November 15, 2021

You ever have one of those days when you just can't think of something funny to say? That was me, last night, as I was writing this.

Today's newsletter is 1,149 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: IBM's quantum computing breakthrough

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna. Photo: "Axios on HBO"

IBM has created a quantum computer that is able to process information so complex the work can't be done or simulated on a traditional computer, CEO Arvind Krishna told "Axios on HBO" in an episode that aired Sunday.

Why it matters: Quantum computing could help solve problems that are too challenging even for today's most powerful supercomputers, such as figuring out how to make better batteries or sequester carbon emissions.

Driving the news: IBM says its new Eagle processor can handle 127 qubits, a measure of quantum computing power. In topping 100 qubits, IBM says it has reached a milestone that allows quantum to surpass the power of a traditional computer.

  • "It is impossible to simulate it on something else, which implies it's more powerful than anything else," Krishna told me.

How it works: While traditional computing uses ones and zeroes, quantum computing relies on a more complex foundation, making it well suited to tackling complicated problems.

  • "Can it solve every problem? No," Krishna said. But, at the same time, he said, you can't do the work that this computer can do on a traditional machine. "It would take a normal computer bigger than this planet to be able to do that."

Yes, but: The arrival of quantum computing also poses a unique problem.

  • Much of modern cryptography is based on hiding data in a way that standard computers effectively can't crack.
  • With their different approach, quantum computers could be able to break many of today's encryption systems.

The big picture: Krishna acknowledges that IBM's financial performance hasn't matched that of other tech giants and, as a result, it hasn't seen its valuation soar the way that companies like Apple, Facebook and Google have.

"In the long run, it comes back to, investors care about: 'Is your revenue growing, and is your cash flow growing?' And for many years, we have not shown either of those. So that's why we have turned into committing that we are going to grow and we are going to grow cash flow as well, not just revenue. If you have both those things, I believe investors reward you.
— IBM CEO Arvind Krishna, on "Axios on HBO"

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2. IBM marketing sometimes overpromised, CEO says

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Krishna acknowledges that there have been times that the company has promised more than it can deliver, but insists quantum computing won't be one of those areas.

Why it matters: IBM is trying to convince a skeptical Wall Street that it can deliver real tech breakthroughs and translate that into profitable growth, something the company has lacked in recent years.

  • However, some critics believe meaningful quantum computing work is a decade away, while Krishna sees such machines establishing a significant role in the next few years.

Between the lines: IBM has frequently been the first to announce a breakthrough or tout an achievement, yet other companies have tended to reap the big financial rewards.

  • Krishna says the quantum computing push is one part of his approach to return the company to profitable growth.

Yes, but: The company hasn't always been able to deliver on its technological promise. With its Watson AI system, especially in health care, critics say the company was selling a promise it couldn't deliver. Krishna said this is an important field for IBM and others to focus on, but acknowledged "it turns out maybe we were too optimistic."

  • "Health care always is going to turn out to be more subtle, as well as more regulated for the right reasons, than other areas," Krishna said. "And to me, that's natural. It is a decision that may impact somebody's life or death."

3. Teens and tweens are sharing more nude pictures

In a trend that worries sexual abuse experts, teens and even younger children are sharing more nude pictures of themselves, often with adults, a new study has found.

Why it matters: Once shared with even one person, such images can easily be distributed further and become part of the corpus of child sexual abuse material in the dark corners of the web.

Driving the news:

  • Twice as many children between the ages of 9 and 12 reported sending nudes or other suggestive pictures of themselves in 2020, compared to the prior year, according to new research from non-profit Thorn, which works to prevent child exploitation.
  • LGBTQ+ teens were nearly three times as likely to share nude pictures of themselves than their non-LGBTQ+ peers.

"Puberty and technology are on a collision course, and kids now face situations online that their parents never experienced, at a younger age than most people would think," Thorn CEO Julie Cordua said in a statement to Axios.

The big picture: Thorn's report, which focuses on images created by kids themselves, follows another study that found that the total amount of child sexual abuse material online has also increased.

Between the lines: The pandemic has made the situation even more challenging, Cordua said, adding that kids are now spending more time online, often with even less supervision.

  • "It has never been more urgent that we talk with our kids about online safety," Cordua said. "That can start with having an honest, judgment-free conversation as soon as children have access to a device."

4. TWA Hotel: Flashback to when flying was fun

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

It's not quite a time machine, but the TWA Hotel, adjacent to Terminal 5 at New York's JFK Airport, does let travelers transport themselves back to a time when air travel was fun and glamorous.

Why it matters: Most airport hotels only have their prime location as a selling point, but the TWA Hotel, where I recently stayed, also offers a free photo booth, an entire room transformed into a giant Twister board, and "Connie" — a retired TWA propeller plane that has been transformed into a cocktail bar.

Fun fact: The terminal was designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen. Another of his designs — IBM's circular Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York — served as the backdrop for my interview with Krishna.

  • While one might worry about noise in rooms adjacent to active runways, the hotel has some of the thickest windows in the world.

Read more.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • The Coalition for App Fairness is hosting an event in South Korea today and tomorrow highlighting that country's recent effort to force open Apple and Google's mobile stores, as well as the possibilities for action in other countries.

Trading Places

  • Snap is announcing today the hire of Anne Laurenson from Google to be its first managing director of global carrier partnerships. Laurenson will be based in Paris, making her the first Snap executive to lead a global team from outside the U.S.


6. After you Login

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Here is another fun photo from my visit to the TWA Hotel.