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The Future of Tech: Building Quantum Technology With Ion Beam Accelerators

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Novel quantum-based biosensors using diamond with nitrogen-vacancy centres are being developed through at 10-year project called Q-LEAP. These sensors could vastly improve the study of human brain functions, such as real-time detection of thoughts. (Image: Y. Yamazaki/National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology, Japan)

Authors: Aliz Simon and Nicole Jawerth*

Quantum technology is paving the way for smaller, faster and more flexible electronics than ever before, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanners the size of smartphones and quantum computers that are thousands of times more powerful than traditional computers. Now on the brink of the second quantum revolution, which promises new ways to measure, process and transmit information, scientists are working on accelerator-based techniques for developing new materials that could speed up development of quantum technologies.

“The first quantum revolution was about building devices based on the ability to control photons and electrons, which led to the personal computer, LED lighting, even GPS and the Internet. In the second revolution, it’s about controlling the quantum state of individual atomic systems to create more advanced technology that is capable of solving previously impossible problems,” said David Jamieson, Professor at the University of Melbourne and chair of the IAEA coordinated research project behind this work: ‘Ion beam induced spatio-temporal structural evolution of materials: accelerators for a new technology era’.

The coordinated research project, launched in December 2016, has brought together leading scientists from Australia, China, Croatia, Finland, Italy, India, Israel, Singapore, Spain and the USA. The main aim of the project is to develop novel, accelerator-based ion beam techniques for creating and characterizing modified material required for new quantum technologies.

“Accelerator-based techniques involve high-energy ions that allow us to create atomic-scale modifications, or defects, in materials such as silicon and diamond, or two-dimensional materials, such as graphene. We can then control the quantum states of these individual atomic-scale defects in the materials, which in turn gives us the capability to control single atoms, including the spin of electrons or nuclei. The result is new materials with the characteristics necessary for advancing quantum technology,” said Jamieson.

Research has already shown ways these techniques can be used to modify materials. For example, single, accelerated ions can be implanted into materials, such as diamonds, used for semiconductors to form colour centres with quantum states that are useful for sensing electric and magnetic fields in single living cells. The colour centres can also release photons encoded with quantum states to, for example, transmit information that is secure against eavesdroppers. These materials can be integrated into conventional microelectronic devices such as laptops, smart watches and navigation devices.

The same techniques can also be used to investigate new types of radiation detectors based on diamond, such as radiation sensors that will be able to withstand high levels of radiation for use in radiotherapy treatment for cancer. In the longer term, they can also form the basis of a photonic quantum internet that connects a large-scale array of quantum information processors.

“New quantum technologies could open the door to transformational advances in secure communications, information technology and high precision sensors and provide new solutions to pressing challenges in fields such as medicine, industry, and security, shaping global development in the 21st century,” said Paolo Olivero, Associate Professor at the University of Torino in Italy and a participant in the project. “But there are still some major hurdles to address before many of these technologies become a reality.”

Last month, the project participants met to discuss fast-track solutions for addressing key challenges such as characterizing the behaviour of defects in certain systems, such as colour centres formed in diamond by implanted nitrogen atoms and an adjacent network of atom-sized vacancies, as well as how to control defect engineering in two-dimensional materials such as graphene when using low and medium-energy ions. Their meeting included discussions on testing and refining quantum theories with experimental data to tackle those problems and identify ways to translate theories into new devices.

The four-year project will also further facilitate research across the field by supporting other key research programmes around the world, such as the Quantum Technologies Flagship at the European Union, the National Innovation and Science Agenda in Australia and the National Quantum Initiative in the United States of America, among others. There will also be opportunities for scientific collaboration and training in conjunction with the project, such as the Joint ICTP-IAEA Advanced School on Ion Beam Driven Materials Engineering: Accelerators for a New Technology Era held last October.

The future is quantum

The first quantum revolution transformed the world into the highly connected, technology-driven society we see today. With the second revolution, we can soon expect ultra-high precision clocks, sensors for medical diagnostics, customized drug designs using quantum computers and more sophisticated machine learning.

It will also enable the development of quantum computers that are able to crack problems unsolvable with current methods. These computers use basic units of information called quantum bits or ‘qubits’, which are a more complex and powerful version of the information-carrying ‘bits’ used today in conventional computing.

Prototypes of 10 to 50 qubit computers are already accessible online and being used to develop quantum software for practical applications and for training the next generation of personnel in quantum information technology. Single qubits are also now being used in laboratories as sensors to exploit quantum superposition and entanglement for non-invasive diagnostics at the cellular level.

In anticipation of progress in the field of quantum technology, researchers are already setting up longer-term projects to harness the potential of these new developments, such as a new 10-year project called Q-LEAP to create novel quantum-based sensors for studying processes in the human brain. These sensors could vastly improve the detection of brain functions, such as real-time tracking of human thought, and improve the resolution of medical images. The project will use, among others, the accelerator-based techniques and expertise developed through this IAEA coordinated research project.

*Nicole Jawerth, IAEA Office of Public Information and Communication

IAEA

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Science & Technology

Are robots sexist? UN report shows gender bias in talking digital tech

MD Staff

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Two schoolgirls make use of classroom computers at San Jose, a rural secondary school in La Ceja del Tambo, Antioquia, Colombia. Photo: World Bank/Charlotte Kesl

Why do most voice assistants have female names, and why do they have submissive personalities? The answer, says a new report released on Friday by UNESCO, the UN’s Education, Science and Culture agency, is that there are hardly any women working in the technical teams that develop these services and other cutting-edge digital tools.

The publication, produced in collaboration with the Germany Government and the EQUALS Skills Coalition – an alliance of public and private sector partners which encourages the involvement of women and girls in scientific and digital technology sectors – is called “I’d Blush If I Could.”

The title is a reference to the standard answer given by the default female-voice of Apple’s digital assistant, Siri, in response to insults from users. Apart from Siri, other “female” voice assistants also express submissive traits, an expression of the gender bias built in to Artificial Intelligence (AI) products as a result of what UNESCO calls the “stark gender-imbalances in skills, education and the technology sector.”

Several recommendations are made in the study, including advice to stop making digital assistants female by default; programming them to discourage gender-based insults and abusive language; and developing the advanced technical skills of women and girls so they can steer the creation of new technologies alongside men.

Given the explosive growth of voice assistants, says the report, there is an urgent necessity to help more women and girls cultivate strong digital skills.

Bridging the digital gender gap is an issue for all countries

Today, women are extremely under-represented in teams developing AI tools: women make up only 12 percent of AI researchers, six percent of software developers, and are 13 times less likely to file ICT (information and communication technology) patents.

“Obedient and obliging machines that pretend to be women are entering our homes, cars and offices,” says Saniye Gülser Corat, Director of Gender Equality at UNESCO. “Their hardwired subservience influences how people speak to female voices and models how women respond to requests and express themselves. To change course, we need to pay much closer attention to how, when and whether AI technologies are gendered and, crucially, who is gendering them.”

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Organisations that embed cybersecurity into their business strategy outperform their peers

MD Staff

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Organisations that take a business-driven cybersecurity approach to their digital initiatives achieve better outcomes and outperform their peers, according to PwC’s May 2019 Digital Trust Insights Survey.

The global survey of more than 3,000 executives and IT professionals worldwide found that the top 25% of all respondents – market leaders known as “trailblazers” – are not only leading the way on cybersecurity but also delivering more value and better business outcomes.

Among respondents who say growing revenue is the top value sought from digital transformation efforts, nearly nine in 10 trailblazers say they are getting a payoff that meets or exceeds their expectations (compared to 66% of the other respondents).

Trailblazers are also significantly more optimistic about the potential growth in revenue and profit margin for their companies, with 57% percent expecting revenue to grow by 5% or more, and 53% expecting profit margin to grow by 5% or more.

The survey revealed key demographic information about trailblazers. Many are large companies; 38% of respondents from companies worth at least US$1 billion are trailblazers. The financial services (FS) industry and the technology, media, and telecommunications (TMT) sector are particularly well represented in the leader group. Thirty-three percent of FS respondents and 30% of TMT respondents are trailblazers, compared to roughly a quarter of the survey base in other industries.

Geographically, just 21% of EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) respondents are trailblazers, compared to 30% in the Americas, and 30% in Asia Pacific.

The leading behaviours that set trailblazers apart from their corporate peers include aligning their  business and cybersecurity strategies, taking a risk-based approach, and coordinating their teams that manage risk. Key findings from PwC’s Digital Trust Insights survey illustrate the edge that trailblazers maintain in all three areas:

Connected on strategy: 65% of trailblazers strongly agree their cybersecurity team is embedded in the business, conversant in the organisation’s business strategy and has a cybersecurity strategy that supports business imperatives (vs. 15% of others)
 

Connected on a risk-based approach: 89% of trailblazers say their cybersecurity teams are consistently involved in managing the risks inherent in the organisation’s business transformation or digital initiatives (vs. 41% of others)

Coordinated in execution: 77% percent of trailblazers strongly agree their cybersecurity team has sufficient interaction with senior leaders to develop an understanding of the company’s risk appetite around core business practices (vs. 22% of others)

“By focusing on building digital trust, trailblazers are driving more proactive, pre-emptive and responsive actions to embed these strategies into the business, as opposed to their peers who primarily look to minimise the operational impacts of cyber threats in reactive manner,” comments TR Kane, PwC US Strategy, Transformation & Risk Leader.

More than eight in 10 trailblazers say they have anticipated a new cyber risk to digital initiatives and managed it before it affected their partners or customers (compared to six in 10 of others).

“Organisations that take a proactive approach to cybersecurity and embed it into every corporate action will be best placed to deliver the advantages of digital transformation, manage related risks and build trust,” adds Grant Waterfall, EMEA Cybersecurity and Privacy Leader, PwC UK.

“Our research highlights the need for organisations to embed their cybersecurity teams within the business to support strategic goals. It’s not just about protecting assets – it’s about being a strategic partner in the organisation,” adds Paul O’Rourke, Asia Pacific Cybersecurity and Privacy Leader, PwC Australia.

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Business in Need of Cyber Rules

Anastasia Tolstukhina

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For more than 20 years, countries have been struggling to introduce a set of rules of conduct and liability requirements for digital space users. Progress in designing a code of cyber conduct is all the more relevant since digitalization is sweeping the planet at breakneck speed, creating new risks along with new opportunities. Businesses that are confronted with new challenges and threats in the digital space are putting forward their own initiatives, thereby pressing governments to speed up the process of adopting an international cyber code.

Why is the business community interested in setting rules in the cyber environment? There are many reasons for this.

Firstly, the quantity and quality of hacker attacks on the private sector increase every year. Hackers target any enterprises — whether they are small enterprises or technological giants. Attacked by the NotPetya virus, the world largest container carrier Maersk sustained $300 million damage and had to shell out nearly $1 billion for restoration. In total, according to Sberbank’s estimates, the damage to the global economy from hacker attacks in 2019 can reach about $2.5 trillion, and by 2022 — as much as $8–10 trillion.

Secondly, many technology-oriented companies, facing a lack of trust on the part of government agencies, experience severe difficulties in promoting their business projects abroad. At present, the UK, Norway, Poland, and other countries are involved in a debate about whether Huawei should be allowed to build fifth-generation mobile communication networks (5G). Huawei is suspected of stealing intellectual property and espionage. The US, Australia, New Zealand have introduced a ban on the use of 5G equipment from Huawei.

Not only Chinese companies face distrust. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Kaspersky Lab, and many others are often accused of illegally spying on people.

Thirdly, IT companies are forced to pay huge sums to protect their customers against hacker attacks and guarantee information security. Microsoft allocates more than $1 billion for this purpose yearly.

In the absence of a political solution to ensure international information security, private companies, which are keen to safeguard themselves and their customers, have chosen to conduct negotiations with each other on information security cooperation and are launching their own initiatives. Thus, coming into existence is a business information security track running parallel to the government.

In February 2017, Microsoft’s President Brad Smith launched the Digital Geneva Convention initiative. The Convention is expected to oblige governments not to take cyber attacks on private sector companies or the critical infrastructure of other states, and not to use hacker attacks to steal intellectual property.

Overall, the document formulates six basic principles of international cybersecurity:

  1. No targeting of tech companies, private sector, or critical infrastructure.
  2. Assist private sector efforts to detect, contain, respond to, and recover from events.
  3. Report vulnerabilities to vendors rather than to stockpile, sell, or exploit them.
  4. Exercise restraint in developing cyber weapons and ensure that any developed are limited, precise, and not reusable.
  5. Commit to non-proliferation activities to cyber weapons.
  6. Limit offensive operation to avoid a mass event.

However, while the Digital Geneva Convention is still on paper, 34 technology companies, including Microsoft, without waiting for decisions at the government level, signed the Cybersecurity Tech Accord in April 2018. Thus, the largest ever group of companies have become committed to protecting customers around the world from cybercriminals.

Cybersecurity Tech Accord members have called for a ban on any agreements on non-disclosure of vulnerabilities between governments and contractors, brokers, or cybersecurity experts; they also call for more funding for vulnerability detection and research.

Besides, signatories of the agreement have come up with a series of recommendations to strengthen confidence-building measures, which are based on the proposals of the UN and OSCE.

Such measures include:

-Develop shared positions and interpretations of key cybersecurity issues and concepts, which will facilitate productive dialogue and enhance mutual understanding of cyberspace and its characteristics.

-Encourage governments to develop and engage in dialogue around cyber warfare doctrines.

-Develop a list of facilities that are off-limits for cyber-attacks, such as nuclear power plants, air traffic control systems, banking sectors, and so forth.

-Establish mechanisms and channels of communication to respond to requests for assistance by another state whose critical infrastructure is subject to malicious ICT acts (organizing, i.e. tabletop exercises).

By now, Cybersecurity Tech Accord has been signed by 90 companies, including Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco, Panasonic, Dell, Hitachi, and others.

Another initiative was presented in 2018 by Siemens, which came up with the Charter of Trust. The Charter, which was signed by 16 companies, including IBM, AIRBUS, NXP, and Total, urges companies to set up strict rules and standards to foster trust in ICT and contribute to further development of digitalization.

Facebook has become part of the process too. In late March 2019, Mark Zuckerberg — the founder and CEO of Facebook — urged governments to become more actively involved in regulating the Internet. In particular, Zuckerberg spoke in favor of introducing new standards related to the Internet and social networks. These standards would come useful to guarantee the protection of personal data, prevent attempts to influence elections or disseminate unwanted information, and would assist in providing a solution to the problem of data portability.

Another initiative worth mentioning is the creation in 2014 of the Industrial Internet Consortium TM, IIC, which was founded on the initiative of AT & T, Cisco, GE, IBM, and Intel. This is a non-profit open-membership group that seeks to remove barriers between different technologies in order to maximize access to big data and promote the integration of physical and digital environment.

Some initiatives are coming from the Russian private sector. In particular, since 2017, Norilsk Nickel has been active on the international scene promoting the Information Security Charter of critical industrial facilities. The Charter’s main provisions include condemnation of the use of ICT for criminal, terrorist, military purposes; supporting efforts to create warning and detection systems, and assist in the aftermath of network attacks; and sharing best practices in information security.

In turn, Sberbank has launched an initiative to hold the world’s largest International Cybersecurity Congress. Last year, such a congress took place with the participation of 681 companies from 51 countries. The second such Congress is scheduled for this June. The Forum serves as an inter-sectoral platform that promotes global dialogue on the most pressing issues of ensuring information security in the context of globalization and digitalization.

Most business initiatives hinge on the fact that they all call for developing confidence-building measures and rules of conduct in the digital space. Besides, the business community welcomes the need to adjust international law to the new realities of the digital economy.

Private sector initiatives can perfectly be streamlined with initiatives put forward by countries within the framework of the UN. After all, by and large, governments pursue the same goals as business in this area. The use of ICT for peaceful purposes, confidence-building measures, the supply of information about vulnerabilities — all this is significant both for business and for most states.

Fortunately, the global discussion under the aegis of the UN on issues related to International Information Security is getting back on track after a pause of about one year. From now on, it will be attended by representatives of the private sector. According to the resolution (A/RES/73/27), the mandate of the future Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) allows for the possibility of holding inter-session consultative meetings with representatives of businesses, non-governmental organizations and the scientific community to exchange opinions on issues within the group’s mandate. The first inter-sessional meeting with representatives of global business is scheduled for November 2019.

In conclusion, we would like to remark that the issue of information security is dynamic and for this reason, it can be adequately addressed only with the close cooperation of governments and technology companies, since it is the latter that keep pace with the development of technologies and are the drivers of the digital economy. Governments should keep a close eye on the initiatives of non-state actors and put the most useful proposals on the agenda of discussions at international forums. Moreover, once adopted and approved at the government level, these standards and regulations should have a legal force, rather than be recommendatory — this is the only way to guarantee the order in the cyber environment.

First published in our partner RIAC

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