Recently, I had the honor of addressing the “Commercialising Quantum” conference on how organisations should prepare for quantum today, held under the stewardship of The Economist’s editors. My message was that some aspects of quantum technologies are on the horizon, and we should be prepared to invest ensure that quantum capabilities for economic prosperity and national security are developed accordingly.
In the last few years, significant developments have been made that are pushing us beyond classical computing into a new data era called quantum computing. The past few years in quantum research have been especially transformational with scientific breakthroughs that will make computing exponentially faster and more precise. What were once thought of as science fiction fantasies are now technological realties. The quantum era is arriving, and it will be transformational! It is important to understand some of the basics, quantum computing, quantum sensing, quantum encryption, quantum IoT, and ultimately our quantum future.
What is Quantum Computing?
The pursuit of quantum computing is correlated to the enigmatic world of sub-atomic physics that use atom-level states of uncertainty as a basis for computing. Gartner describes quantum computing as: “[T]he use of atomic quantum states to effect computation. Data is held in qubits (quantum bits), which have the ability to hold all possible states simultaneously. Data held in qubits is affected by data held in other qubits, even when physically separated. This effect is known as entanglement.”
In a more basic description, quantum computers use quantum bits or qubits instead of using binary traditional bits of ones and zeros for digital communications. Quantum computers use atoms as a physical system allows an atom to be in both 0 and 1 states simultaneously.
A more technical definition can be found here: “In quantum computing, operations instead use the quantum state of an object to produce the basic unit of memory called as a quantum bit or qubit. Qubits are made using physical systems, such as the spin of an electron or the orientation of a photon. These systems can be in many different arrangements all at once, a property known as quantum superposition. Qubits can also be inextricably linked together using a phenomenon called quantum entanglement. The result is that a series of qubits can represent different things simultaneously. These states are the undefined properties of an object before they’ve been detected, such as the spin of an electron or the polarization of a photon. Instead of having a clear position, unmeasured quantum states occur in a mixed ‘superposition’ that can be entangled with those of other objects as their final outcomes will be mathematically related even. The complex mathematics behind these unsettled states of entangled ‘spinning coins’ can be plugged into special algorithms to make short work of problems that would take a classical computer a long time to work out.”
A great deal of research, development, and prototyping still needs to be done to achieve full general purpose quantum computing. quantum computing is still in the lab in a more theoretical, stage, but some experts say we are nearing the quantum gate and we will arrive there faster than we initially thought possible.
One area where quantum technologies have already arrived is in quantum measurement and sensing. It is already being used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and navigational devices.
“Quantum sensors use the smallest amounts of energy and matter to detect and measure tiny changes in time, gravity, temperature, pressure, rotation, acceleration, frequency, and magnetic and electric fields. They’ve been commercially available in various forms for more than a half-century … recent progress in the field suggests that such sensors will soon bring a revolution in measurement and signals intelligence—possibly by making it far easier to detect submarines, spacecraft, and underground facilities. Beyond making super-accurate GPS, quantum sensors can measure the shape and gravitational field of Earth to within a centimeter. Such sensing can be useful both for mapping out underground mineral resources and for precisely calculating the trajectories of ballistic missiles and other munitions.”
Quantum proof and resistant encryption are also aspects of quantum that have current applications. The US and other countries are worried that hackers are stealing data today so quantum computers can crack it in a decade. The very same computing power that allows complex problems to rapidly decrypted or be solved can, in turn, be applied to undermine cybersecurity. This is a direct threat to critical infrastructure, including our financial systems.
With todays of RSA-2048 standard encryption, a classical computer could take a billion years to break it. If you had a working quantum computer, it could hypothetically break in less than two minutes.
Currently emerging prototype quantum computers are not strong enough to crack long asymmetric cryptographic keys, but the risk is real. The Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act by the US Congress would make the federal government develop a strategy to protect federal IT systems from hacks by quantum computers. Bipartisan Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Bill Passes in House, Awaits Action from Senate; Rep. Ro Khanna Quoted (executivegov.com)
More recently, The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has chosen the first group of encryption tools that are designed to withstand the assault of a future quantum computer. “Today’s announcement is an important milestone in securing our sensitive data against the possibility of future cyberattacks from quantum computers,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “Thanks to NIST’s expertise and commitment to cutting-edge technology, we are able to take the necessary steps to secure electronic information so U.S. businesses can continue innovating while maintaining the trust and confidence of their customers.” NIST Announces First Four Quantum-Resistant Cryptographic Algorithms | NIST
Smart IT and cybersecurity professionals are taking a proactive approach and are starting to prepare now for a post-quantum world and potential geo-military threats. Dustin Moody of NIST explains why: “You can actually be at risk from a quantum computer, even though a [high-performance] quantum computer does not yet exist. This is often called ‘harvest now, decrypt later.’ What Is the Future of Quantum-Proof Encryption? (ieee.org)
In one of my earlier FORBES articles, I discussed some of the implications by quantum technologies on the Internet of Things (IoT):
“There is an additional “entanglement” relating to quantum, and that is its intersection with the Internet of Things (IoT). Loosely defined, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the general idea of things that are readable, recognizable, locatable, addressable, and/or controllable via the Internet. It encompasses devices, sensors, people, data, and machines and the interactions between them. Business Insider Intelligence forecasted that “by 2023, consumers, companies and governments will install 40 billion IoT devices globally.”
As we rapidly continue to evolve into the IoT and the new digital economy, both edge devices and data are proliferating at amazing rates. The challenge now is how do we monitor and ensure quality service of the IoT? Responsiveness, scalability, processes, and efficiency are needed to best service any innovative technology or capability. Especially across trillions of sensors.
Specifically, quantum technologies will influence optimization of computing power, computing models, network latency, interoperability, artificial intelligence (human/computer interface), real-time analytics and predictive analytics, increased storage and data memory power, secure cloud computing, virtualization, and the emerging 5G telecommunications infrastructure. For 5G, secure end-to end communications are fundamental and quantum encryption (which generates secure codes) may be the solution for rapidly growing IoT connectivity.
Security of the IoT is a paramount issue. Currently cryptographic algorithms are being used to help secure the communication (validation and verification) in the IoT. But because they rely on public key schemes, their encryption could be broken by sophisticated hackers using quantum computers in the not so distant future.”
Our Quantum Future
In 2019, Google’s quantum computer did a calculation in less than four minutes that would take the world’s most powerful computer 10,000 years to do and is About 158 million times faster Than the world’s fastest supercomputer. New computing in scale, speed and capability are continually achieving new milestones. Google’s Quantum Computer Is About 158 Million Times Faster Than the World’s Fastest Supercomputer | by Vidar | Predict | Feb, 2021 | Medium
New developments are putting quantum computing closer to reality by making it more efficient to scale and easier to build. “Researchers at the Simon Fraser University report on research, published in Nature today, that they say could pave the way toward an all-silicon quantum internet and quantum computers that can tackle real-world computational challenges. That internet theoretically will be much more secure and much more powerful than today’s version. In the study, the scientists describe their observations of silicon ‘T centre’ photon-spin qubits, an important milestone that unlocks immediate opportunities to construct massively scalable quantum computers and the quantum internet that will connect them.”
“By finding a way to create quantum computing processors in silicon, you can take advantage of all of the years of development, knowledge, and infrastructure used to manufacture conventional computers, rather than creating a whole new industry for quantum manufacturing,” Simmons says. “This represents an almost insurmountable competitive advantage in the international race for a quantum computer.” Photonic Link Could Spark an All-Silicon Quantum Internet, Scalable Quantum Devices (thequantuminsider.com)
It is envisioned by many that advances in quantum computing power and speed will help us solve some of the largest and most complex challenges we face as a civilization. Some of the science categories that will be directly impacted by quantum include physics, chemistry, mathematics, and biology. Applications for industry will impact industry verticals such as healthcare, finance, commerce, communications, security, cybersecurity & cryptography, energy, space exploration, and numerous other disciplines. Basically, any industry where data is an ingredient.
More specifically, quantum technology has amazing potential that could revolutionize everything from communications, real-time data analytics, bio tech, genomic sequencing, and catalyze materials science. It is anticipated that quantum computing will also accelerate us into the future by impacting the landscape of artificial intelligence and the Metaverse.
A recent study by “Quantum Computing Market & Technologies – 2018-2024” report, provides a glimpse into our quantum future: “We are in the midst of a “Quantum Computing Supremacy Race”, one that will result in groundbreaking computing power that surpasses the performance of digital supercomputers. The quantum computing technologies have the potential to change long-held dynamics in commerce, intelligence, military affairs, and strategic balance of power.
Advances in quantum computer design, fault-tolerant algorithms and new fabrication technologies are now transforming this “holy grail” technology into a realistic program poised to surpass traditional computation in some applications. With these new developments, the key question that companies are asking is not whether there will be a quantum computer, but who will build it and benefit from it.” Quantum Computing Market & Technologies 2018-2024 Report – CAGR of 24.6% | Industry 40 Research (industry40marketresearch.com)
While we are still l in an era of quantum research and discovery, we are no doubt on the emerging pathway to the new era of quantum computing and digital transformation. It is still in a nascent stage, but we may arrive there sooner than we imagined, perhaps within a decade.
Because of the potentially disruptive nature of quantum technologies, we need to prepare now for Quantum tech’s exponential benefits and risks. This will necessitate more R & D funding by both the public and private sectors. Also, quantum education and workforce development should be planned and implemented for our son to be quantum future.
Resources for Quantum:
Below are some organizations that have a wealth of information for a deeper dive into quantum topics.
Quantum Security Alliance: Quantum Security Alliance was formed to bring academia, industry, researchers, and US government entities together to identify, define, collaborate, baseline, standardize and protect sovereign countries, society, and individuals from the far-reaching impacts of Quantum Computing. Welcome to Quantum Security Alliance
IEEE Quantum is an IEEE Future Directions initiative launched in 2019 that serves as IEEE’s leading community for all projects and activities on quantum technologies. IEEE Quantum is supported by leadership and representation across IEEE Societies and OUs. The initiative has developed a project plan to address the current landscape of quantum technologies, identify challenges and opportunities, leverage and collaborate with existing initiatives, engage the quantum community at large, and sustain the Quantum Initiative in the long-term. About – IEEE Quantum
Quantum Strategy Institute is an international network of cross-domain experts with a rich and varied expertise, sharing a passion for quantum technologies. What united us was a vision and drive to explore and further the understanding of the practical applications of quantum computing across industries and to help bridge the white space between potential and practicality.
About The Author
Chuck Brooks, President of Brooks Consulting International, is a globally recognized thought leader and subject matter expert Cybersecurity and Emerging Technologies. Chuck is also Adjunct Faculty at Georgetown University’s Graduate Applied Intelligence Program and the Graduate Cybersecurity Programs where he teaches courses on risk management, homeland security, and cybersecurity. He is also IEEE Cyber Security for Next Generation Connectivity Systems for Quantum IOT Vice-Chair and also serves as the Quantum Security Alliance, Chair for IOT. LinkedIn named Chuck as one of “The Top 5 Tech People to Follow on LinkedIn.” He was named as one of the world’s “10 Best Cyber Security and Technology Experts” by Best Rated, as a “Top 50 Global Influencer in Risk, Compliance,” by Thompson Reuters, “Best of The Word in Security” by CISO Platform, and by IFSEC and Thinkers 360 as the “#2 Global Cybersecurity Influencer.” He was featured in the 2020, 2021, and 2022 Onalytica “Who’s Who in Cybersecurity” – as one of the top Influencers for cybersecurity. He was also named one of the Top 5 Executives to Follow on Cybersecurity by Executive Mosaic, He is also a Cybersecurity Expert for “The Network” at the Washington Post, Visiting Editor at Homeland Security Today, Expert for Executive Mosaic/GovCon, and a Contributor to FORBES. His writings and podcasts have been featured by AT&T Cybersecurity, Intel, IBM, Juniper Networks, Cylance, General Dynamics, Xerox, and others. He has an MA in International relations from the University of Chicago, a BA in Political Science from DePauw University, and a Certificate in International Law from The Hague Academy of International Law.