Quantum Computing NSA Round-Up


Ever since the Edward Snowden-provided news broke that the NSA spent in excess of $100M on quantum computing I meant to address this in a blog post. But Robert R. Tucci beat me to it and has some very interesting speculations to add.

He also picked up on this quantum computing article in the South China Morning Post reporting on research efforts in mainland China.  Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, it is light on technical details. Apparently China follows a shotgun approach of funding all sorts of quantum computing research. The race truly seems to be on.

Not only is China investing in a High Magnetic Field Laboratory to rival the work conducted at the US based NHMFL, but there is also Prof. Wang Haohua’s efforts based on superconducting circuitry.

Interestingly, the latter may very well follow a script that Geordie Rose was speculating on when I asked him where he thinks competition in the hardware space may one day originate from.  The smart move for an enterprising Chinese researcher would be to take the government’s seed money, and focus on retracing a technological path that has already proven to be commercially successful.  This won’t get the government an implementation of Shor’s algorithm any faster, but adiabatic factorization may be a consolation prize.  After all, that one was already made in China.

But do the NSA revelations really change anything?  Hopefully it will add some fuel to the research efforts, but at this point this will be the only effect.  The NSA has many conventional ways to listen in on the mostly unsecured Internet traffic.  On the other hand RSA with a sufficiently long key length is still safe.  For now if customers were to switch to email that is hardened in this way it’ll certainly make the snoops’ job significantly harder.

34 thoughts on “Quantum Computing NSA Round-Up

  1. Hi Henning: Thanks for the latest posting. A lot of speculation galore about quantum computing!. By the way, Robert Tucci attempted to give some sketchy details about “Kane quantum computer” to our friend, Scott Aaronson, in the form of comments on his(Scott’s) latest blog. See comments # 39(mine!), 40, 41, 42, 43 and 48. Scott seems to have taken offence at Robert’s “speculation”!. He (Scott) is generally NOT that thin-skinned. I was mildly surprised. Live & learn!. Here is Scott’s latest blog. http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/
    “Boson Sampling Lecture Notes from Rio”

    1. Only notice poster Curious getting all hot and bothered. Scott seems to ignore the speculation. I.e. he answered your decoherence question but that’s it, or do you think that he also posts with the Curious handle? Don’t think that’s the case.

  2. Sol Warda, speculating about the NSA is not so bad, is it?

    I think that you, as a non-US citizen, should be more concerned about the NSA than you seem to be. The NSA has no constraints when it comes to snooping on non US citizens.. Check out this article

    Also note that the NSA doesn’t have a stellar record, even before Edward Snowden came along
    Check out this article

    Also note that the Internet was developed by DARPA as a non-classified project, which seems to be quite different to what is happening with quantum computers

  3. Henning: I assumed that it was Scott using the pseudonym “Curious”, for perhaps political or even legal reasons!. But, you maybe be right. It could be somebody else.

    Robert Tucci: I’m a Canadian citizen & don’t know anything about the NSA or US politics in general. I Don’t pay any attention to them!. If NSA wants to snoop on me!, they can go ahead till Kingdom come & won’t find a single thing of interest to them!.

    1. Thanks Sol, good to see that D-Wave seems to keep to its schedule. The bigger question though is what to do beyond the 1000 qubit size. D-Wave currently doesn’t have an error correction, and this probably puts a damper on how far they can scale with the current architecture.

        1. Sat down with one of the authors when he came to Waterloo but have been asked to not blog about this until it is properly published.

          Anyhow, the question if D-Wave can attain quantum speed-up with its current architecture remains open as the absence of evidence is no evidence for absence.

          The data will provide both camps with plenty of arguments, but cannot settle the question.

          1. I thought everyone commented on public preprints, but fair enough. Still, while the absence of evidence is no evidence for absence, it’s is equally (more?) true that it’s clearly not evidence of presence.

          2. This paper clearly deserves its own post and I want to make sure that the co-author, the one I am having my bet with, feels free to post in the comment thread.

            Also need to confirm with him that this is indeed the paper in question (although I am pretty sure it is).

  4. Henning: I came across this interesting video. Dr. Collin Williams, Director of Business Development at D-Wave, compares the Gate model vs. the Adiabatic model. He also talks about error correction. Also, recently I read an abstract of a new paper by the scientists under Dr. Daniel Lidar of USC, about successfully doing an error correction on their current 512-qubit chip. Unfortunately, I can’t find that paper!. You may have better luck in finding it.

    1. You may be thinking of this paper. My understanding is that the error correction is in the encoding i.e. does not require hardware modification but reduces the number of useable qubits.

      I was more thinking along the lines of incorporating error correction into the chip design. Don’t really know to what extend that is possible but it seems to me as you get a better handle on how you can encode for error correction you can probably also tailor the chip to better support it.

      The need for error correction is certainly there, it’s the biggest concern I heard from people who are coding for the chip.

  5. Henning: I just learned that Scott is writing a new blog about the above paper in the arxiv. Wait & see the firestorm that will undoubtedly erupt!. So, perhaps it’s best that take your time in writing your own blog. There will probably be dozens of blogs on this paper, both pros & cons!. It should be lots of fun in the next few weeks!. Thanks.

    1. Well, the post is out and no “firestorm” yet, unless you’re talking about stray arguments regarding Extended Church Turing and the viability of quantum computing in general. Really, very little erupting over the paper itself, and Scott’s take on it. I think there is a reason for that . . . .

      1. Will obviously have to blog about this, although my betting buddy is terribly conservative. He informed me that since this is a pre-print he does not want to comment on it until the peer review has been completed 🙁

          1. The peer review will be completed in time for the Google+ soiree? Or, do his co-authors take a more liberal view? In any event, you should go ahead and provide your analysis.

          2. Peer review can take forever so I doubt it’ll be done by then.

            No idea why he is so much more conservative about this in comparison to the other authors, but he is very consistent. While his name is brandished about quite often, he has not left a single online trace commenting on the matter.

      2. Mike: I’m REALLY surprised that there are so very few comments about the main topic of his blog, or about the paper in question, or about D-Wave in general. You say you think “there is a reason for that….”. OK Mike, tell me what YOU think is the reason. Thanks.

        1. Well Sol, I think it’s pretty easy. It must be that most of those who understand enough about the field to feel qualified to reply don’t have any substantial disagreements with Scott’s conclusions. Perhaps there are those who disagree with the tone or at the margins, but as I said above, as far as the paper goes: res ipsa loquitur.

    1. Won’t blog on it until I hear back from my ‘mystery’ betting buddy who co-authored the paper. After all there is Maple Syrup and Cheese at stake. Betting is serious business!

      Looks like I will have to concede the first round, pretty close though.

      Anyhow stay tuned for the big reveal 🙂

        1. Thanks for the link! First Google+ hang-out I definitely don’t want to miss. Pretty sure he will get back to me before then.

        2. Just realized this collides with a doctor’s appointment of mine (hurt my shoulder in a skating accident may be a muscle tear).


          Hope there will be a recording.

  6. Henning: Don’t worry about losing your bet!. I just might help you in covering the cost of the Maple syrup!!. It’s the Canadian thing to do!.

  7. Thanks Mike: I have my own theory as to why, especially in light of Scott publishing a new blog the following day about “Sean Carroll & Falsifiability!”. Here it’s for all it’s worth: I believe he is afraid of a class action lawsuit from the employees of D-wave and its investors if this company fails, because he would be accused of defamatory info. & inciting businesses & the public by demonizing them & devaluing their company. What do you think of this?.

  8. A mundane question: Are there any estimates of the market potential of quantum computers?

    The reason I am asking: I am supporting clients with getting classical cryptography to work – and even something as “simple” as switching algorithms from SHA-1 to SHA-2 or using hardware security modules can be quite challenging due to organizational reasons (people still know what to do in X years) or compatibility reasons (dumb ancient devices don’t understand modern algorithms).

    1. There’s an estimate of $26B for the market size 05-20.

      No market is insignificant enough to not have some analysts trying to make money of it. If you want to now know how they get to this number you have to pony up thousands of dollars to purchase the report. But at least they are clear on having to include R&D budgets to get to this inflated number.

      Quantum Cryptography is much further along. But there won’t be a pressing need for it for quite a while. To be useful Shore’s algorithm requires tens of thousands of qubits and gate model based universal QC. While you never know what happens in classified projects I doubt anybody will get close to this for many years to come. Good classical cryptography is still good enough at this point.

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