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Quantinuum’s new cybersecurity project signals that the future of quantum computing is—maybe, finally— here

December 2, 2021, 4:05 AM UTC

The quantum-computing future is here, almost.

After decades of slow-but-steady progress, it appears that the use of ultra-powerful quantum computers in practical scenarios is finally becoming a reality. That’s according to Quantinuum president and COO Tony Uttley, who said his company will unveil a major cybersecurity quantum project sometime next week.

“We’re going to be launching our flagship offering that is using today’s quantum computers—in fact, our own H Series quantum computers—to do something that’s valuable. It is in the area of cybersecurity,” he said at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif., this week. Uttley withheld any more specifics, except to say that while quantum computers “can be a threat, it turns out they can also be a tool to prevent that same threat.”

The announcement came during a larger discussion about the usefulness of quantum computers and their potential to crack most of the encryption that’s in use today. Both Uttley and Pete Shadbolt, co-founder and chief scientific officer of PsiQuantum, said that now is an especially exciting time for the field, thanks to the hope that these computers will be able to solve problems millions and billions of times faster than their traditional counterparts.

“Quantum computing is an idea that is now decades old, and [it’s] where corporations, governments, startups are spending huge amounts of money, time, and energy,” Shadbolt said. “It’s really unlocking otherwise impossible tasks and those tasks span pretty [much] every industry on the planet: automotive, aerospace, finance, health care, climate. You name it, we know of potentially profoundly impactful applications for quantum computers.”

Uttley agreed, comparing the leap forward in quantum computing to the inventions of the conventional computer or the Internet. “It is one of the most profound technologies that we will have,” he said. “That’s why the promise of pharmaceuticals and new materials, ways to be able to sequester carbon, problems that are shaping our own environment [and] humanity right now, are things that hold the promise to be tackled with quantum computing.”

Of course, with every advancement in technology comes the risk that someone will eventually use it for wrongdoing. But according to Shadbolt, who cited a study by the National Security Agency on the topic, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to quantum computers’ ability to overpower current technological defenses.

“Yeah, we expect that when we build large quantum computers, we will be able to break the majority of encryption that we use on the Internet today. And that would be very bad if we did not do anything about it,” he said. “We’re actually seeing governments, financial organizations, a whole bunch of people around the world starting to get organized around that transition. The apocalypse scenario that you can dream up probably isn’t going to happen, but it is going to be a lot of work for people, for sure.”

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