International foes and friends are racing to achieve sub-atomic science-based computing supremacy which can defeat all current-generation defenses against military, information security, banking, and utility infrastructure system cyberattacks.
Researchers Daniel Bernstein at the Technische Universiteit Eindhoven and Tanja Lange at the University of Illinois, Chicago stressed this urgency in a September report in the scientific journal Nature, noting, "We are in a race against time to deploy post-quantum cryptography before quantum computers arrive." They predict that, "Many commonly used cryptosystems will be completely broken once large quantum computers exist."
Also last month, University of Maryland researcher Christopher Moore briefed the U.S. House Science Committee at an American Leadership in Quantum Technology hearing on staggeringly large quantum computation (QC) capacities. He told attendees that merely 300 atoms under full quantum computer control might potentially store more pieces of information than the number of atoms that exist in the entire Universe.
Such implausible features are made possible by equally incomprehensible — yet demonstratively proven — subatomic-scale phenomena. Unlike current computers which process tiny "bits" of data in a linear sequence as either a one or a zero, at the seemingly weird subatomic scale, a quantum bit (or "qubit") can be both a zero and a one at the same time. As a result, rather than growing linearly, adding more qubits expands computing power exponentially.
As QC language program developers Frederic Chong, Diana Franklin and Margaret Martonosi discuss in another September Nature article, "With 50-100- qubit prototypes anticipated in the near future, QC is on the cusp of a revolution."
QC progress now continues to rapidly accelerate following a three decade scientific siesta since the concept was first proposed by Russian mathematician Yuri Manin in 1980:
- D-Wave Systems, a company based in Burnaby, British Columbia, demonstrated a special- function 16-qubit QC in 2007 at the Mountain View, California Computer History Museum.
- In 2011, D-Wave Systems sold its first 128-qubit commercial system (D-Wave One) to the Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center located at the University of Southern California. The two companies have since entered into multi-year agreements which have led to the development of more powerful D-Wave Two and D-Wave 2X systems.
- In 2013, Google established a Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QAIL) at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California in collaboration with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA).
- In 2015, QAIL publicly displayed a 10-foot-tall D-Wave 2X unit chilled at 180 times colder than deep space which is expected to operate 100 million times faster than any conventional computer.
- This year, IBM announced an initiative to build a commercially-available IBM Q, along with an Application Program Interface (API). Together they will enable customers and programmers to build interfaces between the company’s existing five-qubit cloud-based computer and conventional computers.
The first hostile foreign nation to achieve QC supremacy will be able to open the encrypted secrets of every country, company and person on the planet; end America’s dominance of the information-technology industry and the global financial system; compromise the safety of medical, food, and water services; put transportation and energy infrastructures at risk; and threaten domestic and military security systems.
The European Union (EU) has announced a commitment to invest $1.1 billion in a flagship QC development project over the next 10 years. Even more aggressive, Beijing is building the world’s largest QC research facility which is scheduled for completion within the next two and one-half years. The near-term 40-qubit capacity goal is expressly intended for code-breaking in support of military applications including quantum navigation systems for stealth submarines.
As for Moscow, we can be very certain that they have no intention to be left behind in the race for QC primacy. Let’s remember that Russian hackers were suspected culprits of the WannaCry Ransomeware attack in May which disrupted businesses, health care services and telecommunications across the world.
We can hope that our U.S. government is quietly coordinating with private sector QC organizations to ensure that our vital economic and security protections are second to none. Some promising evidence of this came to light in 2014 when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reported that the National Security Agency (NSA) is running a $79.7 million research program titled “Penetrating Hard Targets” to develop QC capable of breaking vulnerable encryption.
Less encouraging, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Arthur Herman recently reported in a Wall Street Journal article that U.S. cybersecurity responsibilities are now haphazardly dispersed between at least 11 federal agencies, with fragmented congressional oversight involving more than 100 committees and subcommittees.
Urgencies warrant the creation of a cabinet-level national cybersecurity department to replace such disconnected oversight with unified foresight. A key responsibility would ensure that tamper-proof encryption technologies and upgrades are coordinated across all government, corporate, institutional and public service program sectors.
America’s information-dependent future hinges upon finishing first in a quantum race we cannot afford to lose.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2012). Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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