Quantum Computing: dawn of a new tech era?

Much has been said about quantum computing since Google revealed that it has achieved ‘quantum supremacy’. Last month, the search giant reported its quantum computer, called Sycamore, was able to solve a mathematical calculation in 200 seconds — a similar task would take a supercomputer 10,000 years.

Although the concept of quantum physics originated in the early 20th century, we have not yet seen any practical applications of this technology as scientists are still studying its structure and examining its potential. Quantum computers, if they become a reality, could operate well beyond the limits we know today and offer exponential gains in computing power.

Quantum computers use quantum bits, or “qubits”, instead of “bits”, which are the currency of classical computers. While a classical bit has a value of either 0 or 1, a qubit can be both and everything in between: based on the quantum principle known as superposition. Unlike classical computers, quantum computers can many calculations simultaneously, meaning that a quantum computer‘s capabilities increase exponentially.

“Quantum computing represents an emerging technology where the performance could be exponentially better than what is capable today from a classical computer. The hope is that with this technology, in about 10 to 12 years, we have a quantum computer capable of doing something that no computer on earth can do in any amount of time,” said Jim Clarke, Director of Quantum Hardware at Intel, in an NBC interview in 2018.

The race to conquer quantum technology is already taking place: iIBM and Google are leading way the in the US, while D-Wave in Canada is another main player. Meanwhile, China is heavily investing in quantum research and development to achieve its goal of being a global leader in innovation by 2035, Japanese companies like Toshiba and Hitachi are getting involved in the quantum space, and the European Commission has made quantum technologies a priority in the digital single market.

Quantum technology is indeed powerful and promising: once fully developed and harnessed, it could allow for new systems to take over virtually any industry. However, it is still early days, so it might still be some time before we see any day-to-day applications of quantum computing. There are limitations to be overcome, like the fact that qubits are fragile and require a highly controlled physical environment with temperatures close to absolute zero. Some of the most immediate applications of quantum power would be for machine learning development, communication and cryptography.

The calculation carried out by Google’s Sycamore used 53 superconducting qubits and is not useful in daily life. At the moment, quantum machines can perform very simple algorithms. Experts say that a realistic time frame for quantum computing to have a measurable impact is about 10 to 15 years from now, but growing investment and government incentives could accelerate this process.

“Sometimes people think: okay, it went fast with mobile phones, it went fast with this and that, so maybe in a few years I will have my own quantum computer in a mobile phone. I think this is simply not realistic.” Kristel Michielsen, a Quantum Information Processing professor and researcher at Jülich Forschungszentrum, in Germany, told DW in an interview.

A threat to blockchain technology and crypto?

The announcement of Google’s quantum breakthrough set tongues wagging in the blockchain and crypto community. Could the reality of quantum computing end up wiping out the developments and benefits of blockchain technology?

Blockchain is made of encrypted nodes interconnected on a chain, which currently makes it almost impossible to hack, whereas Quantum computers in fact represent a risk to all encryption systems. The way to break into an encrypted system is to calculate a private key using the public key — a very difficult feat for conventional computers, but achievable by quantum machines.

According to the MIT Technology Review, quantum computing would be able to hack the cryptography hash that universally secures the blockchain and the internet in general. This could enable quantum computers to perform fraudulent transactions and break down internet security as we now know it. The massive calculating power of quantum computers will be able to break Bitcoin security within 10 years, said security experts to MIT Technology Review.

Compared to other emerging technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, funding for quantum computing is relatively low. This is because the impact of AI and blockchain is much more immediate and we can see the applications right now. But this reality coulds change as the impact of quantum power become more evident.

Is blockchain able to resist against quantum computers?

PR Crypto Guru Stefania Barbaglio will be speaking with blockchain experts Jared Tate and Jean-Phillippe Baudet, and Quantum Physicist Andre Xuereb along with Frank Dumas about what the emergence of quantum computing means for blockchain and the tech scene. Full episode releasing soon. Stay tuned!

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