How to harness quantum advantage

June 20, 2023 09:37
Photo: Reuters

Currently, many global technology giants, such as IBM, Google, Microsoft, and several governments around the world, have increased investment in quantum computing technology though it is still in the development stage. For example, in 2017, Chinese and Austrian scientists launched a satellite Micius to implement the world's first quantum secure intercontinental video call, marking a breakthrough in early applications of quantum technology. Since 2019, the U.K. government has also invested millions of pounds in quantum innovation projects. According to estimates from several consulting firms, quantum computing will change multiple industries, including medicine, materials science, banking, and energy, creating hundreds of billions of dollars in value in the next decades.

In response to climate change, quantum technology can promote the development of more efficient chemical catalysts, thereby reducing carbon emissions, developing better carbon capture and storage solutions in early applications. Later, it can assist in developing lighter, stronger materials for use in manufacturing cars and airplanes. One of them is BMW which uses high-precision computational simulation software to replace the currently expensive physical build-test-improve cycles, with the potential to help automakers build lighter parts, making vehicles safer, low-carbon, and low-cost. In the financial industry, JPMorgan Chase, Credit Agricole, and other banks are also actively testing this new technology to see if it can improve the solving of complex problems such as investment portfolios and index tracking. It is expected that this new technology will bring in $2 to 5 billion in revenue for financial institutions in the next 10 years.

However, this revolutionary technology may also pose unprecedented threats to personal privacy and network security. Today, technology giants have access to big data, which can predict individuals' consumption habits and preferences. In future, as the processing power of quantum technology explodes, will social media advertising penetrate more deeply into our lives and consciousness?

At the same time, the super processing power of “quantum advantages” can easily crack passwords. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, predicts that quantum computing will crack the encryption technology we know today in the next five to ten years. Michele Mosca, founder of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in Canada, believes that by 2026, there is a one-in-seven chance that quantum computing will crack the "RSA-2048 encryption," the golden standard of public key encryption (PKC) used to protect hundreds of millions of internet users worldwide. By 2031, this chance will increase to 50%, rendering today's network security virtually useless. Therefore, data security and regulatory enforcement have never been more important to prevent improper use. In other words, cryptography in the new era has become necessary, and one idea is to use quantum-powered defence to counter quantum attacks.

Like artificial intelligence, new technologies always bring new challenges, and the key is how we seize opportunities. Actively training talents, keeping up with the times, especially in critical and innovative thinking, is the key to human beings harnessing new technologies.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong