The NSA is trying to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” as part of an $US80 million project called “Penetrating Hard Targets,” reports the Washington Post.
Quantum computers operate in a dramatically different way from regular computers — the latter run on bits, digital representations of one and zero, the former run on quantum bits, called qubits. These qubits can represent one, zero, or one and zero at the same time.
Quantum computers are thus able to make computations in a way that is completely impossible for standard computers. They can crunch numbers at a far more rapid pace, and this makes them potentially invaluable tools for breaking codes, the very business that the NSA is in.
Privacy advocates needn’t panic just yet. There’s no solid proof that the NSA has yet built such an uber-machine, and many think they’re nowhere near the goal of realising one. Scott Aaronson, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, says “it seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it.”
MIT professor Seth Lloyd (who has an unrelated theory on the existence of alien life) adds that “The E.U. and Switzerland have made significant advances over the last decade and have caught up to the U.S. in quantum computing technology.”
This is dense stuff, so if you’re lost in the woods with all this quantum talk, the video below serves as an excellent intro to what this is all about.