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Quantum computing features in IBM’s 5 in 5

Every year, the experts at IBM Research publish a list of five technologies they predict will have a major impact on our lives over the next five years. The “5 in 5” list features some of the biggest breakthrough technologies coming out of the IBM labs.

Earlier this month, at IBM’s Think 2018 customer event, they introduced us to this year’s five. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Miniature cryptographic anchors, designed to ensure the authenticity of an object
  2. AI-powered robot microscopes that may help us keep the oceans tidy
  3. Lattice cryptography, for long-term data protection in a post-quantum world
  4. The development of truly unbiased AI, to eliminate inequity in future systems
  5. The rapidly emerging use of quantum computing for complex problem solving

We’d like to take a look at a couple of these in more detail. First, their piece on the emergence of quantum computing and second, the development of lattice-based cryptography.

Experts have been talking about the potential of quantum computing for decades, but always in terms of a distant event horizon. IBM is predicting that within five years, the quantum computer will have emerged from the development lab to take its place in mainstream commercial and academic applications.

IBM sees quantum computing being embraced wholeheartedly by institutes of higher learning as it becomes a ubiquitous part of the curriculum. A greater understanding of quantum technologies would lead to significant advances in computer and materials science.

Problems that were considered beyond the processing power of traditional, binary systems would present no such challenge to the quantum computer. Complex modelling and simulation programmes could lead to the development of new materials, or new sources of energy.

However, not all uses of quantum computing can be seen as constructive.  IBM, and most other experts, now recognises that a quantum computer also has the potential to disrupt our cyber-security infrastructure.

In a battle that has been raging for millennia, cryptographers strive to develop ever more complex algorithms and systems to deter would-be hackers. For their part, code breakers are using increasingly sophisticated and powerful techniques to crack the encryption codes. The advent of the quantum computer will hand them a distinct advantage, as it will render a wide range of cryptographic systems (including all current public key cryptosystems) redundant.

Recognising the paradigm shift that would arrive with the quantum computer, the cryptographic community is engaging into a new area of research, known as quantum-safe cryptography. This field includes the development of post-quantum algorithms, which exploit the supposed intractability of certain mathematical problems, even for a quantum computer. It includes, inter alia, lattice-based cryptography, multivariate cryptography, code-based cryptography and hash-based cryptography.

IBM in particular is strongly advocating for lattice-based cryptography. One of the main reasons is that it is well suited to a new form of encryption, known as Fully Homomorphic Encryption (FHE) that keeps the data encrypted while in motion, at rest and especially in use. With FHE it is possible to process data in the cloud, in an encrypted form, without the need to transfer it to a safe location. This effectively eliminates many of the security concerns associated with the cloud.

The other area of quantum-safe cryptography is Quantum Key Generation and Quantum Key Distribution. QKD is a hardware technology that exploits the fundamental nature of quantum physics to securely deliver encryption keys to distant locations.

QKD system are already commercialised by ID Quantique and demonstrate, in a twist, that quantum technologies may provide a solution to the threat posed by the quantum computer.

Discover more about quantum-safe cryptography here.



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