Researchers in China, a country hostile to bitcoin and decentralized cryptos, are claiming they’ve matched Google’s so-called “quantum supremacy,” again raising questions over potential of China to destroy Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in a post-quantum computer world.
Bitcoin uses complex mathematical equations to secure its supply and transactions. Last year, Google announced it had built a quantum computer that can solve formerly impossible mathematical calculations—with some fearing bitcoin could be at risk.
“This achievement firmly established our country’s leading position in international quantum computing research,” a team of researchers in China said, according to a paper published in the journal Science on Thursday, outlining how their Jiuzhang prototype quantum computer took just over three minutes to complete a task the world’s fastest traditional computer would take more than 600 million years solve—which is almost 100tn times faster than today’s supercomputers.
While, it’s thought the Jiuzhang machine is unable to solve the factoring problem that is crucial to decoding encrypted data, according to a quantum researcher quoted by the South China Morning Post, some people see China’s development as further evidence that quantum computer research is growing and could soon have real-world ramifications.
“Scientists are close to useful quantum machines that can do something non-trivial,” Lu Chaoyang, a professor in charge of the experiment at USTC, told the Financial Times.
“There are still people who question whether quantum computers will be a reality,” added Richard Murray, chief executive of London-based quantum computing company ORCA. “With two systems [Google’s and China’s] having achieved this benchmark, that argument is sounding quite unlikely.”
Exactly what quantum computers will mean for bitcoin, other cryptocurrencies and the internet itself is a matter of fierce debate among computer experts.
“Quantum computers are posing a serious challenge to the security of the bitcoin blockchain,” wrote blockchain and cryptography researchers at the consultancy Deloitte. “Quantum computers might eventually become so fast that they will undermine the bitcoin transaction process. In this case the security of the bitcoin blockchain will be fundamentally broken.”
Despite the developments by China and Google, this scenario is still some distance away, with Deloitte’s team suggesting the risk of quantum computers to bitcoin could be offset by a “transition to a new type of cryptography called ‘post-quantum cryptography’, which is considered to be resistant to quantum attacks.”
“Quantum computing is a very special purpose machine,” technology philosopher George Gilder, who has written extensively on the intersection of technology, economic growth and prosperity, told the Mind Matters podcast last month. “You may be able to to build [a quantum computer] that can break one form of encryption but there are all sorts of ways to circumvent the threat that quantum computing poses to bitcoin and other such encryption-based technologies.”
“Don’t dump your bitcoins yet,” Dragos Ilie, a quantum computing and encryption researcher at Imperial College London, said in the aftermath of Google’s quantum computer announcement in 2019.
China may have taken a “leading position in international quantum computing research” but bitcoin is still secure and China cannot destroy it—for now.