The implications of quantum computing

At the last Foresight Week event in Singapore two years ago, Peter Schwartz and I had a long discussion about the implications of quantum computing. Where we ended up was that we thought that there was a ‘computing arms race’ developing between Governments and consumers.

At the highest abstract levels, the foundations of computing have remained unchanged since the development of the transistor.  The development of the PC meant that it was inevitable that consumers would possess extremely fast computers, and among other things these would enable levels of security and privacy through encryption.  No matter how fast Government computers became, there would be enough horsepower available to consumers to secure their privacy.

Now this is changing.  The development of the quantum computer means that the next evolution of computing will put the average person into a state of inherent insecurity, because quantum computers will be able to unlock any security currently in use.  An article in the Washington Post highlights this:

Quantum mechanics is now being used to construct a new generation of computers that can solve the most complex scientific problems—and unlock every digital vault in the world. These will perform in seconds computations that would have taken conventional computers millions of years.

This also means that Governments and corporations will once more be leaders in computing, harking back to the days of mainframe computing – when state-of-the-art computation power was unaffordable to the average person.  However unlike the democratisation of computing power that has taken place since the development of the desktop, it’s likely to be a much shorter time span before quantum computing is available in the home – or in your pocket.

In the meantime however, the deployment of this new type of computing is likely to add to global volatility through it’s deployment by security agencies.

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