Could quantum computing render encryption useless? Quantum computer is quickly becoming a reality as MIT and University of Innsbruck researchers have proven that a scalable computer can be created using 5 individual atoms. The possibilities of such an efficient and fast system would render encryptions, like RSA, useless. (via MIT)


MIT researchers have made the first real step of solving the big classical issues of factoring utilizing quantum computing. For a while now researchers have been trying to create and use quantum computers which utilize single atoms to generate zeros and ones, but it has been to hard to implement – especially when dealing with more than one atom.


MIT and University of Innsbruck researchers have come up with the first step in making a scalable quantum computing system that uses five atoms. The team was able to stabilize the atoms and know exactly where they are in space by ionizing each calcium atom (taking an electron from each) and trapping them within an electric field. Then, they are able to change the states of each individual atom by use of a laser to perform ‘logic gates’ which can act out algorithms.


The amazing thing about using atomic ions to perform algorithms is that they can be in a multitude of states simultaneously instead of just registering as zero or one to form each bit of data (used in traditional computers). Within a quantum computer, each atom can register as both zero and one simultaneously – making it possible to run two different calculations simultaneously. These different, atomic-scale units are called ‘qubits’. When an atom is performing parallel operations, lasers are used to create a ‘superposition,’ which makes qubits possible.


Within the new quantum computing system developed by Issac L. Chuang and his team, each atom can be in two different energy states at the same time (again, called a superposition). Lasers are used to entice superpositions for 4 of the 5 atoms within their computer and the 5th atom is used to store, forward, extract, and recycle the data.


All of this is basically a scientific way of saying that this latest innovation in quantum computing makes it easier to do way more with way less resources. In order to prove this point, this scientific team put their computer to the test by having it demonstrate factoring using Shor’s algorithm: the most efficient algorithm ever created to factor numbers. However, factoring becomes extremely time consuming and difficult – even for the best technology we have on hand. Hence, this new conceptual computer’s ability to successfully handle Shor’s algorithm with more success and ease than other models is a worthy proof of concept.


However, before you get too excited, know that they only factored the number 15 using their new quantum computer design and Shor’s algorithm. It was able to do so successfully 99% of the time, which is a great breakthrough in this particular field. It still may be a little while until this type of technology is scaled up to tackle bigger problems and become a stable in commercial and consumer computers alike.


For now, everyone is just ecstatic that the computer actually works and is using 5 single atoms to get the job done – something that seemed improbable before. The design is supposed to be scalable, so with enough funding future scientists can easily build a computer that uses 15, 20, or 100 individual atoms. For the future, the emergence of this technology means that encryption technology based upon factoring will become obsolete. Currently, factorial encryption is used to protect everything from banking information to national secrets. Hence, now would be the time to come up with a better solution to online security.


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