Weekend Roundup: Quantum Battles, WeWork Buyouts, and Musk’s Space Tweet

It’s been a very long week in tech. NordVPN confirmed that it was hacked hardcore, and millions of Android users apparently have a phone full of bad, bad adware, and Facebook’s Libra crypto-currency looks like it might burn up before it even launches.

But hey, never a dull moment in this industry, huh? Here are some other big stories from the week. Let’s jump in!

WeWork CEO’s Golden Parachute

Let’s say you’re the CEO of a major company. Although the firm has enjoyed spectacular growth over the past few years (despite zero profits), your behavior is increasingly seen as erratic. You make weird pronouncements, such as that you’ll one day become president of the world; you engage in all kinds of financial engineering that makes you a good deal richer, while freaking out your accountants and investors; and just to make things really interesting, your IPO—the moment when everyone’s expecting to get paid—ends up a once-in-a-decade disaster. 

What do you think would happen to you?

Chances are pretty good that the company’s board would not only terminate your employ, but force you to leave with nothing—or a relatively tiny bit of severance, at absolute best, in exchange for some kind of non-compete and/or non-disparagement agreement.

But not at WeWork! In the nine years since his company’s founding, CEO Adam Neumann forced WeWork to pay him $5.9 million in “licensing fees” for the word “We,” which he reportedly copyrighted; burned absurd amounts of cash on luxuries such as an in-office spa; and finally crashed his company’s much-anticipated IPO over concerns about financial mismanagement. But instead of giving him the boot, WeWork’s primary investor, SoftBank, decided to pay him out $1.7 billion, including a $185 million “consulting fee.”

That’s the biggest and shiniest of golden parachutes, especially given how WeWork’s employees face layoffs and the high likelihood that their equity is worth practically zilch. It just goes to show that, in tech, some people can fail up… way up.

Quantum Slappy-Battle

So IBM and Google are locked in a public slap-fight over… quantum computing?

It all kicked off when Google claimed that its experimental quantum-computing setup had managed to solve a problem in 200 seconds that a conventional computer would have needed 10,000 years to accomplish. (It’s really difficult to explain how quantum computing works, but in terribly reductive terms, these devices rely on “qubits” that exist not only as zeroes and ones, but also in an in-between state known as “superposition,” which allows them to explore every possible solution or state simultaneously.)

“This experiment, referred to as a quantum supremacy experiment, provided direction for our team to overcome the many technical challenges inherent in quantum systems engineering to make a computer that is both programmable and powerful,” Google wrote in a celebratory blog posting. “To test the total system performance we selected a sensitive computational benchmark that fails if just a single component of the computer is not good enough.”

Eventually Google plans on making its “supremacy-class processors” available to academics and collaborators, as well as companies. It’s also pouring more money into crafting a quantum computer that’s more fault-tolerant—and these future machines may help researchers do everything from craft better medicines to improving fertilizer production.

But IBM, which has also invested heavily in quantum computing, is calling Google’s results into question. Specifically, Big Blue says that a conventional computer with the right hardware setup could crunch that problem in roughly 2.5 days, not 10,000 years. Which means Google’s feat, while impressive (200 seconds is just a small fraction of 2.5 days), isn’t all that groundbreaking.

In turn, Google shot back:

“We’ve demonstrated that we’re now in the NISQ [Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum] era, performing on real hardware a computation that’s prohibitively hard for even the world’s fastest supercomputer, with more double exponential growth to come. We’ve already peeled away from classical computers, onto a totally different trajectory.”

Who doesn’t love an esoteric slappy-brawl? This one is particularly good because all sorts of publications are picking it up (such as CNN and CBS), despite the brain-melting nature of the underlying concepts.

Elon Musk is Talking to You… from Spaaaaaaaace

Meanwhile, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is sending Tweets via his “Starlink” network of broadband satellites:

The satellite network isn’t as hype-worthy as when SpaceX shot a Tesla into space, but it could end up being a lot more practical if it actually delivers internet to paying customers.   

But as with all things Musk, sometimes the reality doesn’t live up to the hype, so let’s just see how this all goes, eh?

Have a great weekend!