The World Economic Forum took place in Davos, Switzerland, last month. Among the politics and grandstanding there was a packed programme, with everything from education to the environment, charity to technology being discussed.
It should come as no surprise that leading technology firms were promoting the role they had to play in the future economic growth of the world. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, for example, was part of a panel discussion: Transforming Health in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In this session, the panel discussed the role technology has played in transforming the healthcare industry historically, and how it would play an essential role in advances in the future. Mr Nadella cautioned that may of the advances that experts were predicting over the next decade or so would be dependent upon an increase in computer processing power.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence were mooted as potential game-changers in the future, but Mr Nadella pointed out that there were limits to what could be achieved with conventional computers.
“Moore’s Law is kinds running out of steam” he said. Referring to the established paradigm that processing power doubles every two years. He went on to add that quantum computing would be required if we were to create all of these “rich experiences” that were being discussed.
Nadella, who took over as CEO at Microsoft in 2014, bemoaned a lack on investment and understanding in grass-roots computer science. Pointing out that we would need a significant increase in the number of students graduating with experience of these “augmented realities” if we were to make the most of the potential these technologies offer.
There has been a noticeable groundswell of both support for, and investment in, quantum computing in the past ten years. As we enter the second era of big data, with the IoT set to comprise over 30 billion devices by 2020, conventional computing is “hitting the wall” in terms of processing power.
The sea-change of capacity represented by quantum computing, naturally, has wide ranging implications for clinical research, mathematics, complex data modelling and more. However, it is not all good news.
Much of the sensitive data transmitted across the globe relies upon encryption to keep it safe from prying eyes and cyber-criminals. The arrival of the quantum computer, and its ability to complete complex mathematical tasks such as factoring large prime numbers, puts the current encryption infrastructure at risk.
Common 256bit and even 512bit algorithms in use today will no longer be secure. In fact, even 1024bit keys will be vulnerable in a post-quantum computing world. The answer can’t just be to keep increasing the key size.
The cyber security world is not sitting on its laurels. As we approach the age of the quantum computer, advances in quantum-safe security systems are well underway. From quantum-safe algorithms to quantum key generation and distribution; the next generation of systems in the war against cyber-criminals look set to deliver long-term data protection for years to come.
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