Quantum computing is the next big thing, or at least it is in the eyes of futurists and scientists. The proposed technology promises faster compute speeds beyond anything currently available. The crazy thing is that we're almost there, and that's mostly a good thing. The only concern is that quantum computing may be used for purposes that don't benefit mankind in the slightest, and of course the NSA is at the forefront of that endeavor.
The Washington Post reports that the NSA is working on a quantum computer that would be able to crack nearly every type of encryption currently available. The plans, which were revealed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden, detail a $79.7 million research program dedicated to the creation of a quantum computer.
So, what is a quantum computer? In short, a quantum computer is a computing machine that's built on the theory of quantum mechanics. As the Washington Post explains, a quantum computer is unlike a traditional computer in that it communicates using quantum bits which can exist as zeroes and ones simultaneously. Theoretically, this would allow a computer to reach a solution much more quickly.
As you can imagine, a quantum computer would be a major benefit to nearly everyone, including the NSA. It's already been shown that the NSA broke the encryption protocols employed by the big guys at Google and Yahoo. Upon that revelation, both companies moved to employ new encryption methods that could take the NSA months to crack. With a quantum computer, they could theoretically reduce the time needed to crack new encryption methods to just a few weeks.
A quantum computer in the hands of the NSA is a pretty scary thought, but it's nowhere near completion yet. The leaked documents show that the agency is making steady progress, but its own efforts are only matching the pace seen in public quantum computing projects in Europe. Barring a significant breakthrough, those quantum computers are still years away, and the NSA's own quantum computer is likely still just in the experimental stage at this point.
Regardless, the mere fact that the NSA is building a quantum computer is cause for concern. Quantum computers will one day benefit humanity in many ways, but its unfortunate that the technology might also be abused.
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