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UK joins quantum arms race with first computer

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The UK government has reportedly acquired its first quantum computer in a landmark moment which should help to boost its research capabilities in cyber-defense and other critical areas of national security.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is set to work with UK company Orca Computing to explore the potential of quantum to enhance the nation’s defenses, according to the BBC.

Stephen Till of the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) reportedly called it a “milestone moment.”

Spun out of research developed at the University of Oxford, Orca Computing’s mission is to develop scalable quantum computers that integrate with real-world technologies. This is a challenge for current prototypes, primarily because they must keep the qubits on which they run at extremely cold temperatures or they become unstable.

Orca Computing claims to have found a way to operate quantum computing that does not require this. Moreover, optical fiber can be used for networks rather than silicon, further enhancing scale and reliability.

The applications of quantum are almost limitless. Qubits can be both zero and one simultaneously, so the time it takes to process data and make calculations is far shorter than that of conventional supercomputers.

In cybersecurity circles, this has led to warnings that Shor’s algorithm may be cracked within a decade, rendering asymmetric (PKI) encryption practically useless.

David Mahdi, cryptographic expert and chief strategy officer at Sectigo, argued that governments and organizations must therefore begin preparing for the new age of quantum computing now.

“For more than fifty years, public key infrastructure, or PKI, has been relied upon by almost all organizations to provide the cryptographic backbone which secures devices and the humans using them,” he added.

“Like most things, nothing lasts, and the PKI we all rely upon to maintain digital trust is severely threatened by quantum computing.”

Future systems will therefore have to be designed with “quantum safety” in mind. The MoD will be hoping that its latest move will give it an advantage in this new technology arms race.

The news comes at a time of heightened development in quantum technology. In April. BT, Toshiba and EY announced the launch of a world-first commercial trial of a quantum secured metro network (QSMN). The infrastructure aims to connect various customers across London, securing the transmission of valuable data and information between multiple physical locations over standard fiber-optic links using quantum key distribution (QKD).

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