We’ve seen an increasing number of misconceptions being spread about what quantum technology will be able to do. Admittedly, it is a complicated technology but we are concerned that overblown expectations can lead to a Quantum Winter or unwarranted investments being made in quantum technology due to misunderstandings. So in this article we are highlighting some of the more obvious misconceptions about quantum technology that we have heard recently among the general public. We have actually seen three cases in the past week where one or more of these misconceptions was mentioned or implied!
Misconception 1: Entanglement Will Enable Information Transfer Faster than the Speed of Light
When people first hear about the entanglement phenomena, they come to the conclusion that this will allow information transfer faster than the speed of light. If this were true, it would have an enormous impact on things like financial markets since it would enable arbitrage that would allow traders to take advantage of slight differences in stock prices in different location. While entanglement does allow two physically separated parties to simultaneously measure random bit streams and get the same result even if they are light years apart, RANDOM BIT STREAMS ≠ INFORMATION. The QKD schemes that have developed can leverage this entanglement phenomena but they also require sending classical data between the two communication parties in order to complete the information transfer. Although many people have tried to develop a scheme to circumvent this fact, certain fundamental laws of quantum physics, like the No-Cloning Theorem prevent this from happening.
Misconception 2: If We Just Implemented Quantum Resistant Encryption Technologies, like PQC or QKD, All of Our Cybersecurity Issues Would Go Away
Although the threat of a quantum computer being able to break the encryption algorithms we are using today to secure the internet is real, there are many, many more ways that computer systems are vulnerable to hackers that are still possible even when quantum resistant encryption technologies are employed. Like many things, most of the vulnerabilities can be due to human issues rather than technological issues. These could include phishing attacks, rogue employees, physical system security, and software bugs. These issues will cause the vast majority of cybersecurity problems for now and in the future. Unfortunately, this fact doesn’t get in the way of market forecasts presented by companies working on quantum communication. We recently saw a slide deck that showed a Gartner forecast estimating the cybersecurity market to be about $194 billion by 2024. But what is not said in the slide is that the quantum resistant encryption portion of this amount ( the PQC and QKD portions) will be less than 5% of this total spend. Unfortunately, cybersecurity is a multi-headed beast and you must combat all the different threats in order to be fully secure.
Misconception 3: Although It May Take 50 Years or More, Eventually Quantum Will Completely Replace All Classical Computation and Communication Approaches
In the 1920’s, some people predicted that the future of transportation would be flying cars. The argument was that this would solve the problem of congested city streets that they were starting to experience. Of course, this never happened. While there is still talk of flying cars, no one is predicting today that the bulk of local transportation will be accomplished with flying cars. The reasons have to do with cost, conflicting requirements and safety. On the other hand, people in the 1950’s were predicting that vacuum tubes based computers would be replaced by ones that were based upon transistor technology. This forecast did indeed come to pass for reasons based upon size, power, performance and most important of all, cost. Our belief is that quantum versus classical will turn out to be more similar to the flying car situation for several reasons. First, there are a great many commonly used algorithms algorithms that cannot be sped up with a quantum approach. Quantum applications are only viable if a specific algorithm is found that can compute something with exponentially fewer operations than classical. And most computational tasks are not like that. In addition, quantum devices are much more costly to produce than classical computers and no one has ever shown a roadmap these devices can ever be manufactured cheaper than a classical microprocessor. So the future computing environment will always contain a combination of classical and quantum devices much like airplanes and automobiles are used in combination today. Similar arguments can be made for networking technologies because even though quantum networking may have some advantages with regards to functionality, the classical approach will always have the edge in both raw performance and cost. So the future will be classical and quantum working together and not quantum completely replacing classical.
May 15, 2021