Connect with us


Microsoft’s quantum cloud computing plans take another big step forward

The Redmond giant has expanded Azure Quantum to the wider ecosystem.



Azure Quantum, the public cloud ecosystem dedicated to quantum applications developed by Microsoft, is now available for public preview. The Redmond giant has urged developers and researchers in the field to start using the platform’s cloud services to explore, build and test applications of quantum technologies that could transform a wide range of industries.

Since Microsoft’s Build event last year, Azure Quantum has been in limited preview, and developers from select companies have been piloting the platform for the past few months. Experiments have been carried out in many different fields, including materials design, financial modelling and traffic optimization.

“With Azure Quantum Public Preview, we’re opening up the technology to the broader ecosystem,” Julie Love, senior director at Microsoft Quantum, told ZDNet. “This means that developers, researchers, systems integrators, and customers can use it to learn and build.”

Azure Quantum aims to create a one-stop shop for developers, complete with the software and hardware resources that are necessary to build quantum applications.

Quantum computing is based on different building blocks than classical computing. While classical bits can only hold a single value of either zero or one, quantum bits – or qubits – can be programmed to hold multiple values at the same time. Leveraging this particular characteristic of qubits, quantum computers can solve problems exponentially faster than classical computers, although quantum devices are still in their infancy

Azure Quantum’s ecosystem also comes with software packages to help developers get started with writing quantum applications. Among them, an open-source quantum development kit (QDK) provides a basis for researchers to develop new algorithms with Q#, a quantum-focused programming language.

Researchers can use the QDK to develop and test new quantum algorithms, to run small examples on a simulator, or estimate resource requirements to run simulations at scale on future quantum computers. QDK’s GitHub repository also includes open-source Q# libraries and samples that can be used to build quantum computing applications.

“Quantum computing research is enabled in Azure Quantum by a rich set of tools ranging from the QDK and the Q# programming language for quantum,” said Love. “The Q# programming language is a high-level modern language that promises long-lasting, durable code, meaning that your code will work across different types of quantum hardware and on future quantum systems.”

Microsoft has started working on quantum applications in chemistry, and recently published some research on using quantum computers to design a catalyst that could take carbon out of the atmosphere. Early trials of Azure Quantum also saw Microsoft collaborating with materials science company Dow to build a quantum representation of a chemistry problem using the Q# language.

The quantum devices that are currently available can only support a small number of qubits, meaning that the quantum algorithms that are built today on Microsoft’s quantum platform are designed to tackle small-scale problems with little business relevance. But as Love explains, the point of Azure Quantum is rather to fiddle around with quantum capabilities, to lay the groundwork in anticipation of improved hardware to come.

“These applications in quantum computing hold the promise to solve some of our planet’s toughest challenges – in energy, climate, materials, agriculture, healthcare and more,” said Love. “Problems like these will require the use of large, scalable, fault-tolerant quantum hardware that is under development, and it’s critical to start building and testing these quantum methods today.”

Azure Quantum, however, offers an alternative to developers who aren’t keen to wait for a fully-scaled quantum computer to be available. Microsoft is effectively engaged in the field of quantum-inspired technology – a method that consists of emulating some quantum effects on classical computers to start reaping the benefits of quantum computing in the nearer term.

The idea is to mimic certain quantum behaviors in order to develop quantum-inspired algorithms that can then be run on classical hardware to solve difficult problems, to achieve significant speedup over traditional approaches. The method is particularly suited to optimization problems.

Azure Quantum customers, therefore, can use quantum-inspired optimization solvers from Microsoft and partner company 1QBit, to run large problems in Azure on classical CPUs, GPUs and FGPAs.

The quantum-inspired methods provided by Azure Quantum were used by advanced materials company OTI Lumionics to design next-generation OLED displays, for example. Ford has also been trialing the technology to improve traffic optimization, with promising results in scenarios involving as many as 5,000 vehicles.

The preview of Azure Quantum also saw software company Jij and Toyota Tsusho working with quantum-inspired tools to solve mobility challenges, optimizing the timing of traffic lights to relieve city congestion. The researchers were able to reduce car waiting time by 20% when compared to conventional optimization methods.

“We’ve seen exciting work already from customers and partners in traffic optimization, financial modelling, transportation and logistics, materials design, and more,” said Love. “I’m most excited to see what new ideas developers come up with once they’ve had the tools and solutions in their hands, particularly for solutions to our biggest challenges in climate and the environment.”

In parallel to running the Azure Quantum platform, Microsoft is currently in the process of developing its own quantum computer, but the technology isn’t advanced enough to compete against other cloud-based quantum processors. The tech giant is pursuing a different method from its competitors, based on a so-called “topological qubit”, which Microsoft argues will be protected from noise and will do a better job of retaining information.

Azure Quantum aims to create a one-stop shop for developers, complete with the software and hardware resources that are necessary to build quantum applications.



HP unveils new EliteOne 800 PC line for emerging hybrid workforce

The new desktop comes with 23.8-inch or 27-inch diagonal display as well as an integrated pop-up camera.



hp-eliteone-800-g8-24-all-in-one-pc-front-left.jpg HP

HP announced the release of a new slate of PCs built for the growing number of people splitting time between home and the office.

The headlining EliteOne 800 G8 All-in-One has both 23.8-inch and 27-inch versions that come with a dual-facing 5MP camera, 11th Gen Intel Core processor, and AI-based noise reduction filters.

The camera has auto scene detection which automatically adjusts depending on the time of day, and the popup webcam allows for a wide field of view.

With HP Dynamic Voice Leveling, the PC changes the volume automatically based on where you are in relation to the microphone. The PC also leverages an AI-based technology that allows it to tune audio to speech, music, and movies while suppressing background noise. There is even a way to keep the PC’s fans running as quiet as possible.

The EliteOne 800 G8 All-in-One locks when you walk away from the screen and the HP Patch Assistant allows for software updates to be automated by an IT team.

Along with the EliteOne 800 G8 All-in-One, the company unveiled the EliteDesk 800 G8 Series PCs, all of which are part of an effort to enable “meaningful collaboration experiences and optimal productivity in new work environments,” according to Andy Rhodes, global head of commercial systems and display solutions at HP.

The PCs will be available in select countries starting in May 2021.

The company conducted a survey at the end of 2020, finding that at least 32% of office employees will continue working from home through 2021 while 26% said they would work both from home and the office throughout the week.

“The pandemic has given us a fresh perspective on not only the importance of the PC, but better insight into how we collaborate, stay connected, and elevate the way we work at home and in the office,” Rhodes said in a statement.


Continue Reading


New Amazon Fire HD 10 tablets bundle Microsoft 365 and a keyboard case

Amazon also announced a new approach to its Kids lineup of Fire tablets based on age.



trona-plus-bundle2.jpg Amazon

Amazon has updated its Fire HD 10 lineup. The update includes all of the normal aspects we’ve come to expect from a generational bump. The Fire HD 10 shares the same design as the Fire HD 8 refresh we saw last year, a processor upgrade more memory, a brighter display, and 12 hours of battery life. All of those changes are welcome, especially with the last Fire HD 10 update occurring back in 2019.

But what’s most interesting to me about the new Fire HD 10 and Fire HD 10 Plus is that Amazon is offering a productivity bundle for those who want to use Amazon’s tablet to get work done.

For $219, the bundle includes a one-year subscription to Microsoft 365 Personal — which includes access to all Office apps and 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage — and a detachable keyboard case.

It’s the first time that I can recall where Amazon has positioned one of its tablets as a work device, and not an entertainment device that’s primary purpose is to envelop you in Amazon’s own stores, apps, and services.

Going even further, Amazon is debuting a split-screen mode on the Fire HD 10 that will allow you to use two apps at the same time.

The Fire HD 10 and HD Plus are available with 32GB or 64GB of storage, and both will accept a MicroSD card with up to 1TB of additional storage. The 10.1-inch display is 1080p and 10% brighter than the previous model. The 2-megapixel front-facing camera has been moved so that it’s centered when the tablet is in landscape mode.

The main differences between the Fire HD 10 and the HD 10 Plus come down to 3GB of memory in the standard model, and 4GB of memory in the Plus version. You’ll also get a “premium” finish and wireless charging on the Plus model, for a price of $179. The standard Fire HD 10 starts at $149.

You can preorder the new Fire HD 10 tablets today, with shipments starting on May 26.

fire-hd-10-kids-pro-lifestyle-one.jpg Amazon A new approach to tablets for kids

In addition to announcing updates to the Fire HD 10 line, Amazon also unveiled a new approach to its Amazon Kids tablets based on age group. There’s now an Amazon Fire Kids version of each Fire tablet in Amazon’s lineup. For example, the Fire HD 10 Kids version includes a protective case, one-year of Amazon Kids+ for parental controls and kid-friendly content, plus a two-year worry-free guarantee where Amazon will replace a broken tablet, no questions asked. An Amazon Kids tablet is designed for kids ages 3 to 7 and includes the base model Fire HD 10 for $199. Alternatively, you can get the Fire 7 Kids for $99, or the Fire HD 8 Kids for $139.99

ZDNet Recommends

The best tablets for you

The best tablets for you

Whether you’re looking for a tablet just to watch videos on, or one to replace your laptop — 2020 is off to a promising start.

Read More

There’s now a Kids Pro line of Amazon’s tablets designed for kids ages 6 to 12. All Kids Pro tablets come with a slim style protective case — one an older child won’t mind using — the same one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+ and a two-year worry-free guarantee.

Pricing for the Kids Pro models is the same as the Amazon Kids models. The Fire HD 10 Kids Pro is $199, the Fire HD 7 Kids Pro is $99, and the Fire HD 8 Kids Pro is $139.

The Fire HD 10 Kids and HD 10 Kids Pro are both available to preorder, with shipping starting on May 26.

Getting a child a Kids or Kids Pro tablet from Amazon is an inexpensive way to keep them entertained while you work, be it reading books, watching videos, or playing games that are included with the Amazon Kids+ subscription. And you’re in total control over their use with the parental controls included in that subscription.


Continue Reading


‘Small countries punching above their weight’. How diplomacy is ushering in a new era for Middle East tech

New markets, investment and collaboration are just some of the potential prospects that closer links are already beginning to unlock.



The Abraham Accords, a series of normalisation deals signed last year between Israel and Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), offer the chance to galvanise the technology sector across the region.

The deals signed last year established diplomatic relations between the countries and also opened the way for more business opportunities between the long-estranged states.

The Accords were “a historical and timely breakthrough, and a turning point for the Middle East region,” says Abdulla Al Hamed, managing partner at digital transformation and consultancy company INTERMID and chairman of the Bahrain Internet Society. “For future generations to prosper, we must find ways to address the common issues the world is facing right now, and the Middle East is no exception,” he says.

Shared goals

Despite their historic differences, there are strong similarities in the role that tech and innovation plays in driving the economies of countries such as Israel, Bahrain and the UAE.

“The Gulf and Israel are really well placed to take advantage and leverage each other because they’re both high-tech, very modern economies,” says Seth Frantzman a Middle East security analyst and founder of the new website Israel-Gulf Report. “They are both tech hubs.”

Carrington Malin, a Dubai-based entrepreneur, marketer, and writer focused on emerging technologies, agrees, noting the symbiotic nature of this relationship.

These new arrangements offer technology sectors in both countries enormous opportunities, Malin says, pointing to UAE’s desire to encourage home-grown innovation and attract global tech talent, as well as opportunities to “draw on some of the resources and expertise that has helped Israel to scale its startup ecosystem.”

Meanwhile, for Israeli companies, there are opportunities to expand into new markets – essential for a country with a population of just nine million – as well as attract fresh investment.

Early evidence suggests an element of pent-up demand for this thawing of relationships.

“So far, the engagement of Israeli tech firms with the UAE has been enthusiastic, to say the least,” Malin says.

“There was this outpouring, almost like a love affair on both sides,” Frantzman concurs.

SEE: Guide to Becoming a Digital Transformation Champion (TechRepublic Premium)

This interest is not just related to the business community. Until the latest round of lockdowns curtailed air travel, 130,000 Israeli tourists visited UAE after travel restrictions between the nations were lifted.

Meanwhile, in December, thousands of Israelis flew to Dubai to meet UAE companies at GITEX, the annual conference that serves as the Arab world’s largest IT industry gathering. As part of the event, GITEX 2020 hosted the inaugural UAE-Israel Future Digital Economy Summit, a day of discussions around topics such as 5G, fintech, mobility, cybersecurity and AI, which offered insights into potential areas of collaboration between the two nations.

“It’s going to be so much easier to have a business conversation once you’ve had that kind of personal relationship with a place by virtue of just being able to freely visit it,” comments Gili Cegla, a serial entrepreneur, startup investor and co-founder of Israel’s Geekcon, a summer camp for “pointless tech.”

“You’re suddenly able to visit places that you have hadn’t before. It’s a way to change perception and awareness,” he adds.

Early developments

Once the Accords where in place, there was a rapid start to business relationships.

“Some Israeli and UAE businesses began forming collaborations almost immediately after the two countries opened up relations,” explains Nir Kouris, the Tel Aviv-based founder of Fintech Nation Global Summit and the UAE-Israel Fintech Week.

In September, a month after formalisation of relationships between their countries, APEX Nation Investment – a leading investment firm in the UAE – and Israel’s Sheba Medical Center revealed plans for a joint innovation hub, based in the Gulf and using Sheba’s big data platform.

The move followed an earlier partnership, announced once the diplomatic deal had been inked, between APEX and the Israeli Tera Group, focused on COVID-19-related R&D.

Moving forward

COVID’s winter resurgence has inevitably slowed down these developments, meaning – as Frantzman put it – “there aren’t as many physical public handshakes”. However, conversations are continuing to happen in the background or via online conferences.

One of the first of these, Fintech Week, took place (from 29 November to 4 December) as a virtual event backed by global players like Facebook and Microsoft for Startups, as well as regional partners, such as the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We were able to expand Fintech Week to cover both Israel and the UAE with more than 1,000 participants, just a few weeks after the Accords were signed,” Kouris tells ZDNet, with events like a recent fintech hackathon representing an early opportunity for further cross-border engagement.

SEE: What is Agile software development? Everything you need to know about delivering better code, faster

For Cegla, these initial moves are a taste of what’s to come. “I see immediate actions and immediate growth in cybersecurity, health and agtech,” he says, with the UAE being a “destination buyer” for these products and services.

It’s a view that chimes with Al Hamed in Bahrain, who sees particular opportunities in sectors “such as infrastructure investments, commercial, space programmes, clean energy, education and medicine.”

He also identifies digital art, gaming, robotics, cybersecurity, cloud computing and AI as sources for closer ties and cooperation.

The inclusion of space technology on this list may raise a few eyebrows, but as Frantzman reminds us, both UAE and Israel have space programmes, despite the population of each country being under 10 million. “These are small countries that are punching way above their weight in different ways,” he says.

Despite their historic differences, there are strong similarities in the role that tech and innovation plays in driving the economies of countries such as Israel, Bahrain and the UAE.


Continue Reading