The Download, Mar 17, 2017: Quantum Computer Chemistry, Self-Driving Fumbles, and Pokémon AI

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Three Things You Need to Know Today

Quantum Computing For Chemists
When quantum computers come, chemists will be first in line. With IBM and Google announcing plans to ready the first commercial quantum devices in the next few years, the computing systems are about to become a practical reality. But before they’re used to power unbreakable encryption or build new AIs, chemists will make use of their powers. Our own Tom Simonite explains that quantum devices are naturally suited to modelling complex behaviors of atoms and electrons in order to simulate molecules and reactions, which could yield advances in batteries, electronics, and materials.

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Should Autonomous Cars Go Solo?
As California prepares for self-driving cars to go it alone, new figures suggest that it should proceed with caution. The state recently announced that it will allow autonomous vehicles on public roads without a backup driver as soon as this year, which, the Guardian points out, is a defining moment for the technology. But Uber documents obtained by Recode suggest that the vehicles may still not be ready: last week, the ride-hailer's cars clocked up 20,354 autonomous miles, but safety drivers had to intervene on average every 0.8 miles.

Machines That Learn to Speak Robot
Leave machines to themselves, and they develop their own language. That’s according to research by Igor Mordatch, from machine learning lab OpenAI, who has built a virtual world in which bots can learn how to communicate from scratch in order to perform tasks. Using a machine learning technique known as reinforcement learning, the bots use their language, along with trial and error, to achieve their goals, receiving rewards if they’re correct. It’s not the first time a bot-y language has evolved, but the phenomenon could help solve one of AI’s big problems.

Ten Fascinating Things

We’ve already explained that Donald Trump’s budget could be catastrophic for the climate, but it may also be ruinous to American science more generally.

Regulators have given the go-ahead to a team of UK researchers who will carry out the first fertility treatments that create babies with three biological parents.

Watch out, Siri: Amazon’s Alexa has made its debut on the iPhone. For now it only works inside an app, but it’s a step to the assistant becoming far more pervasive.

There’s much chatter about bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.. But with deep expertise and extensive supply chains, China will prove tough to beat.

How do you clean up the exhaust from a jet plane? According to new research, a dash of biofuel in the tank can reduce contrails.

The hacking collective Anonymous is back. According to Bloomberg, it’s now targeting a number of central banks to lay its hands on cold, hard cash.

Here’s how Europe is building a new kind of power grid that crosses borders, fords seas, and could make an entirely renewable energy future possible.

When you’re building a flexible touch sensor, how do you tell the difference between a bend and a press? Like this.

Soil is everywhere, so it’s hardly surprising that we take it for granted. But its quality is under threat—so it might be time we developed a business case for dirt.

When Henrique Soares tired of playing Pokémon, he did what any inquisitive nerd would do—he trained an AI to identify the little creatures on his behalf.

Quote of the Day

"No current machines exist for actual mining in zero gravity."

— Paul van Susante from Michigan Technological University points out a small problem with relying on the insides of asteroids when building from scratch in space.

 

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