In May 2018, Australian physicist Gavin Brennen shared his team’s research into how quantum computing would affect blockchain. Jeffrey Tucker reported: “He began with his frustration over the headlines that swept the tech world last October and November. They were as alarmist as they were misleading.”
Scaremongering around how quantum computers will disrupt the security of blockchain technology is often exaggerated and not balanced with the possible solutions or counterplays to defend against the underdeveloped hardware left out.
Future iterations of quantum computers have the potential to reach speeds which are far greater than conventional computers, performing the calculations that blockchain is built on at a much faster rate. Quantum computers would use less energy and pose the threat of hijacking mining operations, redirecting currency and centralizing the network. With a powerful enough quantum computer, you would be able to crack the private key associated with a given public key, undermining the security of the blockchain.
Brennen and his team explored scenarios and made estimates of timeframes in which the technology would sufficiently develop to achieve this. Their research goes onto explain how current application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) hardware is performing proof of work (PoW) computations at hash rates of 14TH/s, which is one thousand times faster than the current gate speeds for quantum architectures which run at 66.7MHz (equates to 13.8GH/s). At the current difficulty level, this gives quantum computers no advantage. Future advancements in the development of quantum technology could see gate speeds of up to 100GHz. Quantum computers would then surpass current technology in its ability to solve the PoW algorithm.
Quantum computers’ future development
The development of hardware achieving these speeds, given the current progression is predicted to fall at the end of the decade, by which time advancements will have been made in ASICs similarly. Many large companies are well underway with research into quantum computing so in the next ten years technology may grow and develop around it. IBM has been making progress with its own quantum processor, with Intel getting closer to that reality as well. Scientists have been delving into silicon-laced diamonds and basic silicon as a means of manufacturing quantum architecture. Both Google and Microsoft are looking to develop cloud-based solutions and new coding languages for the technology. With a widespread availability of the technology and blockchain developing alongside the growth of this technology, it is unlikely for it to have such a detrimental impact.
Gavin also detailed several post-quantum signature schemes that help defend against quantum attacks, with at least four classes of known fixes, all of which are achievable by programmers today. A ten-year head start is ample time to improve on and further develop them into a protocol.
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