Next-level Tech, Blockchain Greening, and the Privacy Paradox
The major success of blockchain technology is the decentralization of access to opaque financial processes
The intrinsic goal of quantum computers is to solve problems that are (practically speaking) impossible for traditional computers
As the use cases for blockchain technology evolve beyond financial and interactive purposes, the breakthrough research on quantum computing will help mainstream this computing power into our daily activities
Quantum Computing 101
Quantum computing is an area of research that has continuously remained fascinating and thought-provoking to everyone involved in computation, data, and database management. As a physicist, I have examined the range of exposure that quantum computing affords us as we reveal the inner-workings of our natural environment through scientific discovery. Diving deeper into the research of computing at the quantum level, let us examine the quality of problems that we expect to encounter in this field.
The Benefit of the Blockchain
The word “quantum” refers to the minimum level of existence of matter. Any object described or interacted with at a quantum level provides much needed information. Prior to the discussions around quantum computing, traditional computing processes have improved human life immeasurably.
More recently, blockchain technology provides a framework for the advancement and recalibration of financial operations. The major success of the technology was the decentralization of access to traditionally opaque processes through distributed ledger technology. Another success is that blockchain technology decreases the bureaucratic layers involved in monetary or investment solutions by increasing the efficiency of such processes through “trustless” solutions that have reduced transaction costs. Note: trustless refers to a code-only operation devoid of need of human input.
Despite this, blockchain technology has failed to gain operational consensus. The general concern is around finding the proper balance across the core properties of blockchain technology: decentralization, scalability, and security. Some consider scalability to be the most intractable of these features because it seems to be a relative measure with infinite metrics. However, the question of scalability and efficiency leads us to the intersection between blockchain and Quantum Computing.
Environmental concerns about cryptocurrencies mining have provoked hair-splitting arguments globally. By way of example, Bitcoin mining is an electrically inefficient process mostly because it involves the use of highly sophisticated computer hardware to resolve complex mathematical equations. More specifically, in order to “mine” a new “block” (of code), the miner must find a solution to this computational problem, which will then add the block to the blockchain by an algorithmically-engineered consensus mechanism. The miner who successfully finds the solution is rewarded for the new block in BTC. The process requires greater and greater energy to complete, the more adoption of bitcoin grows.
Unfortunately, with the current state of technology, Bitcoin’s carbon footprint is often considered offensive to the environment. According to an article by the New York Times, mining Bitcoin consumes about 91 terawatt-hours of electricity annually, which is more than the total energy consumption of Finland. But there are certainly other takes, and statistics, for example Bitcoin consumes .7% of China’s electricity, and 1.7% of the US.
On the flip side, there is a growing consensus the deployment of quantum computing for cryptocurrency mining will reduce energy consumption and mitigate environment degradation. Quantum mining reinforces the narrative about energy efficiency and the scaling of mining activities. As mentioned above, the intrinsic goal of quantum computers is to solve problems that are (practically speaking) impossible for traditional computers. For example, a quantum computer should be able to complete a task in minutes/seconds, whereas a traditional computer would require thousands of years to accomplish. Consequently, these computing power gains could also help improve the energy efficiency associated with blockchain mining.
Quantum Computing is Energy Efficient
The electricity consumption of the quantum computer is less than 100 to 1,000 times that of traditional computers. This reduction is called quantum tunneling. “Tunneling” in this context may look out of place and create the impression of burrowing through a surface. However, imagine a round ball rolling on a surface that has enough kinetic energy to keep rolling until it encounters a barrier or surface. For the ball to get across to the other side of the barrier, its total energy (kinetic and potential) must be greater than that of the barrier (about 2X the power). If the energy of the ball is less than that of the barrier, the ball will fall back to the position where it was originally. The ball only gets to the other side of the barrier if its kinetic energy is at least two times that of the barrier. Surprisingly, quantum particles behave differently than the ball. Instead of being stopped by the barrier, they have a wavelike form that enables them to evolve and spread (or “tunnel”) to the other side of the barrier as though they burrowed through it. It’s this “tunneling” where the efficiency gains are found.
The State of Quantum Computing
Quantum computing also adds extra-layer security through data encryption and privacy by producing fluid binary identities so that hackers cannot gain access sensitive data. Conversely, due to a feature of quantum computing (superposition), quantum computers are able to crack encrypted data by rendering the prime factors of complex numbers from exponential to polynomial. We could call this quantum’s privacy paradox.
In 2017, Google claimed that it had achieved quantum supremacy. In research led by John Martinis, an experimental physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Google said that its quantum computer, the 54-qubit processor, Sycamore, performed a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years. However, it should be noted that the team at IBM argued that Google’s idea of quantum supremacy was misleading: “Google’s experiment is an excellent demonstration of the progress in superconducting-based quantum computing, showing state-of-the-art gate fidelities on a 53-qubit device, but it should not be viewed as proof that quantum computers are “supreme” over classical computers.”
Cautious Optimism on Quantum Mechanics
Despite the advancement in the development of quantum computers, cautious optimism should continue to be exercised because there are still intrinsic problems that have made it difficult to develop beyond the current state of research in this field. The advancement of solid-state physics, through the development of microchips like silicon atoms, still needs to resolve the interference that quantum computers face from heat and electricity. Quantum computers also have a high-error threshold of about 1%, and any kind of vibration impacts the subatomic particles involved, which causes decoherence.
As the use-cases for blockchain technology evolve beyond financial and interactive purposes, the breakthrough research on quantum computing will help bring the blockchain into more facets of our daily lives. We are looking at a future where blockchain will help tackle complex combinatorial problems like genome-sequencing to help fight the various strains of a disease-causing micro-organism, developing complex computing models, and material designs for engineering structures.
The main problem with the post-quantum cryptography algorithms under consideration for medical intervention and genetic studies is the need for longer numeric encryption keys to ensure adequate security and a longer processing time. All these could substantially increase the amount of computing energy needed to power blockchains. But with such things, our persistent search for the next quantum leap in innovations will be uncertain, even after we’ve jumped.
Joshua Kayce-Ogbonna is a writer, columnist, and capital markets enthusiast.
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