NATO has officially completed tests to make its communications network quantum-proof. NATO invested money, time, and expertise in securing their network because of the predicted rise of quantum computers and the potential threat they pose.
As quantum computing is developing so rapidly, questions about quantum computing and quantum computing stocks are still up for debate.
Quantum computing explainer
Quantum computers have much more computational power than classical computers.
In commercially available computers, data is stored in ‘bits,’ as 1s or at 0s. Quantum computing uses qubits (quantum bits), which store information on a spectrum of functionally infinite different places. Because these qubits have so many more possibilities than regular bits, quantum computers can perform much more complicated calculations much quicker than is currently possible.
The main challenge for scaling quantum computing is decoherence. This is where any external interference from the environment, like changes in temperature or vibrations, make the qubits ‘forget’ the information that they were using to complete calculations. This in turn results in errors in the calculations.
By combining qubits together into logical qubits, quantum computing companies have managed to reduce the error rate in calculations. Even so, efficient error correction is still difficult to achieve.
Regardless of these challenges, commercial quantum computers will eventually develop and likely achieve quantum supremacy. Quantum computing as a service via the cloud is already available, first through IBM in 2019 and more recently through other companies developing quantum computers.
Public-private key cryptography
The fear of quantum computing, and most importantly quantum supremacy, is because of the sort of cryptography that stands behind transactions and communications that take place on the internet.
Private key cryptography (or asymmetric cryptography) works using a pair of ‘keys’ (cryptographic algorithms), one public and one private. Anyone can encrypt information using the public key. But only if you hold the corresponding private key can you decrypt the information. Without both keys, the data can be transferred but remains encrypted.
The importance of private key cryptography for security, banking, and privacy is the reason that NATO invested in creating a network resistant to a quantum attack. Even though quantum computers do not pose an immediate threat, failproof algorithms to protect against quantum computing have not been developed. Instead, NATO relied on a VPN system.
The difficulty in protecting against quantum attacks was seen when ‘Rainbow,’ an algorithm that was meant to protect against a hacking attack from a quantum computer, was hacked by a normal laptop.
Quantum supremacy is the ability of a quantum computer to perform a calculation that a classical computer, even a supercomputer, cannot perform in a reasonable timeframe. Quantum supremacy, though far off, would spell the end of how the internet currently functions. It would require major changes in data transfers, financial transactions and blockchain, all of which are fundamental to how the internet works at the moment.
Despite recent advances, there is a lot of debate about how close quantum supremacy is to being achieved. Many people, both industry experts and professors, argue that the threat of quantum is a hype and it does not pose a significant threat.
What about quantum computing stocks?
Even if there is no immediate threat from quantum computing, it is still a critical area for development and investment. There are lots of different methods for investing in quantum computing because there are different aspects of developing efficient, effective quantum computers, as well as companies working on quantum-proofing different aspects of our current internet.
Some of the most important quantum computing companies are developing hardware and software. The hardware of quantum computers is key to increasing quantum computing power. Decoherence means that the hardware challenge is perhaps the most significant.
There are special divisions working on quantum computing in many large companies, including Google and IBM. There are specialist companies working on semiconductors, like Analog Devices. Other quantum computing companies specialize in designing and producing quantum chips, like Nvidia and Ambarella.
Other start-ups in the quantum hardware space focus on avoiding decoherence and maximizing the quantum computing power currently available. For example, Maybell Quantum has released a new system called ‘icebox’, which cools a whole system of superconducting wires and processors to sufficiently low temperatures to prevent interference and decoherence.
There are also companies working using machine learning to control the individual qubits in quantum computers. But, because much of this work is preliminary, it is wise to invest in a range of sorts of companies operating in the quantum space.
As quantum computers have developed, companies have made them available to the public. It is possible to buy the power of quantum computing as a service over the cloud without actually owning one. This is helpful for both academics and people in industry, enabling them to perform very large calculations and process a lot of data without having to buy a quantum computer. This service is available through a range of companies, including Honeywell, IBM, Google, and Amazon.
No one knows what the future of quantum computing will hold. NATO’s recent investment of resources in quantum-proofing its network indicates that quantum supremacy is likely on the horizon. However, it is impossible to tell when, how or in what form quantum computing will become mainstream. This level of uncertainty means that it is very difficult to know which the best quantum
“Quantum computing has a hype problem,” Sankar Das Sarmaarchive, MIT Technology Review, March 28, 2022. https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/03/28/1048355/quantum-computing-has-a-hype-problem/
computing stocks to buy will be. Having a diverse portfolio of different sorts of quantum computing stocks might be the most effective way to take advantage of this sector.
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