Moore’s Law No More?

Gordon E Moore, co-founder of Intel, is arguably more famous for his observations in the late 1960s that computer processing speeds double every 2 years. He initially predicted that this phenomenon would continue for a decade but, over the next 40 years, it has remained remarkably accurate.

Whether Moore’s Law was truly prophetic or merely acted as a benchmark for engineers and marketeers to drive continuous improvement is debateable. However, all good things must come to an end.

Moore himself predicted, back in 2005, that his projection was unsustainable in the long-term. “It can’t continue forever. The nature ofwhat exponentials is that you push them out and eventually disaster happens”. Moore also saw the physical size of transistors as a fundamental barrier that could not be overcome.

As we entered the second decade of the millennium, there were signs that there was a slowing down in the pace of advancement. However, there were also a number of emerging technologies that could breathe new life into the Law. Single-electron transistors, just 1.5 nanometers in diameter and neurocore processors simulating the synaptic connections of the human brain will see processors comprising tens of billions of transistors and extend the trend for another 20 years.

But wait a minute. What about quantum computing? Moore’s Law refers to digital computers, based on transistors and binary units (bits). Quantum computing changes the rules completely. Quantum computers exploit quantum-mechanical principles and use qubits, which can be in superposition rather than the fixed binary state of one or zero.

Theoretical work on quantum computing began just over a decade after Moore’s Law was first proposed. As the pace of development has accelerated, predictions of the time when a commercially viable quantum computer will be available have come tumbling down.

2015 saw huge investment in quantum computing, and a number of significant technology advances, culminating in the Google, NASA and D-Wave announcement in December. Under specific test conditions, they claimed that they were able to produce a 100-million-fold speed up over classical algorithms for certain optimisation problems by using quantum annealing (D-Wave’s form of quantum computing).

There were certainly many criticisms from the scientific community in response to this announcement – namely that this performance gains may not be scalable (i.e. no quantum speed up) and that certain classical mathematical algorithms could potentially still outpeform the quantum annealing algortithms. However, maybe the most significant point is that the Google, NASA and D-Wave results show that large scale quantum devices are feasible and that sustained investment in the technology is leading to major progress.

This paradigm-shift in computation performance is still a few years away from becoming a reality but the potential is obvious. Governments and tech companies across the globe announced fresh waves of investment in quantum computing last year, making a commercially viable solution less than 10 years away.

The implications of quantum computing on cyber security are massive. Integer factorization, the fundamentals that underpin public key cryptography, were considered unrealistic using ordinary computers. With the advent of quantum computing, factoring large integers that are the product of prime numbers becomes a reality.

Using Shor’s algorithm, a hacker using a quantum computer could crack encryption based on RSA, Diffie-Hellman and Eliptic Curve algorithms – the systems that are used to secure much of the world’s web pages, encrypted email and a wide variety of other data types.

To combat the potential of quantum computers, IDQ has developed a range of quantum-safe encryption solutions that feature highly secure quantum key generation and distribution; providing long term protection of data in a post-quantum world.

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