Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) have found a way to improve the performance of quantum computers. The discovery might help in efficiently scaling quantum computing technologies to address complex problems. However, scientists also warn that the creation of powerful quantum computers can have devastating consequences on current security practices.
Improving quantum computer performance
The performance boost is gained by suppressing incorrect calculations and increasing the accuracy of results. This allows the quantum computers to outperform classical computers. The method, dubbed “dynamical decoupling,” has been tested successfully on two quantum computers, where it has proven to be much more reliable and easier than other solutions.
“This is a step forward… Without error suppression, there’s no way quantum computing can overtake classical computing,” Daniel Lidar, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Chemistry, and Physics at USC and Director of the USC Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology (CQIST), said to Phys.Org.
The error suppression technique includes staccato bursts of highly focused energy pulses aimed at offsetting ambient disturbances that affect sensitive calculations. By applying the newly developed method, researchers successfully sustained a quantum state three times longer than would have been possible in an uncontrolled state.
The rapid developments in quantum computing technologies have large-scale political implications. “The quest for quantum computing supremacy is a geopolitical priority for Europe, China, Canada, Australia, and the United States. Advantages gained by acquiring the first computer that renders all other computers obsolete would be enormous and bestow economic, military, and public health advantages to the winner,” according to CMS Wire.
Security threat of quantum computers
At present, most data across the world is encrypted using public key cryptography. This technique works by using math problems that computers find difficult to solve. For instance, factoring large numbers into primes is something most current generation computers will struggle with. However, there exists an algorithm called the “Shor’s Algorithm,” which is capable of completing this task by using quantum computers.
“For public key cryptography, the damage from quantum computer will be catastrophic… We must look for quantum resistant counterparts for these cryptosystems,” Lily Chen, mathematician and leader of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Cryptographic Technology Group, said in a statement (Gizmodo).
According to security experts, developing a quantum-resistant cryptography and implementing it might take more than two decades. Within this period, if a quantum computer is developed and if hackers were to gain access to such a computer, the entire security industry will have to face a nightmare situation. The hackers will likely be able to break into even the most secure of networks and steal any data they want. There will be no way to contain them.
“The biggest challenge will be getting these widely adopted. The academies’ experts say negotiating standards, persuading vendors to follow them, and then getting organizations to upgrade their hardware and software can take years. Old data will also need to be re-encrypted or destroyed. Hence, the depressing-but-probably-accurate forecast that it will take at least a couple of decades to get quantum-safe cryptography broadly in place,” according to MIT Technology Review.
Foreseeing the security threat of quantum computers, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is developing new standards for the U.S. federal government’s cyber policies. This is being done so that the country’s computer networks and data will be well-protected when quantum computers become widespread in the future.