Last month, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Apollo, which captured the imagination of the whole world, epitomizes the necessity for government involvement in long term, big science projects. What started as a fierce race between the USA and the USSR at the apex of the cold war ended up as a peaceful mission, “one giant leap for mankind”.
This “Leap” was just one of many steps that lead to the US, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada sharing the International Space Station for further space exploration. The parallel with the quantum computer, which recently made headlines in the Wall Street Journal, is striking gauntlet to be picked up. A foreign power, in this case China, developed advanced quantum technologies passing its western counterparts and warrants a competitive response. Here again, the US policymakers rise to the challenge and call for a significant investment in quantum technologies (as presented in the WSJ article: In a White House Summit on Quantum Technology, Experts Map Next Steps).
Quantum technologies may not capture the imagination of so many star-gazing children as space. However, show them a golden “chandelier” of a quantum computer, tell them that it operates at temperatures colder than space, explain that it can do more optimization calculations than all classical computers combined, and we might get some converts. We will need these engineers, developers and professions we have not yet thought of to get the full and profound impacts that are likely with quantum computers. If history is any guide, the currently expected applications in pharmaceuticals, finance and transportation mentioned in the WSJ are only a small portion of the real potential. Just these fields will require education on the quantum technologies at a broad level, as called for by the bipartisan participants to the White House Summit on Quantum Technologies. In addition, the threat of the quantum computer on our existing cybersecurity infrastructure (again reported in the WSJ: The Day When Computers Can Break All Encryption Is Coming), is real today. Sensitive digital data can already be recorded today and decrypted once a powerful-enough quantum computer is available.
This brings us back to the cold war space race, now with many potential players shielded in the obscurity of cyberspace. Let’s hope that, as with Apollo, the end result will be improvement for humankind. The international effort, led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to develop new quantum-resistant algorithms, as well as the development of quantum technologies, such as quantum random number generation and quantum-key distribution (QKD), to counter the very threat of the quantum computer, are steps in the right direction.
CSA’s quantum-safe security working group has produced several research papers addressing many aspects of quantum-safe security that were discussed in both of these articles. These documents can help enterprises to better understand the quantum threat and steps they can start taking to address this coming threat.