Herman: Waging war on quantum
(Forbes) The message from so-called quantum skeptics for a decade or more has been quantum computing is a mirage. Even worse, it’s a hoax. The skeptic messengers are physicists like Gil Kalai of Hebrew University and Mikhail Dyankov of the University of Montepellier—all in spite of the fact that quantum computers have continued to grow in sophistication and qubit power.
But earlier this month a group of offshore short sellers appropriately named Scorpion Capital used these dubious claims to attack and drive down the share price of the first quantum computer company to go public, Maryland-based IonQ. The danger is that investors and the public will assume from this vicious and misleading attack that today’s quantum industry runs entirely on hype rather than achievement—an assumption that could ultimately threaten our national security.
At almost the same time as Scorpion was trying to kill off IonQ, the White House released two executive orders regarding quantum technology. The first establishes a new Quantum Advisory Committee to oversee the next stage in the National Quantum Initiative passed in 2018, to further more advances in quantum information science including computing. The second, National Security Memorandum 10, follows a January memorandum we discussed in an earlier column. It sets a series of deadlines for government agencies to get their information systems ready for the day when the quantum computer threat will be real
No one is saying the Scorpion Capital short-sellers are in Chinese pay, or that skeptics like Dyankov and Kalai are knowingly putting their countries at risk. But waging war on the U.S. quantum industry can have serious consequences, unless quantum companies and labs show that they are not intimidated, and reassure the public that the quantum future doesn’t rest on hype but significant achievements—achievements that will make our country and our world safer, stronger, and more confident about our future as a whole.
Meanwhile, reports here at the Quantum Alliance Initiative have demonstrated what the significant costs would be when that day comes and our power grid and financial sectors aren’t ready. Those reports are a wake-up call to the private sector to integrate the standards for post-quantum cryptography (PQC) or quantum-resistant algorithms now being prepared by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), into their networks and encrypted data.
Ironically, it was in the middle of this flurry of activity on the quantum front, that quantum skeptics suddenly found a voice with Scorpion’s sting.
Those skeptics (whose articles are quoted in the Scorpion attack) ignore the fact that what makes quantum computing feasible now and in the future, is the interface with conventional computer systems for reading out and interpreting results.
The danger is that attacks like Scorpion that smear the entire quantum enterprise may spook investors.
Here’s the other danger. If companies and even governments become convinced that large-scale code breaking quantum computers are an impossibility or even “a hoax,” and decide they put off protecting data and networks using PQC or entanglement-based quantum cryptography that creates essentially hack-proof communication links, then the national security implications could be severe.
Sandra K. Helsel, Ph.D. has been researching and reporting on frontier technologies since 1990. She has her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.