Defence firm Raytheon and IBM are building a technical collaboration team for research into quantum-proof cryptography and AI, in a new partnership that will also see them work to "quickly insert" IBM's existing commercial technologies into active aerospace, defense and intelligence programs, in a boost for Big Blue.
Raytheon has been conducting extensive research into quantum technologies from quantum computing itself, through to materials, photonics and more. IBM meanwhile has been a vocal advocate of quantum computing R&D; building a large research community around its publicly available Q Experience platform.
Noting that AI and quantum technologies "give aerospace and government customers the ability to design systems more quickly, better secure their communications networks and improve decision-making processes", Raytheon Technologies CTO Mark E. Russell pointed out that they also pose emerging risks.
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The Raytheon CTO said: "As computing and quantum technologies advance, existing cybersecurity and cryptography methods are at risk of becoming vulnerable. IBM and Raytheon Technologies will now be able to collaboratively help customers maintain secure communications and defend their networks better."
"The rapid advancement of quantum computing and its exponential capabilities has spawned one of the greatest technological races in recent history – one that demands unprecedented agility and speed," added Dario Gil, senior VP, IBM, and director of research, in a release shared October 11.
The race is firmly on to ensure quantum-secure public key cryptography ("improved" quantum-resistant mathematical problems) and also to build quantum key distribution (QKD) networks that rely on quantum mechanics to transmit crypto keys. The former has been led since 2016 by NIST -- which has been running a post-quantum cryptography standardisation project, involving extensive work to select algorithms that might replace current classical-security standards in applications. It now has eight finalists.
As PQShield's Ali El Kaafarani recently noted in The Stack: "Traditionally, public key cryptography relies on mathematical problems (integer factorisation and discrete logarithm) that are difficult for classical computers to solve given their computational limitations. But as early as 1994, Shor’s algorithm proved just how easy these problems would be to solve with a large-scale quantum computer. Since then, the cryptographic community has been hard at work developing new, quantum-resistant solutions that go way beyond the mathematical problems used in public key cryptography, and that promise to stand the test of time." (El Kaafarani believes that "within two to three years, we can expect the new post-quantum cryptography standards to become a requirement for anyone working with the US government, critical infrastructure and likely in other critical fields".)
While the building blocks of classical computing are “bits” that use the 0 and 1 vocabulary of binary code, quantum computers use “qubits” that draw on two-state quantum-mechanical systems. In theory – because quantum computers can also process multiple values simultaneously – this makes quantum computers infinitely more powerful than any supercomputer. They remain error-prone, hard to scale and require novel mathematical schemes to compensate for external “noise” however. They are also challenging to programme: unlike classical computers that have at the lowest-level, circuits that use ANDs and ORs and NOTs and XORs – that is, binary gates – quantum computers use different kinds of gates like CNOTs and Hadamards that require entirely different sets of instructions. Huge amounts of R&D spending is going into the sector however and progress has been significant in recent years.
Just this week, for example, researchers from The University of Maryland and IonQ, Inc. published results in the journal Nature that show a significant breakthrough in error correction technology for quantum computers. Working with scientists from Duke University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, they demonstrated for the first time how quantum computers can overcome quantum computing errors (using "fault-tolerant circuits for the preparation, measurement, rotation and stabilizer measurement of a Bacon–Shor logical qubit using 13 trapped ion qubits" for those tracking the sector closely), something the researchers believe could remove a key technical obstacle to large-scale use cases like financial market prediction or drug discovery.