Quantum computing could ‘break Bitcoin and fight global food shortages’

A quantum computer could break the encryption of Bitcoin and simulate a key molecule in the fight against global food shortages and climate change, according to new research.

Quantum computing companies Universal Quantum, Qu&Co, and the University of Sussex, who carried out the research, said that the paper demonstrates that a quantum computer with 13 million physical qubits – the basic unit for quantum information – could break Bitcoin encryption within a day, while a 300 million qubit computer could break it in just an hour.

“Four years ago, we estimated that a trapped ion quantum computer would need a billion physical qubits to break RSA encryption, which is the standard method of encrypting communication today, equating to a size 100m2,” said Mark Webber, quantum architect at Universal Quantum and the paper’s lead author, who embarked on the research whilst studying for a PhD at the University of Sussex. “With innovations across the board, the size of the computer would now just need to be 2.5m2 .

“State-of-the-art quantum computers today only have 50-100 qubits. Our estimated requirement of 13-300 million physical qubits suggests Bitcoin should be considered safe from a quantum attack for now, but quantum computing technologies are scaling quickly with regular breakthroughs affecting such estimates and making them a very possible scenario within the next 10 years.”

Hunger and climate change

The scientists also looked at the potential of quantum computers to help tackle hunger and climate issues through testing the simulation of the FeMoco molecule.

According Universal Quantum, the FeMoco molecule is important for converting nitrogen in the air into ammonia, which could then be used for fertilisers.

“We are currently spending around 2 per cent of the world energy supply on just this process, so a better understanding of the FeMoco molecule could greatly improve efficiency in this field with immense positive impact on world food scarcity and the climate crisis,” added Webber. “But these two use cases are the tip of the iceberg, we’re only just starting to understand the impact on society for reaching quantum advantage.”

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