Imagine a computer so incredibly powerful and fast, that it can theoretically solve mathematical equations that with today’s technology would take 37 times longer than the universe has existed, just to get 1 in 4 Billion chance of guessing the correct answer. That’s Star Trek technology, some may say. Pipe dreams and ravings of a madman. Right?
Twenty-seven years. That is how long the smart people in lab coats and walls of diplomas behind them, seem to be thinking it will take for current levels of quantum computing to reach that sweet spot of performance. Even faster if there is a huge breakthrough, which is how technologies evolve – on the shoulders of their predecessors. Technology develops exponentially. The more we have the faster we develop things we do not have.
As some of you may have guessed, given the theme of our business, the mathematical equations current tech would need 37 times longer than recorded time itself has existed to solve are, of course, the SHA-256 cryptographic hash algorithm. I urge you to educate yourselves a little bit about such an important part of the industry we hold so dear. This cryptographic function is at the heart and soul of Bitcoin and many other altcoins out there. Here is an excellent video to bring you up to speed.
Mind-blowing is it not? Even under the best of circumstances we could not brute-force the SHA-256 algorithm. Not now anyway, but when it will be possible we will know about it.
That is how Alex Beath, a Canadian physicist based in Toronto thinks about Bitcoin. Being also a pension fund analyst, he is very sceptical of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies. The one thing he does value Bitcoin for, however, is its use as a quantum technology detector. He believes that the answer to the question “What is the first thing one does with a quantum computer?” is to mine Bitcoin. All of it. At once.
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
So what is the big deal? We will have badass supercomputers available to play minesweeper on, in just a few decades. As an avid video-game enthusiast, I have to be honest, I can’t wait to see what quantum computing will bring to the table. And I am not talking only about photo-realistic graphics engine driven games with virtually unlimited detail and object interaction. If there is one thing that the technological advancement chart above should have taught you, is that with power the potential for more power is only increasing.
The meat and potatoes of quantum computing is that it can simulate things very well. A quantum computer could run complex chemical simulations for example. In 2016 Google quantum computing division was successful at simulating a hydrogen molecule. And I am talking about simulation, not just visualization, its physical properties and all. This allows scientists to rapidly test how hydrogen interacts with other equally simulated molecules.
Quantum computing will allow science to simulate events, scenarios, interactions between waves, particles and other clever things, just so we don’t have to trial-and-error our way through it. Thomas Edison would never have to fail 10,000 times if he had a quantum computer. He would run a simulation and just do what is most likely to succeed.
So the benefits are fantastic, surely any potential drawbacks are acceptable, right? Depends how much you like your privacy.
Divesh Aggarwal from National University of Singapore is very adamant about the potential dangers quantum computing could bring to encryption and its related systems. He warns that his projections predict quantum computing being at sufficient performance level to utilize Shor’s algorithm which will allow it to outright hijack the entire Bitcoin network thus allowing the hijacker to inject false data in the blockchain. That would literally allow them to spend their Bitcoin twice (or as many times as they want), fully verified and confirmed. This would work because the quantum computer needs to have only 51% of the total Bitcoin network computing power to overwrite legitimate blocks with fabricated ones.
While these are the absolute worst case scenarios, Dr Aggarwal predicts lesser evils of quantum computing to start cropping up much sooner than the twenty-seven years needed for the worst case scenario. According to him the path to quantum computing will be able to reverse engineer and crack crypto wallet private keys by the year 2027. This alone would send the crypto industry reeling because everyone and their cousin would be in danger of their wallet brute forced and funds stolen.
Necessity, the mo…. Blah blah blah
Yes, we all know about invention and how necessity is its mother. It is true though, she really is. People come up with solutions only when presented with a problem. I sleep with ease at night, knowing my crypto pension fund is probably going to be fine because technology advances in all its fields. Those same quantum computers that would break our current security infrastructure, can and will be used to build a new one or repair the old one.
With the advent of internet, people said that viruses will kill it as a concept, way before it gets to spread its wings. Here we are, a few decades later using the world wide web just fine, thanks to antivirus software, online certification and common sense.
Only time will tell what we will come up with to benefit from quantum computing without sacrificing all of our privacy and financial freedom. I, for one, am very eager to find out.
Cover illustration artist Ellmer, DeviantArt
Thanks to Reddit user The_Serious_Account for pointing out misuse of terms.
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