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Google has enlisted NASA to help it prove quantum supremacy within months

Google wants NASA to help it prove quantum supremacy within a matter of months, according to a Space Act Agreement obtained by MIT Technology Review.

Quantum supremacy is the idea, so far undemonstrated, that a sufficiently powerful quantum computer will be able to complete certain mathematical calculations that classical supercomputers cannot. Proving it would be a big deal because it could kick-start a market for devices that might one day crack previously unbreakable codes, boost AI, improve weather forecasts, or model molecular interactions and financial systems in exquisite detail.

The agreement, signed in July, calls on NASA to “analyze results from quantum circuits run on Google quantum processors, and … provide comparisons with classical simulation to both support Google in validating its hardware and establish a baseline for quantum supremacy.”

Google confirmed to MIT Technology Review that the agreement covered its latest 72-qubit quantum chip, called Bristlecone. Where classical computers store information in binary bits that definitely represent either 1 or 0, quantum computers use qubits that exist in an undefined state between 1 and 0. For some problems, using qubits should quickly provide solutions that could take classical computers much longer to compute.

Physicist John Martinis, who leads Google’s quantum computing effort, thinks that Bristlecone is capable of achieving quantum supremacy. Not everyone agrees. In May, researchers with Alibaba’s Data Infrastructure and Search Technology Division published a paper suggesting that classical computers running simulations could match its performance, and that quantum chips with lower error rates might be needed.

Daniel Lidar, director of the Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology at the University of Southern California, also has doubts. “It would seem that some additional form of error suppression would be necessary,” he told MIT Technology Review. “In addition, classical simulation methods have raised the bar several times over the past couple of years, and it is quite likely this trend will continue. Nevertheless, I would not rule out a quantum supremacy demonstration using [Google’s] Bristlecone system.”

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Google’s previously unreported partnership with NASA is an explicit effort to “[demonstrate the] processor’s viability and potential.” Although Google will not pay NASA anything for the tests, the agency has put a $680,000 price tag on its own work for the project. 

The new collaboration will work like this. Because Bristlecone requires superconducting circuits maintained at a temperature close to absolute zero, it cannot be moved from Google’s labs. Instead, researchers from the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) at NASA’s  Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley will connect to Bristlecone online, via Google’s Cloud API service. Google will also share current software that allows classical computers to simulate quantum circuits, so that NASA can develop and improve upon it.

Together, the two organizations will work out how to map “a diverse array of optimization and sampling problems” to Bristlecone’s gate-model quantum computing system. Early next year, when they have agreed on the problems and initial targets for simulation, NASA will code the software necessary to run those simulations on its petaflop-scale Pleiades supercomputer, also located at Ames. Pleiades is NASA’s most powerful supercomputer, currently ranked in the top 25 worldwide.

Around July of next year, 12 months from the contract’s signing, NASA will “compare results from classical simulation of quantum circuits to results from Google hardware.” 

If things do not go as planned, Google’s agreement has a five-year term within which “NASA will provide further mappings, improved circuit simulation techniques, more efficient compilations [and] results from circuit simulations.” Google will give QuAIL access to its quantum processor and software until at least 2023.

NASA could not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This is not Google’s first foray into quantum computing with NASA. In 2013, they worked together to install at Ames a quantum annealer made by the quantum computing company D-Wave. That machine was subsequently upgraded in 2017. 

Ultimately, Google wants its quantum computing software for simulation, optimization, and machine learning to be shared more widely. “It is Google’s intent that it will release its Software Development Kit (SDK) for using the quantum processors in an open source manner,” the agreement states.

This is likely referring to Cirq, open-source software for creating quantum circuits that Google announced this summer. Google said then that it planned to make Bristlecone available in the cloud, with Cirq as its interface. D-Wave, IBM, and Rigetti already have quantum cloud services available to researchers.

Gab, Social Network Favored By The Far Right, Goes Back Online

Gab, a social network popular among alt-right activists and white nationalists, went back online Sunday after having gone dark following the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which killed 11 people.

The platform, a self-labeled champion of free speech, was dropped by domain provider GoDaddy.com last week. It announced its return Sunday evening with a new domain registrar, Epik.com.

“You failed. We are back online. We grow stronger by the hour. Free speech lives at Gab.com,” the company tweeted. “This is only the beginning. May God have mercy on you for what you people have done this past week.”

A flurry of anti-Semitic messages appeared within minutes of the site being back online.  

White supremacist Christopher Cantwell was one of the first to post. “Hey Jews! We’re back on Gab now,” he wrote. “Thanks for the press. Pretty soon the average citizen is going to figure out that we wouldn’t be having these problems in your absence, and we genuinely appreciate your help in stepping up the timeline on that.”

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers was found to have used the site as a forum to channel his anti-Semitism, labelling Jews an “infestation” and “the children of Satan.”

Epik CEO Rob Monster told The Seattle Times that he has faith in Gab’s ability to curate content.

“I do believe the guys that are on the site are vigilant,” Monster said.

Gab’s CEO Andrew Torba maintains that the site has a “zero tolerance policy” for violence and terrorism. Yet Torba has a history of either ignoring racist commentary on his platform or actively encouraging it, not to mention penning his own anti-Semitic rants.

Where Kids Find Hate Online — And Tips For How To Handle It

By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media

Hate speech is all over the internet. Fueled by trolls, extremists, false information, and a group mentality, this kind of cruelty against a religion, ethnicity, sexual identity, gender, race ― or anything, really ― has reached a fever pitch. And while some kids will be attacked, and some may be swept up in the powerful rhetoric, the vast majority of kids will be victims of everyday, casual exposure. Just by playing a game on the internet, looking up a definition, or maybe checking out some music, they’ll encounter some of the most vile and offensive words and images that can be expressed in the comments section of a YouTube video, a meme in their feed, or a group chat. The intensity of these ideas, the frequency with which kids see them, and the acceptance by so many that it’s just part of internet life mean that it’s critical to talk to kids about this difficult topic. They’ll be much better equipped to handle whatever comes their way when they can talk to you about all aspects of hate speech: what it is and why it’s hurtful, what to do when they encounter it, and even what to do if they’re drawn to it.

Hate speech is actually legal under the First Amendment ― unless it specifically targets someone, includes threats and harassment, or creates a hostile environment (such as at school or work). But the line between what’s OK and what’s absolutely unacceptable is still very much up for debate in the digital age. And when you think about it, today’s kids are guinea pigs for the giant social experiment of free and open public speech. On one side are mainstream sites like Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube trying to walk the tightrope between freedom of expression and decorum. Their unsuccessful attempts to tamp down the hateful rhetoric on their platforms send a mixed message to kids. Are tech companies really that dedicated to free speech, or do they just want more users? On the other side are fringe sites like Gab and 4Chan whose no-holds-barred forums test the boundaries of free speech ― which the companies defend as fiercely as their offensive views. But when kids see the horrific race-, religion-, and gender-based attacks committed in the real world by members of online extremist groups, they must wonder why adults can’t stop these hate crimes.

Let’s be clear: The internet didn’t create hate speech. Although it may change some people’s minds, the internet (and specifically social media) simply provides a place for people to express themselves. But the idea that exposure to hateful ideas is a necessary evil for the right to say whatever you wish doesn’t account for the role of the internet itself. The online world is rife with false information, which is easily created, easily distributed, and easily believed by those who want their own hateful ideas confirmed. And remember, tech companies profit off connecting and engaging people ― and nothing gets people going like inflammatory ideas.

Somewhere in this mix are your kids, who are stumbling into online spaces that are confusing, scary, and shaky. We can’t ― and shouldn’t ― rely on the tech companies to figure it out. We don’t have that much time. And plus, they have too much skin in the game. Ultimately, hate speech is an area where sharing your own family’s values ― around compassion and tolerance, appropriate communication, and empathy toward other ― sets a stable path forward for your kids to follow even in unsettled times. Here are some ideas for you to discuss with your kids and tips to handle hate speech.

Conversation starters

What is hate speech? Look up the definition of hate speech and talk about whether your kids have encountered it. It may have been just a word, or it may have been in a video or a meme. How can you tell if someone is trying to be funny or their words are intended to hurt?

How does hate speech affect people? How would you feel if you were a member of the group targeted by cruel language? Does it matter if you’re exposed to it a lot or a little? Are people with different social statuses ― for example, a popular kid vs. a loner type ― affected differently?

What’s the difference between hate speech and cyberbullying? If someone is trying to hurt someone, or knows that they’re hurting someone, and does it repeatedly, that’s cyberbullying. When someone expresses vicious views about a group or toward an attribute of a group, that’s hate speech.

What’s your role in online hate speech? Do you feel safe calling out the person or people using hate speech? Would it make you feel cooler to do that, or would it make you feel uncool ― like you’re not part of the group? Would you block people using hate speech? Would you ignore them? Would you stand up for the person or group of people being targeted?

How far does the right to free speech go? Is there a clear boundary between free speech and hate speech? What is it? Should people have the right to say and do whatever they want online? If people’s feelings are hurt or they’re offended, they can just go on a different site, right?

Does hate speech lead to hate crimes? Convicted killer Dylan Roof, accused murderer Robert Bowers, and others accused of hate crimes left clues to their murderous views online. Should there be a place for people with extremist leanings to gather and share their ideas online, even if they’re offensive and threatening? Or not?

What responsibility ― if any ― do technology platforms have? Should Instagram, for example, be held accountable to victims of hate crimes committed by users who posted hate content? Should they try to bring people together, either through dedicated spaces, new algorithms, or other methods?

Why are certain people attracted to hate groups? It’s natural for tweens and teens to want to join groups, and sometimes groups devoted to hurting others make certain kids feel more powerful. Kids who have pent-up anger or insecurity about other things in their lives may be attracted to groups that feel protective and united. Can you imagine why someone might be swayed by hate speech rhetoric?

Practical ways to manage hate speech

  • Report it. Hate speech violates most sites’ terms of service. You can report people without their knowing that you’re the one who turned them in.

  • Block it. You can block people who use hate speech, but this can be tricky socially for some kids.

  • Don’t share it. Forwarding any form of hate speech is wrong ― but it can also get you into trouble because it can be traced back to you.

  • Call it out. If your kids feel confident enough to confront the hate speech poster without fear of attack, then they should do it.

  • Fight it. Nurture the values of empathy and compassion in your kids. Challenge them to consider how other people feel and how they would want to be treated.

  • Read age-appropriate news from reputable sources. Try these best news sources for kids.

  • Learn more. Hate often stems from ignorance. Media designed for your kids’ ages can help them learn about history and people’s struggles in terms that they can understand and relate to. Try our lists Books About the Holocaust, Books About Racism and Social Justice, and Books That Promote Tolerance and Diversity.

Google Employees Stage Global Walkout Over Payouts To Alleged Sexual Harassers

NEW YORK ― Google employees around the globe staged a walkout Thursday to protest the tech giant’s handling of sexual harassment, prompted by a bombshell New York Times report last week that Google quietly offered several high-profile executives lucrative exit packages after they were accused of sexual misconduct.

The action, floated last weekend on an internal message board by a group of female engineers, grew past its 200 organizers and became a massive worldwide event in just a handful of days.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged the discontent in an email to employees Tuesday, pledging the company would take a “much harder line on inappropriate behavior.” 

That “inappropriate behavior” is a reference to Android creator Andy Rubin, who the Times revealed was quietly given a $90 million golden parachute after the company discovered he allegedly coerced a woman into performing oral sex at a hotel in 2013. (Rubin disputes the claim.)

Google employees at its European headquarters in Dublin join others around the world in walking out of their offices on Nov.

Getty Editorial

Google employees at its European headquarters in Dublin join others around the world in walking out of their offices on Nov. 1 in protest over claims of sexual harassment, gender inequality and systemic racism at the tech giant.

The company gave three executives similarly cushy treatment, even though it did not have any legal obligation to do so, the Times found.

“Over the past two years, we have terminated 48 people, including 13 senior managers and above for sexual harassment,” Pichai noted in his email. “None of these people received an exit package. And to clarify: in that time, we have also not provided any exit packages to executives who departed voluntarily in the course of a sexual harassment investigation.”

Event organizers published a list of five demands for protesters to coalesce around, including pay equity, greater transparency at several levels in Google and an end to forced arbitration agreements.

Protesters at the walkout in New York City hoisted signs calling out sexual misconduct and gender inequity in tech, with at least a couple of pointed references to Rubin’s payout.

“Happy to quit for $90 million,” read one woman’s sign. “No sexual harassment required!”

Kelly Moran, a 31-year-old who works in a startup incubator at Google called Area 120, said she joined the walkout out of respect for women in the past who were subjected to harassment.

“I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to be the women who experienced this years ago and suffered in silence,” she said, “and I think it’s important that we show solidarity with them and make sure that changes happen so that never repeats itself.”

Moran said she appreciated the company’s stance on the walkout, noting that managers on her team moved meetings so people could participate.

Kelly Moran (left) and Sam Messing (second from left) gathered with hundreds of other Google employees in a park along the Hu

Kelly Moran (left) and Sam Messing (second from left) gathered with hundreds of other Google employees in a park along the Hudson River in New York City on Nov. 1.

Sam Messing, a 31-year-old who works in research at the company, was hopeful the walkout could spur real change ― especially regarding an end to forced arbitration.

“I think one of the ways we can be better and more transparent is to end forced arbitration in employment contracts ― at the very least, for cases of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct,” he said. “It would enable more transparency and make it easier for people to understand how Google handles claims.”

A female contractor for Google, who wished to remain anonymous out of concern for retaliation, said she’s concerned that contractors have even less pull at the company and are frequently “overlooked.”

“I just want to make sure that our voices are heard and that we’re accurately represented, because we make up a huge part of the company,” she said of contractors.

She said she left a job where she had been harassed and was dismayed to find Google suffers from the same problems. “I came [to Google], and I was like, ‘Oh, there’s so many guardrails. There’s such a company culture that’s so welcoming and inclusive,’” she said. 

“And then to see that not only that happened but that so much money was used to cover it up ― I felt shameful. I felt like this company that I really love working for was doing something really terrible, and I think the right thing to do was to stand up and say something.”

“I think there’s definitely going to be change,” she predicted, striking a more optimistic tone. “Not only at Google, but a lot of tech companies are going to see this and see how many women are ready to stand up and say, ‘This is not OK.’”

Inventor Of World Wide Web Says Tech Giants May Have To Be Split Up

By Guy Faulconbridge and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) – Silicon Valley technology giants such as Facebook <FB.O> and Google <GOOGL.O> have grown so dominant they may need to be broken up, unless challengers or changes in taste reduce their clout, the inventor of the World Wide Web told Reuters.

The digital revolution has spawned a handful of U.S.-based technology companies since the 1990s that now have a combined financial and cultural power greater than most sovereign states.

Tim Berners-Lee, a London-born computer scientist who invented the Web in 1989, said he was disappointed with the current state of the internet, following scandals over the abuse of personal data and the use of social media to spread hate.

“What naturally happens is you end up with one company dominating the field so through history there is no alternative to really coming in and breaking things up,” Berners-Lee, 63, said in an interview. “There is a danger of concentration.”

But he urged caution too, saying the speed of innovation in both technology and tastes could ultimately cut some of the biggest technology companies down to size.

“Before breaking them up, we should see whether they are not just disrupted by a small player beating them out of the market, but by the market shifting, by the interest going somewhere else,” Berners-Lee said.

Apple <AAPL.O>, Microsoft <MSFT.O>, Amazon <AMZN.O>, Google and Facebook have a combined market capitalisation of $3.7 trillion, equal to Germany’s gross domestic product last year.

World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee poses for a photograph following a speech at the Mozilla Festival 2018 in London, Brit

Simon Dawson / Reuters

World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee poses for a photograph following a speech at the Mozilla Festival 2018 in London, Britain, on October 27, 2018. (REUTERS/Simon Dawson)


Berners-Lee came up with the idea for what he initially called “Mesh” while working at Europe’s physics research centre CERN, calling it the World Wide Web in 1990.

When asked who had the biggest intellectual influence on him, he said: “Mum and Dad.”

“They were building computers, so I grew up living in a world where everything was mathematics and the excitement of being able to programme something was very fresh,” he said.

There was, he said, no ‘Eureka’ moment.

Instead, it was hard work, the experience of working in computer science and an attempt to overcome the frustrations of trying to share information with colleagues and students.

“Eureka moments are complete nonsense. I don’t even believe the one about Archimedes. He had been thinking about it for a long time,” he said.

Now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Oxford, Berners-Lee expressed dismay at the way consultancy Cambridge Analytica obtained the personal data of 87 million Facebook users from a researcher.

That scandal, he said, was a tipping point for many.

“I am disappointed with the current state of the Web,” he said. “We have lost the feeling of individual empowerment and to a certain extent also I think the optimism has cracked.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologised after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and pledged to do more to protect users’ data.

But social media, Berners-Lee said, was still being used to propagate hate.

“If you put a drop of love into Twitter it seems to decay but if you put in a drop of hatred you feel it actually propagates much more strongly. And you wonder: ‘Well is that because of the way that Twitter as a medium has been built?’”

(Editing by Mark Potter)

Google Walkout To Protest Harassment Kicks Off

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Hundreds of Google employees and contractors in Asia staged brief midday walkouts on Thursday, with thousands more expected to follow at offices worldwide, amid complaints of sexism, racism and unchecked executive power in their workplace.

In a statement late Wednesday, the organizers called on Google parent Alphabet Inc. to add an employee representative to its board of directors and internally share pay-equity data. They also asked for changes to Google’s human resources practices intended to make bringing harassment claims a fairer process.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in a statement that “employees have raised constructive ideas” and that the company was “taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

The dissatisfaction among Alphabet’s 94,000 employees and tens of thousands more contractors has not noticeably affected company shares. But employees expect Alphabet to face recruiting and retention challenges if their concerns go unaddressed.

The demonstrations follow a New York Times report last week that said Google in 2014 gave a $90 million exit package to Andy Rubin after the then-senior vice president was accused of sexual harassment.

Rubin denied the allegation in the story, which he also said contained “wild exaggerations” about his compensation. Google did not dispute the report.

The report energized a months-long movement inside Google to increase diversity, improve treatment of women and minorities and ensure the company upholds its motto of “don’t be evil” as it expands.

Much of the organizing earlier this year was internal, including petition drives, brainstorming sessions with top executives and training from the workers’ rights group Coworker.org.

On Thursday, employees posted on social media about the walkout and were set to deliver speeches in public plazas.

Since its founding two decades ago, Google has been known around the world for its exceptional transparency with workers. Executives’ goals and insights into corporate strategy have been accessible to any employee.

But organizers said Google executives, like leaders at other companies affected by the #metoo movement, have been slow to address some structural issues.

“While Google has championed the language of diversity and inclusion, substantive actions to address systemic racism, increase equity, and stop sexual harassment have been few and far between,” organizers stated.

They said Google must publicly report its sexual harassment statistics and end forced arbitration in harassment cases. In addition, they asked that the chief diversity officer be able to directly advise the board.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave, editing by Larry King)

The internet is taking over a person’s life for Halloween. And you can be a part of it.

Tonight, you can take control of someone else. Well, you and a few hundred people can. The MIT Media Lab will be performing a Halloween experiment to put the internet hive mind to the test. And it will require one mystery actor to surrender free will to that crowd. 

The test, called BeeMe, will start in an undisclosed location at 11 p.m. US eastern time tonight. Users will then be faced with the task of defeating a rogue AI by guiding an actor’s actions. How they do that—and whatever else they get up to along the way—is completely up to the internet. While a general plot has been put in place, the creators didn’t want to limit the interactions too much.

The MIT team created an interface where people can see and hear what the actor is doing and seeing, as well as suggest the next actions to take. The researchers estimate that the experiment, which will move east to west across MIT’s campus, will take about two hours. That is, if people stay on track.

“One of the features of intelligent behavior is the ability to make long-term plans,” says Niccolo Pescetelli, one of the researchers leading the project. “Right now we don’t have any evidence crowds can do that. The planning is lacking, since there is no central control. We are pushing the limits in that direction.”

But it’s not just about completing the route as quickly as possible. For the researchers, success will be seeing how the participants push the bounds of the challenge. During tests using 10 to 15 people, the crowd approached strangers, random bystanders tried to help the actor with directions across campus, and the group entered into conversations that took an awkwardly long time. Pescetelli says that this time, as soon as one command is completed, another will be loaded up ready for the actor to execute.

So what’s the point, apart from a bit of spooky Halloween fun?

Tests of digital crowdsourcing are nothing new. In 2014, thousands of people used the game-streaming service Twitch to play the video game Pokémon Red en masse using crowdsourced commands. And past projects by the Scalable Cooperation group at the Media Lab have explored similar ideas, such as how groups can write horror stories collaboratively.

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But the experiment tonight will push internet cooperation to the next level, requiring quick suggestions and voting that will guide what is happening in the real world. The hope is that it will give insight into how real crowds work together, and provide clues as to how such systems can be used in more serious situations. “When there is a time-critical task like an election or a rally, things can be unpredictable,” says Manuel Cebrian,   the group’s leader. “In a way, we wanted to reflect on that.”

If you want to become a part of the internet hive mind, you can tune into the stream tonight at 11.

Facebook Bans Content Linked To Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes

Facebook has banned content linked to violent neo-fascist group Proud Boys, citing the organization’s promotion of hate speech. 

The Proud Boys and its founder Gavin McInnes were removed from Facebook and Instagram on Tuesday.

“Our team continues to study trends in organized hate and hate speech and works with partners to better understand hate organizations as they evolve,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We ban these organizations and individuals from our platforms and also remove all praise and support when we become aware of it. We will continue to review content, Pages, and people that violate our policies, take action against hate speech and hate organizations to help keep our community safe.” 

Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group, includes members who are white nationalists or are linked to white nationalist groups. Among them are McInnes, a founder of Vice Media, and Jason Kessler, organizer of last year’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Members of the group were arrested this month after assaulting anti-fascist protesters on a Manhattan street, shouting homophobic slurs.

Facebook, facing criticism for not doing enough to crack down on hateful content, in April revealed guidelines it uses to enforce its community standards. Moderators regularly monitor content for violations, and a team is specifically assigned to track hate speech trends, Facebook said. 

Still, examples of hate speech being shared via Facebook continue to surface. A Reuters investigation published in August, for example, found that the social media platform was being used in Myanmar to promote hateful content related to the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, which contributed to violent attacks.

Who Is Gab Founder Andrew Torba?

The murder of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday has brought new attention to Gab, the social media service that bills itself as pro-free speech and serves as a gathering place for white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other extremist figures online, and counted among its users suspected gunman Robert Bowers.

Shortly before Bowers attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pa., he posted to Gab. “Screw your optics, I’m going in,” he wrote to an audience that included white nationalists, some of whom had been kicked off mainstream sites like Twitter and Facebook and joined Gab, which was founded in August 2016.

According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, approximately 635,000 people were registered on Gab as of Sept. 10, 2018. By comparison, Twitter boasted an average of 326 million monthly active users during approximately the same time period.

Bowers’s Gab profile was quickly suspended after the site’s administrators were alerted to a verified account linked to the suspected gunman. But the backlash cost the site its cloud host, Joyent, and domain provider, GoDaddy, and as of Monday afternoon, it was offline. PayPal banned Gab a few hours after the shooting, stating that they were in “process of canceling the site’s account before today’s tragic events occurred.” (Stripe, another payment processing company, also dropped the platform.) Gab posted its initial response to the shooting on Medium, but the publishing site has also now suspended the company’s account.

A mourner pauses in front of a memorial for those killed in a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oc

Matt Rourke, AP

A mourner pauses in front of a memorial for those killed in a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 29, 2018

“Gab isn’t going anywhere,” the company’s founder and CEO Andrew Torba declared in a statement posted to the site’s now deactivated homepage. “We will exercise every possible avenue to keep Gab online and defend free speech and individual liberty for all people.”

Torba, who was just 25 when he launched Gab, is the former CEO of an advertising technology company called Kuhcoon (later renamed Automate Ads), which he created from his home in Scranton, Pa., in 2011. Torba moved to California in late 2014, when his startup was picked for the Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley incubator. Friends told Bloomberg News that, as a political conservative, he felt out of place in Silicon Valley. In various interviews, Torba has explained that he was motivated to create Gab during the 2016 presidential election after reading reports that major social media companies like Facebook may unfairly promote posts and topics discussed by liberal users over conservative ones.

“I didn’t set out to build a ‘conservative social network’ by any means, but I felt that it was time for a conservative leader to step up and to provide a forum where anybody can come and speak freely without fear of censorship,” Torba told the Washington Post in November 2016.

“Every major communication outlet, every major social network, is run, owned, controlled and operated by progressive leaders, progressive workers in Silicon Valley,” he said.

Shortly after the election, Torba further alienated himself from many of his peers, getting kicked out of a Y Combinator online alumni group for directing profane, anti-immigrant language at other members.

Torba, a Trump supporter and self-described “conservative Republican Christian,” has maintained that Gab’s mission is to facilitate free speech online and that supporters of all ideologies are welcome. Nonetheless, Gab immediately attracted users from the far right, including a number of well-known alt-right, extremist, and fringe figures, such as Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones, who were losing their mainstream social media platforms around the time Torba launched Gab.

“It’s hard for me to dissociate Gab from the reason it was founded, which was quote-unquote left wing censorship,” said Keegan Hankes, an expert on online extremism at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Hankes says Torba established Gab to give a platform to “the most extreme hate groups, leaders and extremists being purged from major social media platforms for blatantly inappropriate and harmful behavior.”

“He looked at that and created a home for those people to come live in, and he knew it,” said Hankes. “The type of behavior [Y Combinator] threw him off for is kind of the type of behavior that is definitely a core part of Gab.”

“The biggest thing about it is there are basically no rules. You can go on there and say anything you want virtually, no matter how disgusting or vitriolic or ultimately dangerous,” Hankes said, adding that the swift suspension of Bowers’s account on Saturday was “the first time I’ve seen them do it willingly, in a proactive way.”

Hankes noted that Torba — who appears to make all the decisions about moderating content on Gab — has only been moved to remove particularly offensive or threatening posts from the site on a couple of occasions, and only in response to threats from online hosting providers.

“That, I think, illustrates how far he’s willing to take this kind of free speech absolutism, and of course that’s why you have every major hate group leader on there, using it,” said Hankes.

Matt Rourke, AP

Saturday was “the first time that I think there’s been a very, very clear connection between someone’s activity on Gab and some sort of real-world tragedy,” Hankes said, but added that the site is still young. “It didn’t take Gab very long to find itself a bona fide murderer, allegedly, on its platform.”

Most of the organizers and leading figures in last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, including those who’ve been arrested in connection to violence at that event, had accounts on Gab before it was taken offline.

Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said that while he doesn’t believe Torba himself is a white supremacist or an extremist, the free-speech narrative he’s adopted in defense of his platform is similar to the one that has been embraced by far-right groups.

“I think what he has done is not only provide a platform, but has ignored calls for corporate and social responsibility,” Segal told Yahoo News.

Wired editor Nicholas Thompson questioned whether the moral case for shutting down Gab, and other sites like it, should override the free speech argument for keeping it around — and whether the tech companies who have the power to make such decisions  are using it wisely.

“Should Gab have been knocked away? If your first principle is free speech, of course not,” Thompson wrote Monday. “Anti-Semitism is not illegal, and providing a platform where anti-Semites post is not illegal either. Threats of violence are illegal, but Gab says that it does its best to remove them.”

Thompson also raised a practical question about the fallout from dismantling Gab. “Pushing the alt-right off Twitter drove them to Gab,” he pointed out. “Will shutting down Gab just push people to Voat [a Reddit-like forum that boasts a “no censorship” policy], or whatever comes next?”

Segal noted that he and his colleagues at the ADL have recently observed conversations among the extremists they observe online regarding next steps in light of Gab’s current removal from the internet, and whether that Gab will find a new home or be forced to take their content to another platform that shares a belief in uncensored speech.

“This is the beginning of this discussion,” he said, referring to the issue of hate speech online. “Gab being taken down is not the end.”

More from Yahoo News:

The US is finally getting a hacker-proof quantum network that people can use

A few years ago, Edward Snowden, a contractor working for the US National Security Agency, leaked documents that showed the ways in which intelligence agencies were spying on our data. One of the most striking revelations was that spies had tapped into fiber-optic cables to monitor the vast amounts of information flowing through them.

Snowden’s revelations have spurred efforts to tap the almost mystical properties of quantum science to make such hacking impossible. Now there are signs of progress.

A startup called Quantum Xchange says it has struck a deal giving it access to 500 miles (805 kilometers) of fiber-optic cable running along the east coast of the US to create what it claims will be the country’s first quantum key distribution (QKD) network.

Also, this week the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory announced a joint venture to create a test bed for an approach to secure data communication using quantum teleportation.

The QKD approach used by Quantum Xchange works by sending an encoded message in classical bits while the keys to decode it are sent in the form of quantum bits, or qubits. These are typically photons, which travel easily along fiber-optic cables. The beauty of this approach is that any attempt to snoop on a qubit immediately destroys its delicate quantum state, wiping out the information it carries and leaving a telltale sign of an intrusion.

The initial leg of the network, linking New York City to New Jersey, will allow banks and other businesses to ship information between offices in Manhattan and data centers and other locations outside the city.

However, sending quantum keys over long distances requires “trusted nodes,” which are similar to repeaters that boost signals in a standard data cable. Quantum Xchange says it will have 13 of these along its full network. At nodes, keys are decrypted into classical bits and then returned to a quantum state for onward transmission. In theory, a hacker could steal them while they are briefly vulnerable.

Quantum teleportation eliminates this risk by exploiting a phenomenon known as entanglement. This involves creating a pair of qubits—again, typically photons—in a single quantum state. A change in one photon immediately influences the state of the linked one, even if they are very far away from one another. In theory, data transmission based on this phenomenon is unhackable because tampering with one of the qubits destroys their quantum state . (For a more detailed description of quantum teleportation, see “Inside Europe’s quest to build an unhackable quantum internet.”)

The challenges of making this work in practice are immense, and the approach is still confined to science labs. “Sending a photon into a piece of fiber is not a big deal,” says David Awschalom, a professor at the University of Chicago, “but creating and sustaining entanglement is really challenging.” That’s especially true over long-distance cable networks.

David Awschalom

University of Chicago

Awschalom is leading the initiative involving the university and the national laboratories. The aim, he says, is to have the test bed enable a “plug-and-play” approach that will let researchers evaluate various techniques for entangling and sending out qubits.

The test bed, which will be built with several million dollars from the US Department of Energy and use a 30-mile stretch of fiber-optic cable running between the labs, will be operated by members of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, which brings together 70 scientists and engineers from the three institutions.

Both Europe and China are also experimenting with quantum communications networks. Awschalom thinks it’s good to have healthy competition in the field. “Other countries have pushed forward to build [quantum] infrastructure,” he says. “Now we’ll do the same.”

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