When you think of “entanglement” what comes to mind? Knotty problems? Sticky situations? If you’re like me…and the committee that awards the Nobel Prize in Physics,,,, you think of all that and quantum mechanics – and the science behind quantum computing.
This year’s prizes have just been announced and the Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger for their quantum mechanics experiments that have broad implications for secure information transfer and quantum computing. Their work – carried out independently from the early 1970s onwards – set out to prove or disprove the quantum mechanics critical phenomenon of entanglement, when two particles, such as a pair of photons or electrons, remain connected even when separated by vast distances.
The prize awarded to the three physicists underlines the importance of quantum information science as a domain that will offer future innovation and discoveries. Quantum information science (QIS) is the emerging field that combines quantum mechanics with the information science concepts that form the foundation of traditional computing. The QIS field is where many advancements in quantum computers and quantum algorithms are made.
In the QIS space, theory has preceded real-world implementation. For example, Shor’s algorithm was discovered in 1994. Shor’s is the algorithm that shows how a quantum computer can break traditional public key cryptography. This was discussed in a colleague’s previous blog, A Bridge To Post-Quantum Cryptography. It took a couple of decades more before there was any experimental proof that an actual quantum computer could reliably run Shor’s algorithm to factor a small number.
The Nobel Prize in Physics 2022 recognizes the challenge and the importance of advancements resulting in actual implementations of the concepts theorized by scientists working on quantum computing theory. The three scientists recognized by the Nobel Committee this week have provided the foundational work that now underlies the state-of-the-art quantum computers being researched, developed, and refined at companies like IBM, Google, and Microsoft.
No doubt Nobel would be stunned if not amazed at how our understanding of and insight into science and technology has advanced since his life in the 19th century. So, perhaps you are wondering where dynamite fits into this story? It’s fairly straightforward: Probably Nobel’s greatest innovation was the discovery of dynamite when he mixed liquid nitroglycerine with fine sand, allowing it to be formed into rods.
Some might say the achievements of Aspect, Clauser, and Zeilinger have been equally explosive in their own right, advancing our understanding of quantum information science. The quantum computers that are born out of these discoveries have the potential to provide exponentially more powerful computers, which will revolutionize fields from materials and drug discovery to finance. However, these systems could also brute force their way through even our strongest digital defenses and crack modern cryptographic methods such as RSA and Elliptic Curve Cryptography in days or even hours. That is why the time to start migrating to post-quantum cryptography is now.