What is the “Quantum Apocalypse”
What is the “quantum apocalypse” (and how much can it threaten our way of life)
This chip, from the German firm Q.ant, is designed to facilitate optical data processing for quantum technology. Imagine a world where encrypted secret files are suddenly opened, something known as “the quantum apocalypse.”
Simply put, quantum computers work completely differently than computers developed during the last century. In theory, they could eventually become much faster than current machines. That means that faced with an incredibly complex and time-consuming problem, like trying to crack data, where there are multiple permutations running into the billions, it would take a normal computer many years to crack those ciphers, if ever. But a future quantum computer could theoretically do this in just seconds.
Such computers could be capable of solving all sorts of problems for mankind. The UK government is investing in the National Center for Quantum Computing in Harwell, Oxfordshire, in the hope of revolutionizing research in this field. Several countries, including the US, China, Russia and the UK, are working hard and investing huge sums of money to develop these super-fast quantum computers with a view to gaining a strategic advantage in the cybersphere.
Every day, vast amounts of encrypted data, including yours and mine, is collected without our permission and stored in databanks, ready for the day when data thieves’ quantum computers are powerful enough to decipher them.
Everything we do over the internet today, from buying things online, to banking, to social media interactions, everything we do is encrypted. But once you get a working quantum computer that’s capable of breaking this cipher you can almost instantly create the ability for whoever developed it to wipe bank accounts, completely shut down government defense systems, deplete wallets of bitcoin.
This sounds completely apocalyptic. So why haven’t we heard more about this?
The answer that this would indeed be the case if precautions were not taken. In practice, mitigation efforts are already underway and have been for some years. In the UK, all government data classified as “top secret” is already “post-quantum,” meaning it uses new forms of encryption that researchers hope will be quantum-proof.
Tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Intel and IBM are working on solutions, as well as more specialized companies like Quantinuum and Post Quantum. More importantly, a kind of post-quantum cryptography “beauty pageant” is currently taking place at the US National Institute of Science and Technology outside Washington DC.
The goal is to establish a standardized defense strategy that protects industry, government, academia, and critical national infrastructure against the dangers of the quantum apocalypse.
None of this will be cheap.
Quantum computing is expensive, laborious and generates large amounts of heat. The development of secure quantum algorithms is one of the main security challenges of our time.