communicates that the screens are a non-Apple aftermarket product, then Apple’s case for treating these as ‘counterfeit’ goods is very weak,” Perzanowski said in an email. “Refurbished or repaired products are generally permissible under trademark law’s first sale doctrine, so long as they are clearly labeled as such.”

“This strikes me as an abuse of trademark law by Apple,” he added, “one clearly designed to maintain its stranglehold over the repair market and, ultimately, to force customers to buy new hardware.”

This story was updated on Oct. 19 at 3:00 p.m. EST with comment from CBP.

a3ppvjMatthew GaultJason KoeblerJason KoeblerDHSlaptop
<![CDATA[This Neural Network Trained on the Bible Tries to Play God]]>, 19 Oct 2018 16:51:05 +0000Some people have so much faith in artificial intelligence that they believe it represents a code-based god. Others have argued it’s another over-hyped tech that doesn’t live up to its sky-high expectations.

If you’re in the mood for some Friday blasphemy and want to decide for yourself, play the “Divine or Benign” quiz, developed by developer Tobias Hermann in 2016. The quiz feeds you ten images of text on a Dead Sea Scrolls-type aesthetic backdrop. Your job is to determine if a line is actually from the Bible, or if it’s just nonsense generated by a neural network.

According to the website, the "Benign" text is generated using a recurrent neural network. This is a kind of computing system that digitally attempts to mimic the brain and uses “loops” that make it useful for analyzing language. Neural networks learn to produce new outputs—like text, or an image—after being “trained” on a large amount of input data. In this case, the Bible.

After getting the first question wrong (I incorrectly attributed the text to the neural network), I realized a convenient winning strategy: the coherent sentences are probably from the Bible. Text that has a verb with an out-of-place “-eth” is probably the neural network trying to speak like an ancient writer.

Screenshot from Divine or Benign.
Screenshot from Divine or Benign.
Screenshot from Divine or Benign.
Screenshot from Divine or Benign.

This made me wonder: is it disrespectful to “train” a neural network on the Bible, or use them to produce fake religious texts? There isn’t exactly a Bible verse that tells you if a neural network is blasphemous or not.

Still, as someone who went to a Catholic school for three years and had to read and annotate the Bible for class, I thought that this tool has an interesting side effect: it makes you read the Bible carefully and critically, to understand it. But if you’re not religious, like me, a game like this won’t suddenly change that.

In any event, it’s just amusing to see a neural network literally try to play god.

gyeeg3Caroline HaskinsJordan PearsonArtificial IntelligenceReligionbibleneural networks
<![CDATA[These Researchers Want to Send Smells Over the Internet]]>, 19 Oct 2018 15:51:47 +0000In the future, we could huff food blogs and snort stinky Twitter feeds straight into our sinuses.

Okay, I’ll admit that’s a highly exaggerated interpretation of new research by Kasun Karunanayaka, a senior research fellow at the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia, and his team. They’ve designed a concept for smelling digital content—like restaurant menu items or a florist’s rose bouquet—using electrical stimulation directly up your nostrils.

We’ve seen high-tech prototypes in the world of multisensory technology before: From molecule mixes that evoke the smell of New York in virtual reality, to “programmable” scent cartridges released during a movie, to gas masks for smelling sex while watching porn in VR. But most of these involve a chemical mix to make the scent. Instead of physical scent-mixing, Karunanayaka’s smellable internet involves sticking electrodes up your nose, to touch and stimulate neurons deep inside your nasal passages.

By varying the amount and frequency of the electrical currents, the researchers were able to evoke smells that weren’t there—but what test subjects actually perceived varied quite a bit, from person to person. Some described the smells as fruity, sweet, toasted minty, or woody, Karunanayaka told IEEE Spectrum. Others found the experiment so uncomfortable that they quit the trial after one session.

Shoving electrodes deep into nasal passages is obviously not the most user-friendly way to transmit digital smells, but the research team hopes to make the electrodes smaller and more flexible, or stimulate the brain directly, no invasive nose-cords required.

yw99dmSamantha ColeEmanuel Maibergsmellimagineering institute
<![CDATA['GTA: Online' Hack Let Trolls Kill Gamers in Single-Player Mode]]>, 19 Oct 2018 15:03:07 +0000 Grand Theft Auto: Online, like more or less all multiplayer games, fights to stop cheaters who ruin the experience for other players. Unlike a lot of other multiplayer games, GTA: Online consistently loses that battle. Despite shutting down modders, taking cheat makers to court, and even securing court orders to search cheat makers' homes, GTA: Online remains a "cheater's paradise."

For about 48 hours this week, the cheater's paradise seemed to turn into outright hell for everyone else when game update 1.45 (which consisted entirely of "General fixes for stability and security") unintentionally allowed cheaters to harass other people, even when those players were in single-player modes. Until the exploit was supposedly patched early this morning, it was a vision of a dystopian future where mischievous cheaters could harass you anywhere, even if you avoid online multiplayer games.

One of the first examples we saw came from Twitch streamer SnowieLive, who had a cheater interrupt his stream by kicking him out of his session, claiming to be an administrator with GTA: Online's developer, Rockstar Games. When SnowieLive restarted in singleplayer mode, he started dropping dead the instant the game started. While SnowieLive continued to drop dead for no reason, the troll sent him an in-game chat message—which, again, should be impossible outside of multiplayer modes—taunting, "Ur not safe in singleplayer." Later in the stream, the modder wiped out the bank accounts for SnowieLive's single-player campaign save.

Another streamer, a speedrunner under the name FriendlyBaron, found his speedrun attempts sabotaged by a cheater. The unknown cheater spawned a parked jet into his path, forcing him to run around it and lose precious seconds. In another instance, a cheater unceremoniously killed FriendlyBaron while he was driving a car in single-player mode.

So what's going on here? The most popular way to cheat in GTA: Online is with software known as "mod menus," which give malicious players the power of an administrator using server-side commands to modify a game. According to one such cheat seller, the mod menu enables mischief like giving yourself millions of dollars, shooting bullets that turn into sports cars, or killing anyone online in the same server. One mod also lets users walk around with an air-to-air missile for a dick and a fire axe stuck in their ass.

We're not sure specifically what changed in update 1.45, and Rockstar didn't immediately return a request for comment, but it looks like the October 16 update allowed mod menu users to target their exploits using unique ID codes from the Rockstar Social Club. Once they had a player's ID number, they could use those same server-mod-style exploits against anyone as long as they were logged in. Though Rockstar requires a Social Club login for everyone who owns Grand Theft Auto and the game defaults to staying online at all times, it's possible to go offline to play the single-player story mode. People who want to play with friends, however, will always have to be online. This gives cheaters the power to harass until they decide to turn off the game and go do something else.

As of this morning, players on Twitter and Reddit are reporting that the exploit has been fixed, though it's not clear how; Rockstar hasn't announced any new updates on its support record. For all its successes, the chaos in GTA: Online can be seen as a dire omen for always-online games, showing that shoddy security can totally ruin a game, even for those who aren't interested in multiplayer.

7x339dIan BirnbaumEmanuel MaibergGamingGTARockstar Games
<![CDATA[Researchers Finally Proved Quantum Computers are More Powerful Than Classical Computers]]>, 19 Oct 2018 13:00:00 +0000For the first time, an international team of researchers has proven that quantum computers offer a computational advantage over classical computers.

As detailed in a paper published Thursday in Science, the researchers designed a quantum circuit that was able to solve a math problem that would be impossible for a classical computer to solve when subject to the same constraints.

“Our work shows that quantum circuits are computationally more powerful than classical ones of the same structure,” Robert König, a complexity theorist at the Technical University of Munich and lead author of the paper, told me in an email. “We are not saying that the problem cannot be solved classically. It can, though this requires more resources.”

The team was able to achieve quantum advantage due to “nonlocality,” a feature of spatially isolated quantum systems that allows them to be considered a single system: a change in one system instantaneously results in a change in another.

Qubits are the quantum analog of bits in a classical computer, except rather being either a one or a zero, qubits can be in a “superposition” of both states at the same time.

When designing quantum circuits, there’s a tradeoff between the number of qubits interacting in the circuit and the number of operations that can be performed on those qubits, also known as the “depth” of the circuit. Increasing the number of qubits or the “depth” of a quantum circuit will increase its information-processing abilities.

But increasing one of these parameters demands a corresponding decrease in the other. A circuit with a large number of qubits that would be difficult to simulate with a classical computer is limited to a small number of operations (it has a “shallow” depth), which makes its advantage over classical computers difficult to prove.

This is because a quantum circuit that doesn’t incorporate error correction is limited in the number of operations that can be performed on the qubits before they succumb to noise and decohere, losing their information content. As more qubits are thrown into the mix, there’s more room for error, resulting in a drop in the number of operations that can be performed before they decohere.

In this case, König and his colleagues designed a quantum circuit in which several shallow circuits operate in parallel, yet can still be considered to be a single system due to nonlocality. These shallow circuits were able to solve an algebra problem using a fixed number of operations (that is, they had a “constant depth”) which is mathematically impossible for a classical circuit with a constant depth.

Large-scale quantum computers are expected to dramatically outperform even the most powerful classical supercomputers by leveraging properties of quantum mechanics such as superposition and nonlocality.

These advantages will, in theory, allow future quantum computers to perform certain types of calculations far faster than a classical computer. Shor’s algorithm, for instance, allows quantum computers to efficiently find the prime factors for a given number and may eventually allow quantum computers with a large number of qubits to crack most modern forms of encryption. Classical computers, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to crack that encryption before the heat death of the universe, even with all the computing power on Earth.

Read More: Countdown to the Crypto Apocalypse

Interestingly, one of the most vexing problems for scientists studying quantum computing is the ability to say when a quantum computer has definitively outstripped the abilities of a classical computer. For example, Shor’s algorithm is able to factor primes more efficiently than a classical computer, whichdoesn’t necessarily mean the same level efficiency is impossible to achieve with a classical computer. It could be the case that the right method simply hasn’t been discovered yet.

This brings us to the realm of complexity theory, which is inhabited by researchers probing the boundary between classical and quantum computers. Although complexity theory has plenty of conjectures as to why various quantum algorithms are beyond the reach of classical computers, these conjectures haven’t been proved—until now.

Read More: Google Thinks This 72-Qubit Processor Can Achieve Quantum Supremacy

König and his colleagues see their work as laying the mathematical foundations for practical, experimental applications in the near future. Unlike many quantum algorithms that are so complex that they can only be implemented on a large-scale quantum computer, these shallow quantum computing circuits were designed to be within the grasp of experimental quantum computers in the near future.

“Experimental realization of such circuits will require additional considerations, including a study of the effects of noise and an optimization of the number of qubits required,” König told me. “Our work is a proof-of-principle showing that quantum computers can indeed be better at solving a certain problem. This is good to know, but in practice, we'd like to address less contrived problems that appear in other areas of science.”

evw93zDaniel OberhausNatasha Grzincicsuperpositionqubitsshor's algorithmquantum supremacyRobert KönigTechnical University of Munichnonlocalitycomplexity theory
<![CDATA[Humanity’s Next Mission to Mercury Will Test Einstein’s Theory of Relativity]]>, 19 Oct 2018 12:00:00 +0000 Don’t underestimate the planet Mercury. It may be tiny—at 3,000 miles in diameter, it’s outranked in size by Ganymede and Titan, which are moons of two of the Solar System’s gas giants. But small worlds can answer big questions, and Mercury remains by far the least explored of the solar system’s rocky planets.

That’s why the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) teamed up on the BepiColombo Mercury mission. Scheduled to launch on Friday night at 9:45 PM ET from French Guiana, Bepicolombo will be the third mission to visit the solar system’s innermost planet, after the Mariner 10 flybys in the 1970s, and NASA’s MESSENGER orbiter, which deliberately crashed on the planet in 2015. You can watch the launch live at the link below.

BepiColombo, named after Mariner 10 scientist Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo (1920-1984), contains three main components: The Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), both built by ESA, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MIO) built by JAXA.

For seven years, this trio will orbit the Sun as one unit, propelled both by the solar-electric MTM and several flybys of Earth, Venus, and Mercury. In December 2025, they will part ways when MTM drops off MPO and MIO in Mercury orbit, enabling the orbiters to observe the planet along different trajectories until at least 2027. Though it only took Mariner 10 147 days to travel from Earth to Mercury for a flyby, it takes seven years of gravity assists to achieve the exact right velocity and angle to be captured into orbit by Mercury’s weak gravity field.

MIO (top) and MPO (bottom). Image: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique vidéo du CSG – J. Odang

The MPO carries 11 instruments contributed by nations across Europe, from Finland’s Solar Intensity X-ray and particle Spectrometer (SIXS) to Russia’s Mercury Gamma-ray and Neutron Spectrometer (MGNS). It’s the generalist part of the mission, equipped to take a wide range of measurements that can corroborate past observations of Mercury’s structure, composition, and thin atmosphere, while also pursuing new questions.

As an example of novel experiments, the orbiter’s Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) will be the first instrument to record the gravitational pull of the solar system’s planets on Mercury, in addition to the intense tidal forces of the Sun. This information will be used to test and refine Einstein’s theory of relativity, showcasing Mercury’s capacity to shed light on fundamental cosmic theories.

Read More: The First Spacecraft To Orbit Mercury Will Die Today, Alone

The MIO, meanwhile, is a specialist spacecraft focused on Mercury’s magnetic field, which is about 100 times weaker than Earth’s field. Venus and Mars are normally considered Earth’s sibling planets due to their proximities and similar sizes, but when it comes to magnetism, Mercury and Earth have the most in common.

As the only terrestrial planet in the solar system with a global magnetic field besides Earth, Mercury is the place to look for clues about how planetary magnetism works, and why it occurs only around certain planets. MIO will study both the local field, and the broader interactions between Mercury’s magnetosphere and the solar wind.

If all goes well with the launch on Friday evening, this next-generation Mercury mission will be on its way to visit perhaps the most underrated of all the solar system’s planets (though Uranus comes in a close second). Mercury may not inspire many dreams of human habitation, but it has captivated space nerds for over 3,000 years—and for good reason.

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d3q9mzBecky FerreiraJason Koeblerearthorbitesaplanetsolar systemMagnetic FieldJAXAmagnetismBepiColombo
<![CDATA[This 3D Human 'Mini-Brain' Is Made of Stem Cells and Can Live For Months]]>, 18 Oct 2018 19:00:00 +0000 Test tube brains may sound like something out of a dystopian science fiction or horror movie, but scientists are using them to understand Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and traumatic brain injuries, and even detect these conditions early.

Now, according to research published in the American Chemical Society’s Biomaterials Science & Engineering journal this month, these mini-brains can survive for at least nine months when grown in a mixture of protein from silk and stem cells from patients with diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Artificial mini-brains typically have a short life span, but these long-lasting brains allow scientists to observe the progression of neurological diseases in groups of cells over time so that they can pin down the earliest signs of disease onset.

To be clear: the goal of these “mini-brains” isn’t to replace a human brain. Rather, the purpose of these mini-brains is to understand how the human brain works and figure out how to treat neurological diseases. Ethical quandaries always arise when testing medication on humans and animals. Meanwhile, mini-brains have the advantage of being alive and able to exhibit “spontaneous electrical activity,” but they’re not conscious in the way that a living brain is .

David L. Kaplan, a biomedical engineering professor at Tufts University, said in a press release that the fine-tuned test tube environments of these mini brains doesn’t just help the brain live longer; it also helps them support various types of brain cells. "The silk-collagen scaffolds provide the right environment to produce cells with the genetic signatures and electrical signaling found in native neuronal tissues,” Kaplan said. Basically, they're not just bundles of nerve cells, but different types of specialized cells that would be found in a real human brain.

Tufts has been working for more than five years to develop mini-brains optimized for neurological research. Back in 2013, this research team was able to mimic the brain of a nine-week-old fetus out of stem cells taken from human skin. Then, in 2014, they tried shocking and banging these mini-brains in order to study concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

Brains are not the only organ that scientists have grown from just a handful of stem cells. In fact, scientists have created a human retina in a dish, lab-grown testicles and vaginas, blood vessels, and a living layer of human skin. But the purpose of these lab-grown organs would be to transplant them into a living body in order to treat or repair certain conditions or injuries. For instance, artificial testicles could be used to help people with genital injuries conceive biological children.

qv955pCaroline HaskinsJason Koeblerparkinson'sstem cellstraumatic brain injury