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Preparing crypto for the quantum apocalypse

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Dr Leemon Baird of Hedera told SiliconRepublic.com that digital signatures may rise from 64 bytes to 1,300 bytes to be safe from quantum computers.

As the world waits for the first true quantum computers to drop, various industries are taking steps to prepare for their arrival.

These powerful machines are expected to surpass modern computers in almost every way, performing calculations that would otherwise be impossible.

This could lead to enormous benefits for humanity, but it also poses a threat to the cryptographic algorithms many digital services rely on. The predicted fallout from these machines is known as the quantum apocalypse.

One area that could be at risk from quantum computers is the cryptocurrency industry. As the name suggests, these digital currencies rely on cryptography to verify their transactions.

Research from Deloitte estimates that around 4m bitcoins in circulation could be vulnerable to future quantum attacks. This compares to roughly $77bn in value, based on the current price of bitcoin.

Dr Leemon Baird is the co-founder of Hedera, a public proof-of-stake network designed for enterprises. Baird told SiliconRepublic.com that in a “nightmare scenario” where the industry takes no steps to prepare, the results could be very damaging.

“What it would mean is that you could break the signature system that allows you to say whether or not tokens are transferred out of your account,” Baird said.

“Someone could steal everything you have, all of your cryptocurrency, all of your tokens, they could do anything in your name because your name is just a signature and they could forge your signature.

“And you could even do weird things like double spins, where you break the blockchain itself because you’ve broken the hash function.”

However, Baird said that this scenario is very unlikely as the industry is already “fully aware” of the risk that quantum computers could pose. He also explained that it can be relatively easy to protect parts of the blockchain from this quantum threat, though it comes at a cost.

Digital signatures

Baird said certain upgrades that are needed to protect against quantum computers are relatively straightforward, such as hashing. In simple terms, this is when an input string of any length is changed to an output of a fixed length.

This helps to keep transactions secure as it makes it extremely difficult to guess the actual length of the input. By creating a “slightly bigger hash”, Baird said this section can be protected from quantum computers.

The “big issue” is in digital signatures, which are required to prove each transaction taking place on the blockchain is valid.

“It’s all anonymous, how else would you prove it? You have to prove that you have this key by signing something,” Baird said. “Digital Signatures are the part where this is painful, very painful.”

Baird said that with larger key sizes, digital signatures can become safe from future quantum computers. The issue is the amount they have to be increased by.

Currently, Baird said a digital signature is around 64 bytes in size, with transactions ranging from 100 to 200 bytes. The Falcon algorithm, which Baird said is the smallest, changes this to 1,300 bytes.

Falcon is one of four encryption algorithms that are believed to be capable of withstanding a quantum computers assault. These algorithms were selected by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology earlier this year to form a new cryptographic standard.

“It means you have to send more bytes, you have to store more bytes, you have to process more bytes,” Baird said. “Everything is a pain.”

Baird said this could cause everything in the blockchain to become slower and “a bit more expensive”. However, he believes that over a short period of time, technology advances will make the increased size more manageable.

“No one’s going to die because we have put on 800 bytes or 1300 bytes signatures, we can survive it,” Baird said. “We’ll do it two years from now when there’s an actual standard. There’s no particular rush, but we will do it.

“It’s a pain, it’s sort of a tax on all humanity. But we’ll pay the tax.”

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Google UK staff earned average of more than £385,000 each in 18 months | Google

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Google UK’s staff earned an average of more than £385,000 each in the 18 months to the end of December, as the tech company gave almost £1bn in share-based payments.

Google, which like other tech firms is looking at budget and potential job cuts as global economic conditions become tougher, reported £3.4bn in turnover and £1.1bn in pre-tax profits in the 18 months to the end of December 2021.

The company, which reported a year and a half of financial results after moving its accounting period from the end of June to December last year, paid £200m in UK corporation tax.

Google UK hired 577 staff between June 2020 and December last year, taking its total headcount to 5,701. The company employs 2,275 staff in sales and marketing roles, 2,412 in research and design and 1,014 in management and administration roles.

Google’s total staff costs hit £2.2bn in the 18-month reporting period, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The staff wage and salary bill came to £1.06bn.

The accounts show UK staff received an £829m bonanza in share-based payments, and there was £258m on social security costs and £52m in expenses relating to its defined contribution plan.

The accounts also show that Google paid £200m in UK corporation tax on its £1.1bn profits.

Like its tech peers Meta – the owner of Facebook and Instagram – and Amazon, Google is frequently the target of criticism that it does not pay enough in tax in the UK.

While the company reported £3.4bn in turnover over its 18-month reporting period, the research firm Insider Intelligence estimates that Google made almost £8.7bn in ad revenue in the UK in 2021 alone.

Google, which has its European headquarters in Ireland, where taxes are lower, reports some revenues in other jurisdictions.

“Our global effective income tax rate over the past decade has been close to 20% of our profits, in line with average statutory tax rates,” a spokesperson for Google said. “We have long supported efforts via the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] to update international tax rules to arrive at a system where more taxing rights are allocated to countries where products and services are consumed.”

In November, Google’s Irish subsidiary agreed to pay €218m (£183m) in back taxes to the Irish government. In 2020, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said it would stop using a notorious tax loophole known as “the double Irish with a Dutch sandwich”.

In 2020, the UK introduced a digital services tax, which levies 2% of gross revenues, and aimed to target large digital companies that make huge revenues but report relatively small profits.

Next year, it will be replaced by a new global tax system after the OECD brokered a deal between 136 countries that will result in large multinational companies paying tax in the countries where they do business, and committing themselves to a minimum 15% corporation tax rate.

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Tesla has a bit of work to do on Optimus robot • The Register

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Tesla headlined its AI Day 2022 event on Friday with the reveal of its “Optimus” robot prototype, showing just how much work was left to do on the project.

While the demo was certainly more robotic than last year’s dancer in a onesie, the lumbering mess of cables was far from the sleek and sexy design faithful Muskites might expect from the EV maker.

CEO and founder Elon Musk said before the curtains opened: “I do want to set some expectations with respect to our Optimus robot. As you know, last year it was just a person in a robot suit, but we’ve come a long way and, you know, compared to that, it’s going to be impressive.”

But in a world accustomed to the back-flipping bots of Boston Dynamics, Optimus was less than impressive. A mechanical engineer stepped in to inform the audience that this was the first time the robot was run “without any backup support – cranes, mechanical mechanisms, no cables, nothing.”

Tesla Optimus protoype

Tesla’s ‘rough development robot’

The prototype managed to rotate its arms, then tottered to the forefront to give the audience a wave, before walking back as a screen failed to close. “This is essentially the same self-driving computer that runs in Tesla cars by the way,” an Autopilot engineer proclaimed.

The event then showed videos of the robot picking up and putting down objects, and watering plants. “What you saw … was our rough development robot using semi-off-the-shelf actuators. But … we actually have an Optimus bot with fully Tesla-designed and built actuators, battery pack, control system, everything.”

This version, which was then pushed onto the stage, was a little more “Tesla” – slimmer, neater, shinier. Only one problem: it can’t walk. “I think it will walk in a few weeks,” Musk said, “but we wanted to show you something that’s fairly close to what will go into production.”

Clumsily wheeled out by staff, it also managed a couple more waves and did the splits from the rod on which it was mounted.

“Our goal is to make a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said. “We’ve also designed it using the same discipline we use in designing the car, which is to say to design a form of manufacturing such that it is possible to make the robot in high volume at low cost with higher liability.

“You’ve all seen very impressive humanoid robots demonstrations, and that’s great, but what are they missing? They’re missing a brain. They don’t have the intelligence to navigate the world by themselves. They’re also very expensive and made in low volume. Optimus is designed to be an extremely capable robot but made in very high volume – ultimately millions of units – and it’s expected to cost much less than a car, so probably less than $20,000.”

That’s one expensive Roomba.

Accepting that there was “a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and improve it,” Musk said the aim of the event was convince more AI and mechanical engineers to join the company to bring the project “to fruition at scale” and “help millions of people.”

He then waxed lyrical about an economy where there was “not a limitation on capita,” which could then become “quasi-infinite,” implying that he hopes Tesla’s robots might one day replace humans on production lines.

“This means a future of abundance,” he said. “A future where there is no poverty, where you can have whatever you want in terms of products and services. It really is a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it.”

As if to reference his belief that AI is humanity’s “biggest existential threat,” he added: “Obviously, we want to make sure that transformation is a positive one and safe,” claiming that Tesla’s public ownership model was the right way to achieve this.

While not quite the disasterpiece of the Cybertruck reveal, going by what was shown at the AI Day, such a utopia is still far away. ®

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Dublin proptech constructing an operating system for buildings

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The SpaceOS platform sets out to create smart workplaces as the world wises up to the future of hybrid, flexible and sustainable work.

“We believe that buildings have been failing to answer people’s needs for decades,” said Marley Fabisiewicz. “We’re making them more convenient and human-centric with technology, while feeding the property managers and real estate developers with data.”

That, in a nutshell, is what proptech start-up SpaceOS is all about. “The real estate industry is a dinosaur,” said co-CEO Fabisiewicz, whose vision is to realise its digital transformation through developing tech-enabled workspaces. “Our mission is to help companies attract, retain, inspire and empower their people by creating dynamic and digitised workplace communities.”

Headquartered in Dublin, SpaceOS offers a workplace experience platform that Fabisiewicz said “turns smartphones into remote controls for the workplace”. The name derives from the concept of creating “an operating system for buildings”.

What this involves, Fabisiewicz explained, is digitising physical assets and providing APIs to integrate existing business technologies, such as access control. “[SpaceOS] covers everything from opening doors and booking desks and rooms, to ordering food, registering guests and sending out invoices, all blended seamlessly into daily workflows,” he said.

“Because of its modular structure, SpaceOS is ready to integrate with a variety of platforms to meet the specific requirements of any workspace infrastructure. It connects all stakeholders, reduces inputs and costs, provides insights, and offers smart management tools. It provides building managers and users with transparency, cost efficiency and real-time information, while focusing on the user experience.”

‘Dynamic workspaces are shaping the future of work’
– MARLEY FABISIEWICZ

Fabisiewicz sees the platform as essential to the transformed modern workplace. “We are targeting building owners, tenants, and managers. With a high demand for spaces to fit varying needs in a modern work environment, dynamic workspaces are shaping the future of work,” he said.

“However, current building management tools were typically designed before hybrid working became mainstream. As a result, they are inflexible and lack the adaptability and technology necessary to make today’s workspaces more efficient, while reducing operating costs.”

Demand for SpaceOS could also be employee-driven, Fabisiewicz explained, as modern workers demand systems that enable flexibility, engagement and sustainable practices. Clients can use the platform to deliver push notifications for news, events or community updates, and the service also offers detail data on carbon emissions, to support net-zero initiatives.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals have been a focal point of the start-up in the past year, leading to a partnership with Germany company Aedifion, which provides a cloud-based platform to collate data on buildings’ energy consumption.

“This collaboration allows property owners and managers to offer tenants a real-time visualisation of metrics regarding their energy usage and carbon emissions. This is the basis for transparency, and a step to make everyone in the workplace become a sustainability activist, supporting the decarbonisation of buildings,” said Fabisiewicz.

“We are currently working on managing heating, ventilation and energy based on occupancy and capacity data, to decarbonise buildings even more effectively. Future integrations will also allow tenants to remote-control HVAC, blinds, lights and more, through the SpaceOS app.”

‘The landscape has changed significantly since the markets tanked’
– MARLEY FABISIEWICZ

Serial entrepreneur Fabisiewicz also founded Upnext Technologies, a software and digital product development agency focused on the fintech industry.

SpaceOS was founded in 2017 by Fabisiewicz and his co-CEO Maciej Markowski, who has a background in real estate consultancy and proptech. “He has international experience in corporate workplace and change issues, advising major corporations on their workplace research, strategy and change management,” said Fabisiewicz.

So far, the founding duo have increased revenue three times over in the past 12 months and built up a strong client portfolio. “However, we are still in the early innings of the proptech game,” said Fabisiewicz. “Market saturation for tenant experience technology is at around 5pc globally, so there’s still a massive upside potential and room to grow.”

Of course, the present-day market disruptions present a challenging environment for growth and investment. “The landscape has changed significantly since the markets tanked,” said Fabisiewicz. “12 months ago, it was all about hypergrowth. Today, it’s all about how quickly you can become profitable.”

In Dublin, however, Fabisiewicz describes the start-up ecosystem as “a continuous boom” with “more money to be deployed by investors, more founders with great ideas, and a maturing ecosystem for start-ups in general”.

In his company’s case, SpaceOS is looking for “smart money” that offers more than a cash injection. Fabisiewicz is seeking investors who “not only write a cheque, but also support in building the business”.

“I believe especially in proptech this is essential for a successful start-up,” he said.

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