The latest intelligence leak from Edward Snowden may be the most science-fiction-like revelation yet: The National Security Agency is building a quantum computer, a machine thousands of times faster than the fastest computers on the planet.
The NSA acknowledged in 2009 that its research includes quantum computing. But now we know that such technology could be used to further bypass privacy encryptions on the Web.
“A working quantum computer would open the door to easily breaking the strongest encryption tools in use today,” explains The Washington Post, which first reported the leak Thursday.
The NSA is not alone in the arms race for the world’s most powerful computer. NASA, along with Google and the Universities Space Research Association, purchased a $10 million version of the machine in 2012 from Canadian company D-Wave Systems. The trio seeks to apply the machine in areas ranging from air traffic control and robotics to the search for habitable planets.
Scientists say the value of quantum computers will be making sense or “optimizing” a world with increasingly complicated sets of data. The NSA, on the other hand, has bigger fish to fry than most. Its hypothetical large-scale quantum computer could crack not only the digital tools used to protect online shoppers’ financial transactions, but state secrets, too.
Quantum computers are a complete rethinking of computing. Traditional computers — even the most sophisticated ones — still rely on transistors, electrical circuits that are either switched on or off, producing the lines of 1s and zeros that make up computer processing.
A quantum computer isn’t limited by 1s and zeros. It introduces many more levels of complexity by tapping into the weird physics of electrons, which can operate in several states simultaneously. Quantum computers introduce many shades of 1 and zero. Or to make your head explode, a qubit (a quantum bit) can be both a 1 and a zero at the same time.
And here’s why that’s a game changer: “Dividing or multiplying numbers is fairly easy for any computer, but determining the factors of a really large 500- or 600-digit number is next to impossible for classical computers,” explains National Geographic. “But quantum computers can process these numbers easily and simultaneously.” And modern-day encryption, explains the University of Waterloo, more or less relies on “math problems that are too tough to solve.”
Just explaining how quantum computing works requires talking in multiple universes. It’s that crazy. But the machines are finicky, and still in the earliest stages of development. The NASA-Google computer needs to be shielded from the Earth’s electromagnetic field, and it takes a month to calibrate.
The NSA appears to feel the same time and resource constraints that the space agency is dealing with. “Although the full extent of the agency’s research remains unknown, the documents provided by Snowden suggest that the NSA is no closer to success than others in the scientific community,” The Post writes.
While some scientists say NASA’s machine, which researchers began testing this past fall, is not a true quantum computer, the agency says that “it will be the most powerful in the world.” The latest NSA leak may suggest otherwise.
What We're Following See More »
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz "will not have a major speaking role or preside over daily convention proceedings this week," and is under increasing pressure to resign. The DNC Rules Committee on Saturday named Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge as "permanent chair of the convention." At issue: internal DNC emails leaked by Wikileaks that show how "the DNC favored Clinton during the primary and tried to take down Bernie Sanders by questioning his religion."
- A Rasmussen Reports poll shows Donald Trump ahead of Hillary Clinton, 43%-42%, the fourth week in a row he's led the poll (one of the few poll in which he's led consistently of late).
- A Reuters/Ipsos survey shows Clinton leading 40%-36%. In a four-way race, she maintains her four-point lead, 39%-35%, with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein pulling 7% and 3%, respectively.
- And the LA Times/USC daily tracking poll shows a dead heat, with Trump ahead by about half a percentage point.
In an election between two candidates around 70 years of age, millennials strongly prefer one over the other. Hillary Clinton has a 47%-30% edge among votes 18 to 29. She also leads 46%-36% among voters aged 30 to 44.
According to an online tracking poll released by New Latino Voice, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump among Latino voters, attracting support from 81 percent of Latino voters, to just 12 percent support for Trump. The results of this poll are consistent with those from a series of other surveys conducted by various organizations. With Pew Research predicting the 2016 electorate will be 12 percent Hispanic, which would be the highest ever, Trump could be in serious trouble if he can't close the gap.