Quantum computing’s been hailed as the next disruptive technology – something set to transform our lives. The biggest tech companies in the world are already getting involved, but will it really affect our everyday lives, or is it all just hype? Read on as I take a closer look at the myths and rumours surrounding this breakthrough, and explain why they’re wrong.
Quantum computers are still fairly new
Since the phrase ‘quantum computers’ sounds so futuristic, it would be easy to think that it had only been coined relatively recently. However, the idea was first proposed in 1980, by the physicist Paul Benioff. A year later, physicists Richard Feynman and Yuri Manin argued that a quantum computer could do things that a classical computer would never do.
Since the idea sparked, scientists have been striving to create a quantum computer, and the first two-qubit computer (a computer with two quantum bits, a unit of quantum information) was developed by Isaac Chuang, Neil Gershenfeld and Mark Kubinec in 1998. They may be in the headlines a lot nowadays, but these computers have been talked about for decades.
Quantum computers will mean the end of normal computers
One of the big myths about the rise of quantum computers is that they’ll end up replacing the classic computers that we’re used to, and make them obsolete. It’s easy to see why this came about – as technology advances, something always falls by the wayside. CDs took over from cassettes, for example, and with the rise of music streaming services, even CDs have faded away. However, the same won’t be true for computers.
While quantum computers are more advanced than standard computers, they’re also far more specialised. They can solve problems well, but you wouldn’t be able to write a blog on one, or watch Netflix. In fact, in the future, we could see a hybrid computer with the best qualities of both.
Quantum key distribution only works over short distances
One of the reasons quantum computers are so important is because of quantum key distribution, or QKD, which is set to make the future of communication safer than ever. It uses properties of quantum physics to make secure keys that can encrypt and decrypt messages or information. Today’s modes of encryption could easily be broken by a powerful quantum computer, but if anyone tried hacking quantum communication, the act of observing it would change it so that it couldn’t be read.
QKD works by transmitting photons, or particles of light, in a quantum state. Rather than making up ones and zeros, like the bits in a standard computer would, these photons can represent both a one and a zero at the same time. These photons are carried on fibre optic cables, but these are limited in how far they can carry photons before they degrade – the current range is around 100 km or 62 miles. However, firms are working on ways to get around this, and send messages even further. In 2018, for example, the University of Geneva and Corning Incorporated collaborated on a system capable of carrying a photon more than 300 km or 186 miles. Another company, Arqit, has also developed a fleet of satellites that can beam quantum encrypted messages down from space.
The quantum threat is decades away
If you’ve heard of quantum computers, then you’ll likely have heard of the cybersecurity threats they could bring – quantum computers could easily break the current public key encryption methods used all over the world. The danger is that one country will manage to achieve a breakthrough before any other state, and achieve quantum supremacy – if that’s the case, they’ll be able to access any information or state secrets they wish.
The powerful quantum computers capable of doing this don’t yet exist, but they could be around the corner. Quantum technology is advancing faster than ever. The first quantum computer was created in 1998 with just two qubits, and in 2018, Google announced they’d built a 53-qubit computer. In November 2021, IBM revealed a record-breaking quantum computer with 127 qubits – more than double the amount in Google’s. At the rate the technology is advancing, we could be facing unparalleled cyber attacks from computers with millions of qubits in a matter of years, or even less.
We’re powerless to the quantum threat
The quantum threat may be fast approaching, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to stop it. Fortunately, there are ways to stay ahead of the threat if we act now. It’s important that people and companies start preparing for a post-quantum future, and invest in quantum cryptography instead of public key infrastructure (PKI) to secure their data, which could soon become obsolete.
Luckily, companies are working to combat the threat, and ensure that we can be safe against the dangers of quantum computers. One of these companies is Arqit, already mentioned above, which has taken action by developing QuantumCloud™, a form of quantum encryption. Using satellites, Arqit will be able to transmit secure keys to users across the world, and ensure that no one is eavesdropping or stealing their data.
Even though quantum technology’s still in its infancy, and some of its potential benefits and dangers are theoretical, there are already plenty of misconceptions being spread around. Quantum computing is set to make a huge impact in the near future, meaning the truth about it is more important than ever.