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Google's leap forward likened to first flight by Wright brothers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google said it has achieved a breakthrough in quantum computing research, saying an experimental quantum processor has completed a calculation in just a few minutes that would take a traditional supercomputer thousands of years.

The findings, published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, show that "quantum speedup is achievable in a real-world system and is not precluded by any hidden physical laws," the researchers wrote.

Vastly faster quantum computers are still a long way from having a practical application but might one day revolutionize tasks that would take existing computers years, including the hunt for new drugs and optimizing city and transportation planning.

The technique relies on quantum bits, or qubits, which can register data values of zero and one — the language of modern computing — simultaneously. Big tech companies including Google, Microsoft, IBM and Intel are avidly pursuing the technology.

"Quantum things can be in multiple places at the same time," said Chris Monroe, a University of Maryland physicist who is also the founder of quantum startup IonQ. "The rules are very simple, they're just confounding."

Google's findings, however, are already facing pushback from other industry researchers. A version of Google's paper leaked online last month and researchers caught a glimpse before it was taken down.

IBM quickly took issue with Google's claim that it had achieved "quantum supremacy," a term that refers to a point when a quantum computer can perform a calculation that a traditional computer can't complete within its lifetime. Google's leaked paper showed that its quantum processor, Sycamore, finished a calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds — and that it would take the world's fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to do the same thing.

But IBM researchers say that Google underestimated the conventional supercomputer, called Summit, and said it could actually do the calculation in 2½ days. Summit was developed by IBM.

Whether or not Google has achieved "quantum supremacy" may matter to competitors, but the semantics could be less important for the field of quantum research. What it does seem to indicate is that the field is maturing.

The achievement has been compared to the Wright brothers' 12-second first flight at Kitty Hawk — an early, aspirational glimpse at a revolution to come.

"The quantum supremacy milestone allegedly achieved by Google is a pivotal step in the quest for practical quantum computers," John Preskill, a Caltech professor who originally coined the "quantum supremacy" term, wrote in a column after the paper was leaked.

The calculation employed by Google has little practical use, Preskill wrote, other than to test how well the processor works.

Monroe agreed: "The more interesting milestone will be a useful application."

The promise of such future applications in commerce and national security has attracted interest from governments, including the United States and China, that are increasingly investing in the expensive basic research needed to make quantum computers useful. One feared outcome of quantum computing — though experts say it's most likely still decades away — is a computer powerful enough to break today's best cryptography.

President Donald Trump last year signed into law a congressional proposal to spend $1.2 billion over five years for quantum research across the federal government. Google's research relied in part on a Department of Energy supercomputer and experts at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to verify the work.

This report includes material from the Washington Post.

Grace: Modern-day Indiana Jones has discovered 3,000 missing settlements, a lost Egyptian city

Indiana Jones came to Omaha Wednesday.

But instead of bringing a whip, gun and Harrison Ford swagger, real archaeologist Sarah Parcak brought a vast knowledge of Egypt, her experience using satellite imagery to find lost history and an important message that boils down to this: We’re all the same, people.

No matter what issues divide us today, her study of ancient civilizations only affirms her fervent belief in the shared humanity of the human race. It’s why she has started a nonprofit that basically deputizes the average human as an archaeologist to find and preserve ancient history.

Erin Grace

“Who knows what that can do,” she said to an audience of almost 1,000 at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in west Omaha, “to bring us together?”

Parcak came to Omaha to speak to members of Omaha Town Hall, a lecture series so popular that there are 500 names on the waiting list. The organization brings in four speakers a season. Because talks are held in the middle of the day, the audience skews older, toward and past retirement age. President Susan McGillick hopes to find ways to open the membership program to a wider audience.

In the meantime, she was host for Parcak and a handful of eighth grade girls who got to meet the archaeologist beforehand and share a private conversation about what women in science fields are up against.

These eighth graders from St. Margaret Mary Catholic School complained about boys who jibe them for running “like a girl,” or for crying wolf if they complain about being treated as inferior because they’re girls. They were fully aware of the bittersweet U.S. women’s soccer victory in the World Cup earlier this year. The bitter part is that women who play soccer professionally are paid less than male players.

Parcak, a critic of sexism in academia, particularly in her field, told the students to hang in there. She told them there are a lot of great men but to block out the negative voices and go for what they want.

On stage, however, that subject was not brought up, as Parcak instead focused on her extensive and groundbreaking — in the literal and figurative sense — work in archaeology.

The granddaughter of a World War II paratrooper and forestry professor who used aerial images and a 3D viewing tool to study trees, Parcak applied the same technology to her work as an Egyptologist. Parcak studied ancient Egypt at Yale and is now an anthropology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

She won the 2016 TED Prize, which carried a $1 million award, and is a TED senior fellow. She received the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award and is a former National Geographic fellow. She founded an online platform, GlobalXplorer, that gives anyone in the world access to satellite images to show potential finds.

She has made her name using satellite imagery to identify thousands of previously undiscovered archaeological sites around the globe. Among her discoveries are more than 3,000 missing settlements, more than 1,000 tombs and the lost Egyptian city of Tanis.

In July, she published a 288-page book about her work, “Archaeology From Space.” Hardcover copies are available for $30 at The Bookworm, at 90th Street and West Center Road. She’s been featured in three BBC specials.

Parcak began her Omaha talk with “a land acknowledgment,” about being in “occupied Omaha” and other native tribal land.

She then said that her work offers this truth, a ray of hope in divided times: We’re all connected. We’re sharing in the human experience of struggle and survival, of conflict and peace.

Parcak then noted two bookmarks: the approaching 100-year anniversary of the 1922 discovery of King Tut’s tomb and the much more recent discovery of 30 perfectly preserved Egyptian coffins.

“Not only are the coffins well-preserved,” she said, “but the mummies are as well. We’re going to learn so much.”

Despite recent discoveries, she said that a “tiny fraction of 1%” of ancient Egypt has been revealed to the world.

Much more remains to be found, she said.

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For the next hour, Parcak flipped the calendar back 3,500 years, showing slides of dig sites in Egypt. She talked about brilliant but underresourced archaeologists and about how unstable economic times lead to looting, which then disperses and destroys history.

Satellite pictures are useful tools in spotting potential looted spots, securing them and trying to learn from them.

That technology, combined with infrared cameras, can make “what has been an otherwise invisible world completely visible,” she said, “whether it’s fields in Italy, a ditch in England, an entire city beneath (the ground) in Egypt.”

She talked about the newly visible invisible world in fascinating and humbling terms. Don’t think you’re such hot stuff and modern with the iPhone, she said.

“Let me tell you, (Egyptians) invented writing messages on walls. And obsessing over cats.”

She talked fascinatingly about how ancient civilizations lived and why modern-day looters loot and how the past can inform the present. She globe-hopped, place-name-dropped (Cambodia), literary-name-dropped (Herodotus) and described mapping tools like a “differential GPS.”

Listening to her was like being in a college lecture. She talked a mile a minute, dropping historical, geographic and literary allusions. I couldn’t take notes fast enough. Afterward, I asked the eighth grade girls if they could. They gushed over the newly found mummies, the lost cities, the you-too-can-be-an-archaeologist website.

And the bottom-line message came through loud and clear.

“I think it’s great,” said Kate Reed, “how she’s connecting people from all over the world.”

Photos: National landmarks of Nebraska

Iowa's Steve King joins House Republicans in disrupting deposition related to impeachment inquiry

WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, joined a group of fellow GOP House members Wednesday in storming a secure Capitol Hill briefing area, thereby disrupting a deposition related to the ongoing House impeachment inquiry and protesting a process they view as unfair to President Donald Trump.

King told The World-Herald afterward that Democrats already have reached a conclusion to impeach the president and are simply searching for justification.

“They may well end up this way — defining a misdemeanor as ‘being elected president of the United States from the other party,’” King said.

The dramatic confrontation came after Trump earlier in the week denounced the ongoing inquiry as a “phony investigation” and said Republicans “have to get tougher and fight” it.

Democrats said that Wednesday’s action and the Republicans’ complaints about the process surrounding it are simply an attempt to distract from a mounting pile of evidence that Trump went to great lengths to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival.

The most eye-popping revelations came courtesy of the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, William Taylor, who testified on Tuesday.

His opening statement to lawmakers, provided to various news outlets, laid out in some detail a Trump-driven operation outside regular diplomatic channels to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Like many Capitol Hill Republicans, GOP House members from Nebraska and Iowa have focused their public comments on criticizing the process that Democrats have employed in the impeachment probe.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who represents the Lincoln-based 1st District, said Democrats’ efforts stem from hatred for the president and are based on a predetermined conclusion that Trump is guilty.

Fortenberry said it’s unfair that other House members don’t have access to the interviews being conducted behind closed doors by the main committees involved.

While Taylor’s opening statement became public this week — Fortenberry said Wednesday that he had not read it — the rest of what the longtime diplomat told lawmakers has not been released.

“Has the president’s team been able to defend him?” Fortenberry said. “Do we give the most hardened criminal more rights than this? All of this is clouding, frankly, the credibility of the entire institution.”

Republicans have called for a formal vote on the impeachment inquiry in order to give them more rights in the process, but some have made clear at the same time that they would vote against such an inquiry. Fortenberry declined to say how he would vote if the question came before the House.

“It’s a biased question,” Fortenberry said.

After a whistleblower sounded the alarm on Trump’s actions, the president released an rough transcript of a key call between him and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That transcript showed the two discussing U.S. assistance just before Trump asked for a “favor” in the form of investigating both Biden and a conspiracy theory about 2016 election interference.

But Fortenberry said his reading of the summary is that Trump was not linking military assistance to a potential Biden investigation.

“That phone call may not have been optimal, but it is not criminal,” Fortenberry said. “I do not see that. I do not see that linkage at all.”

Omaha-area Rep. Don Bacon also has defended the president’s conduct as legal and criticized the impeachment inquiry.

But he did split with Trump this week over the president’s comparison of the impeachment process to a “lynching.”

Omaha Democrat Kara Eastman, who is running for her party’s nomination to face Bacon in 2020, criticized the congressman for not immediately speaking out against the president’s lynching reference.

Bacon later provided a written statement criticizing the president’s choice of words.

“As the introducer of anti-lynching legislation in the House that aims to outlaw lynching at the federal level, it pained many to hear the unfair impeachment inquiry compared to an egregious time in our history in which 5,000 people were murdered — to include Omaha,” Bacon said in the statement. “We should not compare violent physical acts that left terrible trauma on families with the political unfairness and vitriol we see today.”

All House Republicans from Iowa and Nebraska voted this week in support of a measure to censure Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

That measure would rebuke Schiff for a litany of alleged offenses, from his early claims about Russian collusion to providing differing accounts of contact with the Ukraine whistleblower.

“When he says, ‘I have intelligence’ or ‘I have data’ showing collusion — I just feel like that was wrong,” Bacon said of Schiff.

The House voted along party lines 218-185 to table the censure resolution. All Republicans casting a vote opposed tabling the resolution.

It was a display of GOP unity that earned an atta-boy from Trump himself.

“Thank you Republicans,” Trump tweeted the next day. “185 out of 185 present voted for ‘US’ last night. Really good!”

Democrats responded to the censure vote by saying that while they dig for the truth, Republicans are muddying the waters in an effort to protect Trump.

Schiff tweeted: “It will be said of House Republicans, When they found they lacked the courage to confront the most dangerous and unethical president in American history, They consoled themselves by attacking those who did.”

Photos: OWH front pages through the years​

'We're the ones who are blessed': Volunteers rush to get flood victims back in houses before winter

The crisp days, cool, cozy nights and changing leaves might be welcome signs that fall has arrived, but they’re also blaring a warning to the residents and volunteers trying to restore the flood-wrecked community of King Lake.

Winter is coming.

Homeowners and helpers are racing against the clock to repair flood-damaged houses in the King Lake area before the weather turns. A number of residents there have been living in RVs parked in yards since flooding ruined their houses in March.

Help is dwindling too — so many months removed from the initial disaster, groups say they’re no longer seeing as many volunteers come out on weekends to install drywall or flooring.

“It’s cold now,” said Cyndi Borden, the director of King’s Garden, a nonprofit ministry that runs out of King Lake. “Our hope is to have everyone sitting at their table for Thanksgiving.”

So faith-based volunteer groups like King’s Garden and Omaha Rapid Response are making a last push to get houses livable — if not quite to their preflood condition — before winter and the holidays. Their goal is to get as many residents as they can back into houses with a working bathroom, kitchen and bedroom. Paint, carpet, full appliances and finishing touches may have to come later.

Last Saturday, saws whirred and the sound of hammering rang out as four volunteers, three from Bethany Lutheran Church in Elkhorn, cut and laid subflooring inside a white one-story home. The house had been gutted down to the studs and a ceiling fan lay in a bathtub, but the medicine cabinet was still stocked with Pepto-Bismol and other odds-and-ends of preflood life.

“I need two of those and then a two-by-four,” Ron Bahn instructed Rick Braasch as they fit together boards and support beams. “Just like a jigsaw puzzle.”

King Lake is an unincorporated area in western Douglas County. It’s a secluded neighborhood of one square mile that sits right next to the Elkhorn River, east of Valley and north of Waterloo. During the historic flooding in March, the Elkhorn spilled out of its banks, sending water into nearly all of the 111 homes in King Lake. At Waterloo, the river reached startling new heights, cresting 5.65 feet higher than the previous record, set in 1962.

Some homes had 2 to 6 feet of water and mud inside. Foundations buckled. Houses that suffered significant damage may have to be elevated several feet higher to bring them out of the flood plain.

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Kami Morris heard about the need through her church, Messiah Lutheran in Lincoln, and was helping Matt Bamesberger cut and install insulation inside one house last Saturday. She watched the flooding unfold on the news in March, but even she was surprised to learn that some flood victims still aren’t back in their homes, seven months later.

“It said ‘all skill levels,’ so I know how to cut and measure,” she said.

The homes in King Lake are modest, with most valued for tax purposes below $100,000, with some at $21,000 or $43,000. Residents who were displaced may be renting homes elsewhere or staying with family and friends, but it will not be easy for them to find similarly affordable homes in pricier areas nearby, like Elkhorn. Those living out of campers are relying on generators and propane gas.

And some may not return at all. The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District is applying to state and federal emergency management agencies for funds to buy and demolish flood-prone properties in King Lake. Forty-five residents have expressed interest in voluntary buyouts, though John Winkler, general manager of the Papio-Missouri NRD, said that number could decrease if people decide to stay and fix up their homes. Similar buyouts were offered after flooding in 2010.

“We’re trying to get people out of harm’s way, out of danger,” Winkler said.

Borden and Ken Gruber said people there need the morale boost that comes from seeing other residents get back into their homes. Gruber is president of Omaha Rapid Response, a disaster relief group made up of church congregations in Omaha that has responded to 9/11, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and now, closer to home, the flooding in Nebraska and Iowa.

Ken Gruber

Over the past 32 weeks, Omaha Rapid Response has counted nearly 3,000 volunteers from more than 20 states who have helped muck out, gut and rebuild houses in flood-affected communities like King Lake, Bellevue, Fremont, Columbus and Pacific Junction. Other relief organizations and businesses have served meals, helped residents pore over paperwork for disaster aid and loans, and donated supplies like tools, doors and windows. The disaster relief arm of American Baptist Men loaned King Lake a trailer for showers and laundry.

But more hands are needed in King Lake and Pacific Junction, Iowa. Organizers will gladly welcome people without construction experience, but they also need volunteers who know skilled trades, who can wire a house, fit pipes or lay subflooring.

“These next six weeks, we need help desperately,” Gruber said.

Terry Rocz, a contractor who lives in Elkhorn and was working at King Lake last weekend, said he’s done mission work his whole life.

“We’re the ones who are blessed, seeing the strength from the people here,” he said. “This is just hope, what we’re giving them, because they have been forgotten.”

Michael Burns, the building inspector for Valley, which has jurisdiction over part of King Lake, said it’s been heartening to see the turnout. But he said residents and any helpers still have to pull permits and make sure any renovations or repairs comply with building codes. Work at at least one house had to be redone because it couldn’t pass an inspection, he said.

Gruber said volunteers are following procedures.

“We want everybody to be safe,” he said.

Barry Radebaugh, a carpenter from Lincoln, was spending his seventh Saturday at King Lake, taping drywall. Allen Wilkens of Waverly, who works with him, was fitting kitchen cabinets at another house.

Wilkens said he’s glad to put his woodworking talents to use.

“I’ve always kind of figured, everyone needs the help later,” he said. “There’s a lot of help upfront, but we’re kind of forgetting about it. You want to try to help out after the hype” dies down.

Photos: Residents return to Pacific Junction after flooding