Remember 1999? The internet was pretty cool then wasn’t it? Everyone went on to show how advanced they were over fuddy-duddy old newspapers and holiday bookings, or to look for lost loves, who turned out be a little tired and aged-looking, to put it mildly. Since when, we have all blithely loaded everything-bank and financial records, medical reports, legal documents, and gigabytes of sensitive commercial information. A whole technology has grown up to support this need, with bits like satellites, clouds, servers, cables and all kinds of tecchy stuff that only people with serious deficits in their social lives can understand. And all of it protected by cryptographic algorithms, which are entirely proof against hacking and cracking. Or so their creators blithely assure us.
Up to now, that is. Because the power of Quantum Computing  is soon going to be so awesome that it will slice through current defences faster than a journalist through a bottle of gin. We’ve a couple of links to bring you up to speed today, including an excellent baseline articles by David Castelvecchi for Nature.  We’ll let our experts expound on the technical stuff, because what we want to do here is concentrate on the social implications. Clearly no company, institution or Government Department is going to be safe. As for individuals- your bank accounts savings and identity documents will all be wide open. So will e mails and posts on things like whatsapp. You may have undergone medical procedures which are unknown to current partners or employers. Visited web sites or carried out searches which were entirely private. They will not be so any longer. Intimate pictures of friends and family, even addresses will be public. And if you’re thinking “I’ll be careful in the future, but no one will see what I’ve done up to now”, think again. As David points out, teams of hackers are already gathering data on everything that’s already going on, so they can break it when the quantum algorithms become available. And when we consider that the best and most ruthless hacking teams are based in Russia and its satellite nations, we cannot assume this power will be used for the good.
Could any good come of this? According to a leading entrepreneur in computer technologies told us that 25% of the world’s power consumption goes on the internet. If it collapsed, that might get us a long way nearer our targets on global warming. Something to think about indeed.
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