One of the attractive qualities of Bitcoin, as a cryptocurrency, is that it is cryptographically secure from being solved or hacked by the computational power of current computing technology. Theoretically, it will remain safe until a giant leap in computing power is made real, by the likes of quantum computing. A recent breakthrough by Google’s researchers could mean that day is coming soon, but those who know better say there’s still no reason to fear.
The Financial Times recently reported that Google now quantum computer capable of calculating the answer to an equation that would take the most advanced conventional computer 10,000 years to solve. “To our knowledge, this experiment marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor,” the researchers wrote.
Before anyone goes and declares Bitcoin dead however, the limits of Google’s research has to be understood. This is not a quantum computer capable of solving just any problem. It was built to specifically solve one specific and highly technical problem, and has no use beyond that. The researchers admitted that even by their own estimates, solving practical problems was years away.
So Bitcoin is safe from Google’s computing power, even by their own estimates, for some time to come. But will quantum computing ever be a threat to cryptocurrencies?
According to Dr. Craig Wright, creator of the original Bitcoin and its current form, Bitcoin SV (BSV), it looks unlikely. “Large-scale quantum computing is not in anyway analogous to classical computing,” he wrote in his April 2018 paper “Bitcoin and Quantum Computing.” “In the early days of classical computers, large, expensive machines were required to do simple calculations. Over time and along with developments in technology the economics of classical computing has led to rapid advances and increasingly available computer power.”
But whereas conventional computers have become common place, he expects quantum computers to remain niche. “It is unlikely in fact highly improbable that any small-scale low energy quantum computer will ever exist,” he explains. “For this to be wrong, it is not simply a matter of discovering new technology but that our existing knowledge of physics and particles must be radically misaligned to reality. The result is that quantum computing even if it is possible will remain in the realm of large data centres and government facilities.”
In that way, Google is very much a large data center, and they aren’t even close to cracking the nut of quantum computing just yet. To fear that a rogue actor could suddenly turn quantum computing against Bitcoin is unreasonable.
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