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Artifical Intelligence

Prepare for the
Quantum leap

Are you ready for the Q-nami? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK outlines the promise and threat of Quantum Computing.

The artificial intelligence wave caught the world napping last year after building up for decades, but the next big tech thing will literally leap out of the sea of innovation. It is called Quantum Computing, and it will usher in a tsunami of radical change in the digital world.

It uses the strange rules of quantum physics – Albert Einstein referred to some of its effects as “spooky” – to help solve problems that are too complex for conventional computers. For example, it can explore multiple solutions to multiple related problems simultaneously, at high speed, and at a scale that is not currently possible. It will also be capable of cracking codes that are seen as unbreakable, and process massive amounts of factors affecting any given scenario, to predict the most likely outcome.
Two of its biggest promises are predicting financial market crises and understanding the functioning of the human brain. That, in turn, will revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Regular computers and digital devices use bits, consisting of either the number zero or one, and are put together in various combinations to form binary code.

You want to know how it does this? Let’s try:

Quantum computers, on the other hand, use qubits, short for quantum bits. They can exist as ones or zeros, or in multiple states simultaneously, like a bit that is both one and zero, or a coin that is both heads and tails at once. Look, even Einstein said it’s spooky.

That’s just the start. They can become entangled with each other and interfere with each other over a long distance. Qubits can be stored – or rather encoded – in atoms or particles of light.
This is all another way of saying that it’s not easy to build a quantum computer. While no practical quantum computer exists today, tech giants, startups and governments are all pursuing this new holy grail, and IBM and Google have both predicted 1-million qubit devices by the end of this decade.
That said, no one wants to be caught napping. When the wave breaks – call it a Q-nami – it will be huge, and it will revolutionise many industries, businesses and activities. It will also be devastating for those who are not prepared.

One global body that has set out to prepare its industry, the GSMA, which works with mobile network operators, has warned that Quantum computing innovations are capable of cracking the encryption solutions that operators depend on to keep their users safe.

In a new white paper titled “The Journey to Quantum Safety”, published by the GSMA’s Mobile World Live and “post-quantum cryptography” solutions provider Arqit, they set out the biggest challenge: “The quantum threat looming large over the horizon is that the technology will provide a means to decrypt any data currently protected by public key infrastructure (PKI) cryptography. That means most of the communications currently traversing telco networks. This is the future the industry needs to start planning for today. The financial services sector has already begun — following the lead of government.”
How do you prepare for a technology that has not even emerged?

The answer, they say, lies in something called symmetric security, which uses a single “key” to encrypt and decrypt data. It can be likened to a secret handshake you share with someone to scramble and unscramble messages between you.

It sounds simple, but the white paper says it has been confirmed by the US and UK governments – and the GSMA – as “post-quantum secure”.

The real beauty of it is that the technology is available now and can be introduced with minimal disruption. It’s also highly cost-effective. And that is one claim quantum computing will not make in this decade.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx, editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee.

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