I am presenting information today that I hope will help you to better understand a few things:
- First, quantum computers exist, they are not the same as classical computers, nor can the speed at which they advance be compared to our experience with classical computers. Quantum computers have many different kinds of concerns that affect their advancement.
- Second, the leaked article references a very specific kind of problem and does not mean that Google is in possession of a quantum computer that can currently break all encryption.
- And third, this does not spell the end for cryptocurrencies, in fact there are other applications of encryption that are in more immediate danger than cryptocurrencies. Watch until the end of this video to find out.
(Didn't Watch; Prefer to Read)
Let’s take a look at why there seems to be a bit more buzz about this topic as of late.
Financial Times leaked a draft version of a research paper authored by Google employees with NASA contributors. The paper was unintentionally posted on a public website by someone from NASA and was quickly spread.
The research paper states that a group at Google has now achieved quantum computational supremacy with a 53-qubit superconducting device. People seem to care so much about this information and its implications for cryptocurrency, but what seems to be flying surprisingly under the radar is the fact that encryption used for many different things, not just cryptocurrencies. This leaked draft of a research paper by Google essentially says that they are well on their way to be able to break it thanks to their quantum computer.
Difference between supercomputers and quantum computers
Quantum computers are like something out of a science fiction novel but they are real and have a whole lot of unknown potential. There is a great youtube video that explains quantum computers using many different levels of understanding which I found to be very helpful and I really recommend you check it out as well, again, link is down below.
Very, very basically: quantum computers are able to approach problems in a new way, a way that the normal computers, even super computers cannot. The average computer today uses binary code (ones and zeros) to identify and compute things, where as a quantum computer (or rather those operating it) has the ability to change the state of the problem in question and has the potential to find answers to much more difficult problems than classical computers are able to handle.
Quantum computers are also extremely dependent on its environment, meaning they require extremely cold temperatures and extremely stable environments to function. Even things like noise can affect a quantum computer. As more qubits are added to the machine, it becomes exponentially more wild in that way.
Now that was just a taste of quantum computers but they are so incredibly interesting to learn about and will continue to play a big role in things like research and machine learning so I’d encourage you to dig a bit deeper.
Getting back to that fatefully leaked research paper, one phrase to be noted is quantum supremacy. Which basically means they are in possession of a quantum computer that has the ability to solve a set of problems that classical computers cannot, and they can solve them exponentially faster than classical computers.
The one thing that is very important to note here is the fact that the problem Google’s quantum computer was able to solve exponentially faster than a classical computer was a very specific one and is merely an indication that it was possible. It does not mean that they are in possession of a quantum computer that can currently overtake the world as we know it. Granted, the whole point of the existence of quantum computers and the amount of money that is required to build and sustain one is all in the effort of advancement. New algorithms will be created, new boundaries will be found and pushed.
At this point, Google has the potential to break 26-bit cryptography, so for example if your current hard drive uses 26-bit encryption, their quantum computer can crack it and gain access to your hard drive.
If quantum computers are subjected to Moore’s Law, then their power could double each year- admittedly this is speculation, but technology as we know it always advances and as such, it isn’t that much of a stretch to understand that at one point, the encryption used by say Bitcoin, SHA-256 which uses 256-bit encryption can be cracked by quantum computers. The only question is when.
SHA-256 is very secure encryption but cryptocurrencies aren’t the only ones that use encryption. Think of your email, your messaging apps, the websites onto which you supply your personal identifying information, and let’s not forget about “The Cloud” all of these applications use encryption to secure data. Most likely, most of these apps are not using as secure encryption as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. These I believe are at a much more immediate risk of getting breached, and considering the fact that Google is the one in possession of this quantum computer, it does nothing to inspire peace of mind.
There are a few different people who are aware of quantum computers and their abilities and who also aren’t immediately concerned about their applications concerning cryptocurrencies, take Peter Todd and Scott Aaronson for example. Links to their explanations for this can also be found in the video description.
I think we will begin to see the testing of new coins with quantum proof algorithms and pre-existing coins will begin experimenting with new algorithms in preparation for that fateful day when a switch will need to be made.
Networks that have effective governance models that can make timely changes will have an upper hand in this situation as well, and if a network doesn’t have this, be prepared to see a whole lot of hard forks as a result.
In the meantime if you’re curious to see what kind of work is being done to address this issue as it stands in the cryptocurrency space, check out Quantum Resistant Ledger.