At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas this year, IBM unveiled a nine-foot-tall behemoth of metal and copper coils. What looked like something out of a steampunk film, actually turned out to be a quantum computer.
IBM’s Q System One, a revolution in quantum computing, is said to hold the answers to mankind’s greatest questions. Modern computer systems, although powerful enough to handle relatively simple tasks, such as sending emails, surfing the web, or maintaining social media, simply have neither enough computing power nor enough memory to solve the complex mathematical tasks associated with nature, space, time, or perhaps cryptographic code breaking.
Although still in its very early stages, IBM’s Q System One will one day have the ability to decipher the code associated with blockchain systems. So what does this mean for blockchain? For a technology that is only now being adopted for supply chain maintenance, logistics, and cryptocurrency trade? If blockchain technology is to continue being used in the future, it too will need to live in the same world with quantum computers.
How Does Quantum Computing Work?
The first thing that should be stated is that quantum computers will, at least not in our lifetimes, replace personal computers. Compared to classic computers, quantum computers operate in a different way:
- While classic computers encode information in bits, represented by zeros and ones, quantum computers use qubits.
- Utilizing bits, classic computers perform operations using trial and error. Qubits function quite differently from bits: superposition allows qubits to operate as either a zero, a one, or both simultaneously. Entanglement is the relation of qubits to one another. They correspond to each other in order to solve equations more quickly than conventional computer systems.
- Qubits allow quantum computers to operate much more quickly than classical computer systems.
Take a maze for example. Using a classic computer system, attempts at solving the maze would be conducted one attempt at a time until the maze is finally solved. A quantum computer, however, would make multiple attempts simultaneously, thereby reaching a solution in less time.
Due to a quantum computer’s ability to conduct various computations simultaneously, it can at least attempt to solve complex problems, eventually providing a solution. It is expected that quantum computers will eventually be a useful tool in medicine, science, logistics, and much more. Given the advanced nature of a quantum computer’s computational tools, the security of blockchain technology and smart contracts built with cryptographic codes will eventually no longer be difficult to break.
The Threat of Quantum Computing to Blockchain
It can take classic computers hundreds of years to break through a blockchain’s security, and quantum computers will have the ability to do it in minutes or less. This mainly relies on the fact that blockchain uses a one-way coding system. Whenever a transaction is conducted through a blockchain, multiple codes, or hashes, are joined together in order to determine the participants of the transaction and what the transaction is made up of, as well providing the keys necessary to accept the transaction.
While it is easy to conduct the transaction, there is no way to reverse it, as deciphering the various hashes that the transaction utilized is next to impossible. As explained earlier, classic computers operate according to trial and error, thus the significant amount of time it would take to decipher the code associated with a blockchain transaction.
Quantum computers, on the other hand, operate in a much different fashion. Utilizing qubits, they can conduct various computations simultaneously. This leads to a solution being found much quicker.
Adopting Quantum Computing for Blockchain
There are a variety of methods for fending off security breaches conducted through quantum computing. The first would be to adopt the use of quantum cryptography for encryption.
Through the use of quantum computing, it will possible to recreate blockchain’s security protocols, but in a more secure manner. According to Nature, an international science journal, “Fundamental physics stipulates that quantum states cannot be copied or measured without being altered.” This basically means that if any security breaches were to occur on a network operating through quantum computing, essentially the intruder would be identified immediately, due to a noticeable change in the blockchain.
However, this solution brings with it a multitude of problems. First, it would be extremely expensive to integrate this technology into current blockchain systems. Secondly, quantum technology is still new: it would take a significant amount of time to figure out how quantum technology would operate on a larger blockchain.
The Potential of Quantum Computers
Since quantum computing is an evolving technology, scientists and researchers are still discovering how it can be applied. We know quantum computers can be used to find the solutions to highly complicated problems and search through vast numbers of data, but what else?
One of the most interesting potentials of quantum computers is the ability to run simulations concerning quantum mechanics, the most important being nature. Classic computers simply cannot take a large number of variables concerning nature or molecular activity into account.
Current Uses of Quantum Computers
Canadian company D-Wave currently sells their own quantum computer called D-Wave 2000Q. At a staggering ten feet, the computer uses all of the mechanics described above. It houses its systems in a box colder than space. These extreme temperatures are needed to run the various systems required to compute incredibly complicated problems. Currently, the system is currently priced at a whopping $15 million.
Volkswagen is currently using the 2000Q to develop a traffic management system of the future. The project was presented in Lisbon at the Web Summit technology conference. It provides multiple tools regarding traffic volumes and transportation times to a very accurate level. Surprisingly, the system seems very similar to projects being conducted through blockchain technology today regarding the Internet of Things (IoT) in order to develop smart cities.
Will Blockchain Technology Be As Secure As It Claims?
At the moment, quantum computing is still in too early a stage to pose any threat to the security of blockchain systems. Eventually, quantum computing could indeed become a significant threat to the security of blockchain systems. However, this is not expected to happen within the next ten years.
Although blockchain technology itself is still relatively new, it has been praised for its security and potential to play a vital role in supply chain management and logistics across multiple industries. As quantum computing is way too expensive, this only solidifies the fact that blockchain will most likely be prioritized and commercialized by companies such as IBM, Intel, Facebook, Google, and various others leading in the technology industry at the moment. At the same time, as IBM is currently working on both blockchain and quantum computing systems, it is highly likely that they will be at the forefront of integrating the two.