Any technology with the word “quantum” in the name is by nature impossible for lay people to understand and even difficult for scientists to get their arms fully around. However, though its workings are mysterious, quantum science offers very useful everyday tools.
There has been a race for quantum computing for years. Part of the reason is that these devices will leave today’s computers in the dust. The other element is that planners see that current computing technology is reaching its growth limits. Quantum computing is the key to the future to them, not science fiction.
Microsoft, which Computerworld says has been researching quantum computing for more than a decade, is expanding its quantum computing efforts. It has put Todd Holmdahl, one of the people involved in the development of Kinect, HoloLens and Xbox, in charge of developing quantum hardware and software. It’s also hired professors from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands; the University of Copenhagen; ETH Zurich and University of Sydney in Australia.
The story does a nice job of simplifying the difference between legacy and quantum computing. Today’s computers represent data as ones or zeros. Quantum “qubits” can represent ones and zeros simultaneously:
Qubits allow quantum computers to calculate in parallel, making them more powerful than today's fastest computers. But qubits can be fragile, and interference from matter or electromagnetic radiation can wreck a calculation.
Confronting that fragility, which extends to the idea that simply looking at a quantum action messes it up, is at the heart of much of the research.
A lot of the conversation around the introduction of quantum science into society is theoretical and conceptual. (This is a bit frustrating since so few people really understand what quantum science is.) However, GCN offers a real-world example of the challenges such a powerful technology might create.
Quantum information science (QIS), which the story says is “rapidly becoming a reality,” would be so powerful that cryptographic algorithms could be at risk. These include standards for public key infrastructure, key exchange and encryption, the story says.
Quantum computer data hacking, which is a simple way of identifying the technique and the problem in a single phrase, is frightening. The piece offers six steps governments can take to prepare themselves. They range from the general, “monitor and participate in government and industry activities,” to the specific, “[i]mplement quantum-resistant algorithms and protocols into encryption technologies once they are standardized and become available.”
The question of security in a quantum computing world was also discussed by Cyrille Quemin, the head of mobile for Yoti at ItProPortal. He covers some of the same material as the GCN piece, but ends with a ray of hope. Work is ongoing, he wrote, and creating a high-tech cocktail may slow down even quantum platforms:
New quantum resistant algorithms are being developed, but there are no globally recommend solutions as yet. Until there are clear recommendations as to which implementation of encryption (symmetric or asymmetric) is resistant to quantum computers, using hybrid encryption (a combination of several types of encryption) as well as rolling keys as regularly as possible should provide strong security against current known attacks and soon to come ‘quantum attacks.’
Every big advance in technology creates opportunities and challenges. It seems that the challenges are winning. While breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence and quantum computers herald great things, they are monstrously dangerous. The bad news is that, in many ways, the dangers are more likely to be realized because it only takes one, or a few, ill-intentioned people to create big problems. Let’s hope that quantum computing is never used by these folks.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.