New day, new buzzwords.
With the pace at which technological advancements are transforming the world and rendering each other obsolete, it seems like it’s hard to keep up.
It seemed like it was days ago when people were fascinated by blockchain. At the very core, blockchain relies on cryptography techniques to protect information from unauthorized changes, and Bitcoin has been the most widely recognized cryptocurrency relying on these principles. Products with blockchain at their cores are applied to a wide range of industries — from finance and manufacturing to health care — and comprise a market worth more than $150 billion. According to Nature, up to 10% of global gross domestic product is projected to be stored using blockchain tools as early as by 2025.
The core value proposition of blockchain, then, has been its “unbreakability” due to the fact that digital records — known as ledgers — are kept by users around the world, in contrast to the traditional way of relying on a single, central administration. However, this security that blockchain promises inherently relies on where the technology is on its path of growth and transformation. And if the computers and the machines we use today completely shift their mode of operation, blockchain’s key value add will come into question.
And here is where quantum computing comes in.
A quantum computer is any device that relies on the principles of quantum mechanics to perform calculations. The contrast with regular computers is the following: while traditional machines use the binary system for operating — namely, the information could only be presented in the states of 0 and 1 — quantum computers rely on qubits that can be a 0 and 1 at once. Known as superposition, this property allows quantum machines to perform infinitely faster than traditional computers.
The power of a quantum computer depends on the number of qubits a machine can use at the same time. Today, the most powerful quantum computers created by Google can use as many as 72 bits in operation. This is a significant win, given that superposition is a state that’s highly complex to achieve — the truth is, many quantum computers today are still quite error-prone due to the fragility of the environment in which they operate.
The fact that quantum computing, despite its enormous potential, is still in early stages of development, leaves the world confident in the “unshakeability” of blockchain’s security standard. But the potential transformation that quantum computing promises will likely be able to undermine the trust in blockchain’s security.
With quantum computing accelerating the machine’s operating speed, it has the potential to render blockchain’s cryptography and encryption obsolete due to the ability to run algorithms more quickly. Blockchain’s security heavily relies on one-way mathematical functions that are complex to recalculate and reverse. Examples of such applications include digital signatures or transaction validations that are easy to run one way but are hard to replicate in reverse. Due to the quantum machine’s ability to operate fast, there is room for the risk of misusing the technology and reversing the calculations originally considered the safest and most private.
With fully functional quantum machines still largely a theory and a promise of the future, it’s hard to measure the real risk the technology poses to blockchain. It is possible that, as quantum computing develops and gains a significant foothold, so will blockchain — it will potentially become quantum-proof, able to withstand the power and speed of quantum computing. One thing is for sure though: in the next decade, quantum computers will redefine cryptography beyond just blockchain and in areas where cryptography is widely used, such as simple banking websites. There will be a more in-depth, systemic shift towards quantum-proof operations to withstand the quick development of quantum computing and mitigate its effects overall. The next decade will be crucial in gradually building an infrastructure that will enable the development of quantum-resistant solutions to balance the influence and power that quantum computing holds.
At the end of the day, the key takeaway of this dilemma is the fact that blockchain technology will have to shift at its core and transform in order to be ready to face the challenges that the rise of quantum computing brings about. It will require to adapt and adopt a quantum-safe security approach in order to maintain the global trust in its ability to protect and prevent disruption.
Scientists have made significant advances in their efforts to achieve “quantum supremacy” — the notion of quantum computers performing actions that traditional computers are simply not capable of doing. For instance, Google has already made a claim that their quantum computer WAS able to perform a task (a particular random number generation) on their in 200 seconds (3 minutes 20 seconds), while a modern supercomputer could take as long as 10,000 years to tackle the same task.
Quantum computing is, no doubt, a controversial topic: it embodies innovation and revolutionary advancements for science and technology, open new doors for a wide range of industries from medicine to finance; however, it is also a tool that can potentially be misused to undermine and hack current existing encryption systems that are trusted to hold secure, private information.
A threat and a promise in one, quantum computing is something to keep an eye on as it grows and transforms in the next decade and beyond.