The Blockchain has been touted as a revolutionary technology which is poised to bring disruption to a range of domains: industry, commerce, governance, law, politics – the list seems endless but at least one risk has appeared on the horizon now, calling into question its longer-term viability.
Blockchain technology’s core features of transparency and security arise from mathematical puzzles that underlie a consensus mechanism which, in turn, helps define how the individual nodes of a network communicate with each other and agree upon the data that they will process and store, all without the need for trust.
One problem, however, is that consensus mechanisms also work from the assumption that no-one has the ability to out-compute the rest of the network. With the advent of Quantum Computing, however, the theoretical limits of traditional computing are set to be blown apart – implying that the blockchain’s inherent security may not be so secure after all.
The Race is On
It is not all doom-and-gloom just yet, however. Quantum Computing is in an embryonic stage and offers up what are currently theoretical challenges to the assumptions which underpin blockchain security.
There are some Quantum Computers in existence but these are inordinately expensive, limited and need to be housed in a cryogenic environment that can offer the kinds of temperatures that ordinarily are only found in deep space.
Of the relatively few number of quantum computers that do exist, these generally only incorporate a small number of qubits – the quantum analogical equivalent of a binary bit which, thanks to the quantum property of superposition, can reflect more than the two states associated with a traditional bit. As such, a 32-bit traditional computer will be simply no match for a 32-qubit quantum computer.
According to some analysts, however, we are still another ten years away from anyone managing to build the kind of quantum computer that places blockchain security at risk. IBM claims to have built a 50-qubit machine, although it is thought that this can only generate a quantum state for an infinitesimal fraction of a second, thus limiting its use cases.
That should leave time, then, for some people to actively explore solutions to the Blockchain’s Sword of Damocles. Some of these people make up the project team behind quantum1net, who are organising an ICO to finance – in part – cryptographic key generation mechanisms derived from quantum-optic devices; the kinds of keys that even quantum computers will have a hard time cracking, and thus extending the blockchain’s life-expectancy.
“The Blockchain’s conception of immutability can be corrupted via Quantum computing, putting all mining and wallets at risk, but the solution to that risk also lies within quantum itself,” states Mattias Bergstrom, CEO of Quantum1Net.
The blockchain start-up has already developed a prototype of what that solution should look like, and is now undertaking an ICO to finance its deployment, along with a suite of other solutions that are setting out to tackle the risks posed to existing security infrastructure thrown up by the impending quantum revolution.
Quantum Computing is, however, still at a very embryonic stage and it is perhaps too soon to make a call on what its overall implications will be. On the other hand, we can already determine some of its limitations.
“Quantum computing of the future is likely to be cloud-based,” states Dario Gil, an IBM Quantum Computing Researcher, in a recent presentation to the MIT Venture Capital & Innovation group . “It requires operation in a deep-freeze environment – so it’s unlikely you’ll be seeing quantum processors on your mobile phone any time soon.”