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Quantum Physics And The Big Data Question

Will quantum theory impact on how we collect and use data?

21Oct

We have spent a considerable amount of time discussing the implications that quantum computing may well have on big data and computing power in the coming years, but it may be another aspect of quantum theory that could see the biggest change.

Quantum computing, essentially allows computer bits to operate in three states, rather than the two states in current technologies. Essentially, when you turn on your computer and load a file, play music or even just move your mouse around on the screen, you are causing bits to be either turned on or off. The sequencing of these switches then powers whatever you see on your screen. With quantum computing, instead of bits, they use qubits, which aren’t just on or off, qubits can be on, off or on and off. It is a difficult concept to get your head around, but the most important thing to know is that it means computers that work thousands of times faster than regular computers.

The implications of this for data is clear - think in-memory speeds accelerated to beyond anything you could imagine today - but quantum physics may actually have a bigger impact on data in the future than simply the way that we run our computers. Through quantum entanglement, we may have the first unhackable data transfer process and the fasted method of communication.

Quantum entanglement essentially ‘binds’ two particles together, with changes occurring to one of the two entangled particles having the same effect of the other. This can technically happen at huge distances, essentially if one of the pair is changed on one side of the universe, it will still have the same result on the other. At present the record is over 300km, held by NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Kanagawa, Japan, with instantaneous changes occurring in two entangled particles.

The implications of this for data is huge, as it would basically create a way of transporting data with no way of intercepting it, unless you had the other particle. This technology is not some kind of far off sci-fi vision of the future either, we are already seeing the beginnings of it today.

China recently made headlines when it launched what the country billed as a ‘hack-proof’ satellite. The technology they are using in the satellite is quantum entanglement, but at present it isn’t necessarily doing much communicating, instead it has been launched to allow for ‘[A] two-year mission…to develop ‘hack-proof’ quantum communications, allowing users to send messages securely and at speeds faster than light’, according to the Xinhua new agency. It may be some years off that we are going to see this become a widespread way of communicating data, but with the developments that China and others are making it is not so distant that it seems unfeasible.

One aspect that few are talking about is that it may actually speed up the development and spread of quantum computing as some of the security concerns that many have about the technology would no longer be relevant. For instance Konstantinos Karagiannis, BT Security's Global Technical Lead of Ethical Hacking told Vice in 2014 that Quantum computing ‘will instantly change the world of encryption.’ This is because the speed of quantum computers will allow them to quickly get through current encryption techniques such as public-key cryptography (PK) and even break the Data Encryption Standard (DES) put forward by the US Government.

If data can only be communicated between two particles in the same state, it means that there is no way that this could happen. Although this wouldn’t necessarily be the case once the data is communicated, as storage on current technologies will still use these kinds of technologies, it stops anything being collected when it moves between two places. This negates a significant amount of the threat and may even have implications for the storage of data in the future.

So in the future we may see a concept originally conceived by Albert Einstein making the computers and data transfer of today, look like little more than punch cards. 

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