Computing, But Make It Quantum 💻
Hey y’all! How many of you are told that your iPhone is running out of space because you took one too many videos or downloaded too many apps? It’s okay, we’re guilty too (looking at Chad with 1.5GB of storage left on a 128GB iPhone 12). Well, did you know computers go through a similar problem? There’s certain problems in the world that even today’s largest supercomputers do not have the capacity to solve. Insert quantum computing. If you thought last week’s newsletter on AI was interesting, quantum computing promises to be another huge leap forward for technology. Word on the street is that it’s also potentially the next big threat to blockchain technology, but you didn’t hear that from us. 👀
Today, we’re going to give you a little Quantum Computing 101 to help you understand the basics and its implications.
Now we can’t even lie, this concept is a little more complicated than some of the other topics we’ve covered before, but we got y’all! As always, we believe it’s important to put our community on to hot topics before they get hot. You heard it here first, ladies and gents.
Let’s start with the basics:
What is quantum? Quantum mechanics is a branch of physics that deals with studying really really really small, isolated, cold things (yes, cold). In the computing world, they’re applying these things, actually called subatomic particles, to perform calculations that change the way we look at ordinary problems.
What is computing? This concept is pretty straight forward, but to level-set real quick - it’s creating both hardware and software to study and experiment algorithmic processes to complete any goal-oriented activity.
When you put the two concepts together, you get this…
Yes, that is a quantum computer. No, it’s not the set of a 90’s hip-hop music video.
So what exactly is quantum computing?
According to IBM, “quantum computing is a rapidly-emerging technology that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems too complex for classical computers.”
In the simplest terms, this means that quantum computers are so powerful, fast, and effective that they have the potential to benefit society in several ways, including making smarter investment decisions, enabling AI to reach its full potential, and developing drugs and vaccines faster. What’s even crazier is that for these computers to operate on a quantum level, they have to be kept cool, -320.98°F or -196.1°C to be exact (told y’all - cold 🧊). If Beyonce’s “Upgrade U” took the form of a high tech machine, then this would be it.
However, there’s one disadvantage that we’d be remiss not to point out: quantum computing could break current cryptography.
Yes, break. And since this is a Web3 focused newsletter, the reason we’re bringing this up is because there could eventually be some serious implications for blockchain technology in the future.
And how might quantum computing be a threat to blockchain technology, exactly?
In a nutshell, if you’re not careful people may try to take your crypto! Below are two types of attacks that may become more common as quantum computing takes the mainstream:
Storage attacks: four million Bitcoin, or 25% of all BTC, is vulnerable to an attack by a quantum computer due to owners using unhashed public keys or reusing BTC addresses. Malicious parties can attempt to steal cash by focusing on susceptible blockchain addresses, such as those where the wallet’s public key is visible on a public ledger. However, experts anticipate that the computing power required to carry out these attacks would be millions of times more than the current quantum computers, which have less than 100 qubits (a computer bit, but quantum). Nevertheless, quantum computing researchers have hypothesized that the number of qubits in use might reach 10 million during the next 10 years.
Transit attacks: someone with access to a powerful quantum computer might attempt to steal money from a blockchain transaction in transit by launching a “transit attack.” Because it applies to all transactions, the scope of this attack is much larger. They’re coming for it all! However, carrying it out is more challenging because the attacker must complete it before the miners can execute the transaction. It’s basically a race to see if the attacker can intercept the payment before it reaches you. Under most circumstances, an attacker has no more than a few minutes due to the confirmation time on networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Hackers also need billions of qubits to carry out such an attack, making the risk of a transit attack much lower than a storage attack. Nonetheless, it is still something that users should take into account.
So, what does quantum computing mean for you?
Now don’t go into Best Buy or anything asking to buy the latest quantum computer - you won’t be seeing those in anybody's house any time soon (imagine that AC bill!). But that doesn’t mean quantum computing isn’t important. Here’s a few reasons:
Goodbye legacy encryption: ever heard of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)? It’s okay if you haven’t - just know they set the government standard for online encryption (read: protecting your information online). And in January 2022, President Joe Biden signed a National Security Memorandum on improving the “Cyber Security of National Security, Department of Defense, and Intelligence Community Systems”. The TLDR of the memo: within ~6 months of the memo’s release, all government agencies will need to make sure their information can’t be hacked by quantum computers. While the NIST aims to set the standard for quantum-cryptography by 2024, these are steps in the right direction to make sure all our info is protected (sadly, that includes those student loans balances).
Security threat: remember that concept of Proof of Work (PoW)? PoW is the process in which crypto miners complete complex puzzles to validate transactions and create new coins (peep the ethereum merge edition for a lil refresher). Well, now we have quantum computers that will make these problems seem like child's play. This is a HUGE threat for cryptography on the blockchain. BUT you can (and should) protect yourself and your crypto funds: Avoid reusing addresses and avoid moving your funds into addresses where the public key has not been published.
A growing focus for VCs: with most quantum computing startups being in the seed or early development stages, we likely won't see widespread commercial use for another decade. But that’s not stopping venture capitalists from tapping in. According to Pitchbook, VCs invested ~$6.7B in quantum computing startups as of November 2021. We know that number is only going up from here.
Solving the unsolvable: quantum represents the next leap forward for computing, opening the door to powerful machines that can solve some of the world’s most pressing questions. We’re already seeing quantum computing being used in weather prediction, financial modeling, and drug discovery, to name a few areas!
And that’s a wrap on Quantum Computing 101!
If you haven’t caught the wave, quantum computing is set to really disrupt the industry. And while it won’t be as widespread as smartphones or social media for a few more years, that doesn’t mean you can’t start learning now. With new technologies like AI and quantum computing coming our way, who knows what the future has in store!