Recently, Google announced another major milestone in the development of Quantum Computing. According to Google, and despite skepticism from some of its competitors, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company announced that it had achieved quantum supremacy. While the announcement is still undergoing peer review by others in the industry, what no one is challenging is the progress being made in the development of technologies that will have implications for both public and private companies, and even for governments.
Google’s Quantum Supremacy
Roger A. Grimes, a data-driven defense evangelist at UK-based KnowBe4 explained that the quantum supremacy is the moment in time when a quantum computer finally does something that a traditional, binary, classical, computer cannot. It can be achieved in terms of raw computational speed or performing even an otherwise ordinary math problem that a classical computer simply isn't capable of (i.e. it doesn't have to be speed related). Google's report seems to indicate it was a bit of both. According to the report Google was able to accomplish in three minutes using a quantum computer what the world's fastest computer would take 10,000 years to do.
Grimes explained that ever since Richard Feynman talked about using the fantastic properties of quantum mechanics to make a new paradigm of computing in 1959, the world has waited for the day when quantum supremacy would happen. The first quantum computer was made in 1998 and it has taken mankind another 21 years to get them to the point to where they will begin to take over tasks and new tasks that regular computers can't perform. “After this moment, no serious large company, government, or country will want to stay on or focus on the older types of computers. There was a computer world before and there is now a new computer world, shiny and new, after,” he said.
“Yes, traditional computers will stay in our lives for decades to come, but a technological wall has been breached, and it means wondrous new things, both good and bad.”
The result is that within the next decade, any company or organization without a quantum computer will be old.
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Solving Quantum Problems
So why is this important? Quantum computers will allow us to better understand how the universe works. Quantum mechanics, particles, and properties are how everything in the universe works. Up until this point, it was impossible to model how everything in the universe (or multiple universes, for that matter) truly works. It's all been theory and speculation.
“Now, with enough serious quantum computers, for the first time, we can literally model and figure out how everything that is works. We will get better weather prediction, better chemicals, better medicines with less side effects, better traffic management, better artificial intelligence, and better be able to predict and detect where scarce resources, like gas and oil, are. Everything can be better predicted and focused,” he added.
Keep in mind at this point in time, though, that quantum supremacy is a technical term used by the academic community to mean when a quantum computer can do just one thing faster than a classical computer, Professor Yehuda Lindell, CEO and co-founder of Unbound Tech.
However, this is not what we think about when we hear supremacy, nor is it really relevant to cryptography and other application domains. In particular, what businesses and other enterprises are really interested in knowing is when quantum computers will be able to solve hard important problems faster than classical computers, and when quantum computers will be able to break cryptography. “I personally believe that this is many years away. I will say at least a decade, but I think it will be more like two decades at least. I also want to stress that this is still an “if” and not a “when,” he said.
Keep in mind, though, the fact that small quantum computers have been built does not mean that quantum computers at the scale and accuracy needed to break cryptography will ever be built. The problems that need to be overcome are considerable.
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Overcoming Future Problems
Alex Costas, software engineer of Tampa, Fla.-based Schellman & Company, an independent security and privacy compliance assessor (www.schellmanco.com), points to some of the problems that quantum computers will be able to address in the future.
Quantum computing, he said, promises to solve problems and drive simulations that have been computationally or physically intractable with conventional hardware, such as simulating the interactions of a novel pharmaceutical in vivo, creating secret messages that destroy themselves when read, or covertly monitoring remote systems without the need for an internet connection. “This may all sound well and good, except for the fact that internet security is for the most part predicated on the following assumption: it is hard to factor large numbers into their prime components,” he said.
It is not so hard as it may seem. There are quite a few asymmetric schemes (e.g. NTRU, McEliece, etc) that don't rely on prime factorization for their difficulty and have no efficient quantum (or classical) solution yet. Aside from that, secret key cryptography (e.g. AES) is not affected by these kinds of attacks, and quantum effects can also be leveraged to protect these secret keys as well
All that said, quantum computing technology has the potential to be a major driver of future breakthrough advances in areas such as artificial intelligence and healthcare, according to Anis Uzzaman, CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based Pegasus Tech Ventures. Many of the opportunities for investments in hardware are now in the later stage, but the broader investment community should look out for the enabling technologies and software that will start to emerge for the hardware platforms.
The United States and China are the two heavyweights competing for leadership in quantum computing. While the United States has a first-move advantage and maintains a lead, China is making heavy investments in pursuit of a variety of breakthroughs. “Quantum computing applications may not reach mainstream consumer applications for a little while longer, but there will definitely be a variety of companies across a range of industries that look integrate this technology over the next 3-5 years,” he said.
The Future Of Quantum
Current quantum computers are far from where we need them to be for practical applications due to their high level of "noise" (errors), Leonard Wossnig, CEO of UK-based Rahko, wrote on a blog on the a Quantneo online magazine, the publication of a web community focusing on business applications for Quantum Information Science (QIS).
“If we cannot find a way to use these current and near-term quantum computers,” he wrote, “we will need to wait for fully-error-corrected "universal" machines to be developed to see real significant benefit (15-20 years by many estimates). This is where the software becomes much more than a necessary complement to the hardware. Quantum software has the potential to significantly accelerate our pathway to practically useful quantum computers.