Flickr / zcopleyIf you don’t know what Bitcoin is, you should. This digital currency has captured lots of attention as the value of a single unit recently surged to over $200.
Venture capitalist Chris Dixon points out in a tweet that the emerging field of quantum computing might totally ruin Bitcoins, but this doesn’t seem to actually be the case.
To simplify the idea dramatically, a quantum computer effortlessly outperforms a conventional computer by operating in a totally different way. Your personal computer interacts with data by representing it as “bits” – ones and zeroes. But a quantum computer deals in “qubits,” which represent data as ones, zeroes, or the quantum state between the two. With the ability address more data at a time, quantum computers become tremendously powerful tools for a number of fields.
This might sound troubling to the Bitcoin world, as it’s built upon cryptography to function properly. Bitcoins are generated only as computers break codes to unlock them, and the time required to break these codes is figured in to controlling inflation and stability. But it seems that if these super-powered quantum computers started crunching numbers to earn Bitcoins, they could throw the currency out of balance. Furthermore, there’s the idea that they could even break Bitcoin security entirely.
But this isn’t so, according to Bitcoin.
True quantum computers are so tremendously specialised that consumer access just isn’t feasible yet. The D-Wave quantum computer that’s often written about (and that Lockheed Martin just paid $10 million for) is usually touted as proof of concept, but Bitcoin says it’s “not a quantum computer of a kind that could be used for cryptography.”
And when there are quantum computers for cryptography, Bitcoin will still be OK. Its security “was designed to be upgraded in a forward compatible way and could be upgraded if this were considered an imminent threat.”
Even if or when quantum computing should somehow catch up with Bitcoin security, there’s already a field called post-quantum cryptography, which exists solely to encrypt data such that quantum computers can’t crack it.
So mine away. The value of the Bitcoin may fluctuate greatly, but it won’t have anything to do with security threats.