Thinking Tech

The next big thing in computers

The next big thing in computers

Posting in Environment

The future of computing may be in quantum computing in the cloud. If successful it will be incredibly powerful, fast and mobile.

Computing as we know it will change dramatically in the next decade. Digital computing has reached a potential limit in terms of power, size of chips, and ever-decreasing costs. Otherwise referred to as the end of the prediction called Moore’s Law, this is what we are facing, an arrested development as it were.

The other big thing on the horizon is cloud computing, where we substitute our hard drives of data for life on another server, in the cloud. Cloud computing offers computing as a network service, like the electricity grid, that we plug into to send and retrieve information. But here major privacy issues may erupt. After all the information is being sent to another's server.

One savior for both challenges may be the quantum computer. A recent study published in Science finds that quantum computing may be perfect for the cloud. But having data “out there” on the Internet as opposed to in your hard drive at home brings up privacy risks. The solution recently laid out in the paper is called “blind quantum computing.”

But let’s back up and explain quantum computing.

Its advantage comes from a computational unit called a qubit. So in computers as we typically know them today, a digital bit of data can take the form of either a 0 or a 1. The fascinating and fortunate thing with quantum computing is that a qubit can be both 0 and 1 simultaneously. Quantum computing uses photons that are sent over long distances and have operations performed on them to encode the data.

Researchers are hopeful that qubits will be able to perform tasks we simply cannot do today with digital computing. Among the top most-wanted: The ability to protect and crack encrypted communication.

With quantum computing information can be sent via cloud services like Google Docs with privacy intact.

Essentially blind computing means the data can be worked and manipulated without ever being revealed.

Right now quantum computing and cryptography remain a distant reward limited to labs, but in this recent paper scientists believe we only need to find a way to make qubits at home, while the complicated work of quantum computing can be done securely in the cloud.

"Quantum physics solves one of the key challenges in distributed computing. It can preserve data privacy when users interact with remote computing centers," Stefanie Barz of the University of Veinna and lead author of the study, said in a publicly released statement.

As explained in a recent piece from the BBC news:

A user would send single qubits - each perfectly secure - to a remote computer, along with a recipe for the measurements to be made.

The process is completely clear to the user - for example, finding all the numbers that multiply together to reach the number 2,012 - but because the number 2,012 is encrypted, the instructions appear to be a series of random steps on an unknown number.

The remote computer blindly "entangles" the unknown bits, carries out the steps, and sends the qubits back down the line, solving the problem without ever decoding what is going on.

The team built a system demonstrating that the approach works, using a number of computational steps that might make up future computing scenarios.

Essentially this means the person who produces the qubits knows their state (or entanglement) and can decipher the outcome. But the people who do the data processing will not be able to decode the qubits. Basically the data would look like a bunch of nonsensical commands.

This research is a good first step towards realizing a possibility of having quantum computing widely available to the public, within the realm of cloud computing. Although right now the only organizations that can afford quantum computing are governments, mega-corporations, or the military. At least these recent studies promise hyper-secure computing for such organizations.

Still what is not there is the hyper-powerful quantum computer itself, although as the BBC noted earlier this January a computer could deal with 84 qubits at once. Scientists note in the abstract: This computation is the largest experimental implementation of a scientifically meaningful quantum algorithm that has been done to date.

Cost, size and complexity all need to significantly decrease, however, before quantum computing can become a reality in the consumer cloud.

[via BBC]

Share this

Christie Nicholson

Contributing Writer

Christie Nicholson produces and hosts Scientific American's podcasts 60-Second Mind and 60-Second Science and is an on-air contributor for Slate, Babelgum, Scientific American, Discovery Channel and Science Channel. She has spoken at MIT/Stanford VLAB, SXSW Interactive, the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, the Space Studies Board and Brookhaven National Laboratory. She holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Dalhousie University in Canada. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure