Quantum computing: A new generation of compute power

At the recent ITWC Digital Transformation Conference, Dr. Ketaki Desai, Vice President, Business Development, with the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI) moderated a panel of quantum computing experts exploring how businesses should be preparing for the impact of quantum computing. Technology writer Steve Prentice was on hand and shared his thought on what he heard. 

Over the past few years, data breaches and ransomware have grown into a world-dominating industry, with events happening daily. In fact, in 2020, in the US alone, there were 65,000 ransomware attacks – working out to seven every hour. They have closed down hospitals, affected water treatment plants and electric power grids, and it is highly likely that your personal data is already out there somewhere on the dark market, being used as fodder for phishing and social engineering crimes. But there is something even darker on the horizon: Y2Q.

Most cybercrimes committed today involve humans, since they continue to be the weakest link. Clicking in response to an urgent message such as “your bank account has been frozen” is an instinctive reaction that doesn’t allow for second thought. Similarly, cybercriminals who talk their way into a password re-set by using old personal data purchased off the dark web make it easy for them to penetrate companies of any size, even Twitter.

But the reason humans are exploited in this way is because hacking directly into an organization has, overall, become too difficult and costly. Encryption and password techniques, when used properly, mean a bad actor must commit to hundreds of thousands of hours, possibly even hundreds or thousands of years to decrypt and break into well-protected environments.

But that will not remain the case. Experts now believe that quantum computing that is capable of breaking current RSA encryption will be available by 2026. In fact in the quantum and cybersecurity industries there is a term called Y2Q: the year where quantum code-cracking becomes a serious problem.

If cybercriminals get the upper hand in quantum computing, then companies worldwide lay exposed, their encryption reduced to wax that will soften and liquefy in mere hours instead of centuries. The criminal side of humanity has always been a leader in innovation, and without condoning their activity outright, it is worth the time for every leader, strategist, and management team to regularly observe the brilliance and innovation that criminals put into their trade, especially in discovering vulnerabilities, workarounds, and weaknesses.

But like all other innovations, quantum computing does not belong only to the bad actors. It represents the next great leap forward in computing generally and should be a topic of conversation at every C-suite table. As its sophistication and accessibility grows daily, organizations stand to benefit in two major sectors at least: the first being to improve cybersecurity defenses faster than the criminals can exploit them, and the second to be to leverage its enormous computing power to create better products and solutions in every industry.

Quantum computing is not just for end products, of course, but is the engine behind innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning, two processes that generally run in the background, and that make communication and collaboration technologies, cloud, employee education (including virtual reality and augmented reality), hybrid workplace scenarios, and so much more, happen in ways that deliver immediate benefits.

Canada already stands as a world leader in the quantum computing space. From industry stalwarts like IBM through to aggressive startups, we are making great strides in the research, development and deployment of quantum computing solutions, and our universities are preparing highly qualified people to take these innovations further.

The term quantum computing has a science-fiction-like ring to it, which often becomes something of a conceptual barrier to senior decision makers, who feel prone to hand the issue back to IT. But the same could have been said of the words “internet” or “WiFi” at one time. We are in an arms race or a space race of sorts at this moment, with the new generation of computing power at its heart. It therefore, deserves to be a topic of dedicated and consistent conversation for leadership in organizations of any size.

You can watch the complete discussion with Christian Weedbrook, CEO, Xanadu, Bob Sutor, Chief Quantum Executive, IBM, and Timothy Hirzel, Chief Orquestra Evangelist at Zapata Computing here.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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