Bits vs Qubits - A quantum leap for computing power?
Developing new medicines, advancing artificial intelligence, long-term weather forecasts: quantum computers could achieve all of this with their fast computing power. That is why research and large corporations are pushing ahead with development. Quantum computers can break digital encryption in an impressively short time, which is still state-of-the-art today. That is why not only intelligence services and the military are interested in this technology, but also cyber criminals. The latter are already memorising worthwhile targets so that they can strike immediately when the time is right.
Scientists are eagerly awaiting the use of quantum computers. Understandable, because the performance of a normal PC to that of a quantum computer is about the same as that of a tricycle to that of a rocket vehicle.
What makes quantum computers so fast?
Traditional computers work with bits. A bit knows two states: 1 (current on) or 0 (current off).
Quantum computers, on the other hand, work with qubits, which are formed from quanta. These are the smallest possible particles, e.g. neutrons, electrons or photons. Their advantage: In addition to the state 1 or 0, they can be 1 and 0 at the same time. And theoretically an infinite number of states in between. A popular comparison is with a coin. As a bit, it shows heads or tails. As a qubit, on the other hand, it has just been flipped up and is spinning around itself so fast that it can be in several states at the same time. Quantum physics calls this state “superposition”. As a result, quantum bits can represent and process more data simultaneously than “normal” bits.
But that’s not all. The quanta can also network with each other. When loaded with information, a qubit is brought into a different state. This also changes the state of the qubits networked with it. Since this happens at superluminal speed, a quantum computer calculates at superluminal speed.
Qubits – (not) quite cool
But there is a big catch. The super-fast qubits are always in motion and difficult to control. They are only calm when they are cooled to absolute zero (-273.15°C). This takes several days. Huge cooling systems and energy are needed to keep them at this temperature.
At the same time, qubits are sensitive and have to be shielded against vibrations or electric and magnetic fields. And new ways must also be found for programming, since quanta obey their very own laws.
So there are still years of research ahead of us before the first quantum computers are used outside research or computing centres.
One man’s joy, another man’s sorrow
Even if quantum computers do not yet pose a threat to data security, you should prepare for them now. Identify important systems that need to be converted to new types of encryption. Regularly check the results for completeness in order to be able to act quickly if necessary. The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has also already published recommendations for action.