The Quantum Tech Race Puts the World’s Data at Risk

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Click to learn more about author Samuel Bocetta.

Can you imagine a world where MRI scanners would have the same size as smartphones? Or medical sensors “catching” disease with nothing but a simple blow? These examples may sound like a scenario borrowed from a sci-fi film to the average person, but most members from the quantum physics community suggest that these “fantastic” scenarios could be a reality in the very near future

What is Quantum Tech?

Taming the quirks of the quantum world isn’t an easy task. After all, dealing with quantum tech means that we’re dealing with the fundamental components of nature, such as electrons and individual photons of light. And by doing that, we enter a whole new era of technology, unlike anything we’ve seen and known so far. But what exactly is quantum tech and why it gets more and more public attention currently?

The idea behind contemporary quantum technology can be traced in the works of decorated physicists Yuri Manin, Richard Feynman, Paul Benioff, and David Deutsch. The man who took the whole thing on a whole new level, however, was quantum-theoretical quantum physicist Gerard J. Milburn. He was the first man back in the early 1980s to propose that by harnessing the elements of quantum mechanics, technologies like cryptography, imaging and computing could be drastically upgraded.

Fast forward in 2019, many companies are experimenting based on Dr. Milburn’s theories, with IBM and Google currently leading an ‘unofficial’ race to develop their own quantum computing systems.

IBM became the first company to produce the world’s first online platform that gives users in the general public access to a set of IBM’s prototype quantum processors via the Cloud – an online internet forum for discussing quantum computing relevant topics – a set of tutorials on how to program the IBM Q devices, and other educational material about quantum computing.

Despite moving forward rapidly with quantum technology, many analysts fear that there are major tech problems that can’t be solved with today’s technology. Some experts suggest that we don’t even have enough computational power on our planet to tackle them.

Additionally, many computer users are not ready to cope with new technologies at the moment; not without proper preparation. No matter how ironic it may sound, there are many computer users out there who still don’t know what a VPN is, indicating that there’s a really long transformation journey ahead of us.  

The Quantum Tech Race

Like with most things in life, there are two sides to every coin. And quantum technology couldn’t be any different. The intense competition between companies to develop quantum computing systems as we already mentioned is only part of a general quantum tech race that takes place on a governmental level as well.

From cloud computing to cybersecurity, smartphones to wearable tech, the heated contest between China and the United States for “Technological Supremacy” has been a real thing for years now.

Most analysts suggest that the long-lasting studies and research on quantum physics are fully expected to “escape” the theoretical grounds of today and become an actual game-changing technology within five years. The US is supposedly leading the race at the moment, but it’s way too early for celebrations.

The US knows better than anyone after all that an early lead doesn’t mean much. In another race that it was part of – the Space Race – the US was trying to catch up with the Soviets all the way until the end when it triumphantly put a man on the moon. The roles have changed in this contest though. Google recently claimed to have surpassed China in the quest for “quantum supremacy.” The company has developed a machine that can reportedly solve a problem in just 200 seconds; a problem that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years.

Post-Quantum Risks and Possible “Fatalities”

Despite Google’s claims, many researchers don’t buy the hype. Experts from around the world remain skeptical about the whole thing and express serious concerns about our current encryption technology, which is no match for quantum-powered supercomputers. These concerns are best highlighted in the following statement made by the National Sar Initiative (NSI):

“This move (the call for quantum-safe encryption algorithms) has been triggered in part by a statement by the NSA in 2015 that surprised the whole community: ‘for those partners and vendors that have not yet made the transition to Suite B elliptic curve algorithms, we recommend not making a significant expenditure to do so at this point but instead to prepare for the upcoming quantum-resistant algorithm transition.”

With the first commercially quantum-based supercomputer being expected to hit the markets by 2022, quantum computers could violently distort current security protocols that banks and financial markets worldwide. The numbers show we’re already pretty skilled as a species at money mismanagement. A catastrophic failure of security protocols guarding personal checking accounts could throw society into pure chaos. Further, a sudden invasion of quantum technology could make this era’s most advanced encryption systems inoperable and backtrack secret government intelligence. So, both the US and China shouldn’t only care for “supremacy” but for preparing the ground for a smooth transition into a new era of high technology.

Overcoming Future Quests NOW

Advances in computing are inevitable at this point. It eventually comes down to the day that current technology is going to have to pass the torch to the advanced technologies of the future. It has always been like that and it’s not going to stop anytime soon; not as long as human beings remain the dominant force on this planet. It’s in our curious DNA to explore in an attempt to find new ways to evolve our kind.

There are some questions that need to be answered efficiently now though: How fast are we going to cope with all these changes that are coming? And how far are we going to go in order to develop new techniques of protecting our computers, networks, programs and data from unauthorized access or preventing attacks?

The answer is that no one really knows. What’s certain is that this is going to be a complex and lengthy process, but the good news is that some people are already working really hard to develop post-quantum cryptographic security solutions that include advances based on the same technology.

Cryptanalysts may not have the “tools” at the moment to go head to head with quantum computing but are confident that they’ll be ready to meet the challenge when quantum supercomputers become stable and powerful enough to break through current public-key encryption standards.

Regardless of who’s leading the race for quantum supremacy or who eventually earns the “trophy” between China and the US, the only certain thing is that humanity as a whole is sure to triumph once again when all is said and done.

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