11 Jan Quantum Computing: From Subatomic Particles to Quantum Hackers
Quantum Computing has been the hot topic at every event and conference delivered by our core vendors in the past year.
Alongside relevant messages around digital transformation and the various core focus areas for these vendors, the creation and possible future use of Quantum Computers were featured on every agenda in some form.
Quantum Computers provides a completely different approach to problem solving than a classical computer. Instead of using ‘bits’ which can represent 2 possible states – 0 or 1 – Quantum Computers uses quantum bits or ‘qubits’ which can exist in more than one state at one time. I won’t attempt to explain how a Quantum Computer works, but due to the way they operate, these super computers are well suited to solve huge mathematical problems much more quickly and efficiently than current systems.
(This article from Microsoft provides a very good high level overview of what a Quantum Computer is and the current challenges that are faced in developing them.)
The possible applications of this technology are endless. Any field that’s massively computational based will have the ability to dramatically change with the advent of Quantum Computing, including:
- Scientific Research
- Energy Management
- Weather Forecasting
- Financial Modelling
While this isn’t something that’s available today – or will be in the immediate future – it was extremely interesting to get a glimpse of how different vendors presented this emerging technology to forums of 10,000+ people.
One vendor focused very strongly on the technical aspects of Quantum Computing, explaining how, why (or why not) and what sort of solutions will be brought out in the coming years as a halfway house. Whilst the other focused on their intention to deliver Quantum Computing as a Service, direct from their existing public cloud platforms, and what this will bring us in the future.
Quantum Computing may never -(certainly not in our working lifetime) be something that will exist in the average IT department, due to factors including the cost of the hardware and cooling, but, accessed via the public cloud delivered by the likes of Microsoft, Amazon or IBM the potential is huge.
Platforms exist already, and are primarily test-beds for people to explore how to utilise a Quantum Computer and the potential benefits. IBM have a platform that allows you to submit commands on either a 5 or 14-qubit machine, and a number of start-ups have much larger platforms available, though they are not stable, with qubits that are prone to error and therefore not ready for real world use.
As a final thought, one field that will be hugely impacted by Quantum Computing is Cryptology. An example highlighted in both conferences is the current reliance on 2048 bit encryption. Breaking a 2048 bit key with a standard desktop computer would take approximately 6.4 quadrillion years. With the universe currently estimated to be only 13.75 billion years old, you can assume that the 2048 bit key is pretty secure. Depending on the number of qubits, a Quantum Computer will bring that down to minutes or even seconds. This is not yet possible, but in anticipation of the first ‘Quantum Hackers’ a whole new way of encrypting data is now being developed to keep our online information systems secure. Welcome to the world of Post-Quantum Cryptography.