Bitcoin Is Not Threatened By Claimed Google’s Quantum Supremacy
Not yet but Bitcoin will have to evolve like the whole industry…
Quantum computing represents a serious threat to Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. This feared threat became a little more real at the end of last week following the publication by Google of a scientific paper detailing how the Mountain View giant claims to have achieved quantum supremacy.
Google Claims To Have Achieved Quantum Supremacy
The quantum supremacy that Google would have achieved is something that many technology giants including IBM have been chasing for several years now. In concrete terms, this means that Google would have developed a computer capable of performing quantum calculations without simulation and that this computer could perform calculations that are impossible to simulate in a conventional computer.
The computational power of a quantum computer is measured in qubits. As a reminder, in quantum computing, a qubit is the quantum state that represents the smallest storage unit. It is the quantum analog of the bit.
Google’s efforts in quantum computing are not new. The Mountain View firm was already hoping to achieve this quantum supremacy in 2017 with a 72-qubit system, but it had proved too unstable. The Google researchers had therefore decided to lighten their system to 53 qubits.
It is precisely with this 53-qubit computer, called Sycamore, that Google managed to perform a very complex calculation in just 200 seconds where the most powerful supercomputer in the world should have worked continuously for more than 10000 years to achieve this!
IBM Minimizes The Result Obtained By Google
The scientific paper published by Google was then very quickly removed without reasons given by Google. Nevertheless, this paper had already had time to get a lot of ink flowing in the computer world. The other actors aiming for quantum supremacy for a long time were therefore quick to react.
Very advanced on the subject, with its new 53-qubit quantum computer that should be launched in October, IBM refuses to admit that Google has reached this famous Grail.
For Big Blue, the quantum computer built by Google was exclusively designed to perform a very precise calculation and its use cannot, therefore, be generalized. As a reminder, IBM had already succeeded in November 2017 in running a 50-qubit system for 90 microseconds. Finally, Intel is not to be outdone on the subject since the company presented a very promising 49-qubit processor at the CES in Las Vegas in 2018.
We do not yet know why Google quickly withdrew its scientific paper, and therefore if it has really achieved this famous quantum supremacy, but we are well aware that the race for quantum supremacy that these different players will engage in will allow the sector to progress at high speed in the years to come.
A Threat To Bitcoin
Quantum computing represents a threat to the cryptographic algorithms on which the Bitcoin Blockchain is based. Indeed, the Bitcoin consensus algorithm, the Proof-of-Work (PoW), is based on the SHA-256 while the ECDSA (Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm) is used to create private and public key pairs.
For many scientists, if the cryptographic algorithms used by Bitcoin are not theoretically resistant to quantum power, it will still take a long time before any computer, quantum or otherwise, can really threaten Bitcoin’s security.
Nevertheless, what worries me in the scientific paper published by Google is that the firm’s researchers are seriously considering the possibility of doubling the power in qubits each year. This would go beyond Moore’s law and give Google the possibility of having a quantum computer capable of breaking military encryption as early as 2024!
In the short term, Bitcoin could switch to SHA-512 or a stronger encryption algorithm, but this would ultimately only delay the time at which quantum technology would overcome the security offered by this type of cryptography algorithm.
New Cryptographic Algorithms Must Be Created
The speed at which the power of quantum computers could grow raises questions well beyond Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. All sectors will have to adapt in the next 10 to 20 years.
The problem has already been taken very seriously by the NSA for a long time. NSA researchers have been working for several years on the creation of new cryptographic algorithms that would resist the phenomenal computational power of the quantum computers of the future.
The aim of the NSA is to protect itself from potential attacks by foreign powers against its strategic interests.
Thus, as Andreas Antonopoulos, author of many authoritative books on Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, points out very well, if Bitcoin could be threatened in the future by quantum computers, it will probably not be the main target. Indeed, Bitcoin currently represents only a financial windfall of $175 billion. That’s a lot and a little at a time.
Potential hackers would rather target banks or state secrets by trying to steal nuclear weapons codes and then demand ransoms from certain countries. In short, Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies would not be the main targets.
Quantum-Resilient Blockchain Projects Are Emerging
Well aware that the subject will become more and more important in the coming years, some have already begun to position themselves in the sector. This is particularly the case with the Quantum Resistant Ledger cryptocurrency project, which aims to create a Blockchain resistant to the power of quantum computers.
For Jack Matier, a team member of Quantum Resistant Ledger, the threat to the Bitcoin is much closer than some would suggest. He talks about risks in 2 to 5 years. Such pessimism may not be totally disinterested.
Known as the godfather of digital cash and inventor of many cryptographic protocols, David Chaum is also working on a project of a quantum-resistant cryptocurrency. His Praxxis project is built to resist attack threats represented by Shor’s algorithm in particular.
To do this, Praxxis develops a mechanism of signatures resistant to quantum power within its consensus mechanism.
However, to successfully harness quantum power and threaten the safety of Bitcoin, a scientific paper from the Centre for Cryptocurrency Research and Engineering highlights several fundamental requirements. Among these prerequisites is the need to have 1500 qubits of power available…
Bitcoin is therefore not threatened in the immediate future and owners of cryptocurrencies can rest easy.
Bitcoin Will Have To Evolve Like The Rest Of The Industry
If Bitcoin is not threatened in the immediate future, it is certain that it will have to evolve and adapt to the new threat posed by quantum computing. Nevertheless, it will not be the only one in this case since all industries will have to do the same in order to protect themselves from attacks exploiting the power of quantum computers.
In this regard, another reason not to be alarmed is that it is unlikely that quantum computers will be made available to individuals in the future. Indeed, the materials needed to build a quantum computer are very expensive, which would result in far too high costs.
Technology giants, from Google to IBM to Microsoft, are instead looking to a future in which they would make available the computing power of their quantum computers to users through the cloud. All this allows them to keep control of this technology and to consolidate their growing hegemony in the world of technology.
The question is whether the fact that such power is in the hands of Google or Microsoft is a good thing. But this is another subject to which I will discuss in the future.