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By GCN Staff

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Can quantum speed code-breaking tech?

Editor's note: This post was changed to correct the likely location of the NSA's quantum cryptology research.

The federal government is concentrating more of its scientific assets in an effort to build a quantum computer, the next stage in computing that promises to deliver breakthroughs in medical and scientific research, including code-breaking and encryption.

The Commerce Department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland just announced the creation of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS).

QuICS is being launched with the “support and participation” of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service,” according to the announcement. It will also complement quantum research performed at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), established in 2006 by UMD, NIST and the NSA.  

The center will act a “venue for groundbreaking basic research to build our capacity for quantum research,” NIST Acting Director Willie May said in announcing the center.  Scientists at the center will conduct basic research to understand how quantum systems can be best used to store, transport and process information.

It will also likely further the NSA's interests in pursuing quantum technology in the race to create a computer capable of breaking existing public key encryption and many forms of web security.

According to documents provided  by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the effort to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer”  is part of research program called  “Penetrating Hard Targets” that is likely being conducted at the Laboratory for Physical Sciences at UMD.

According to reports on the Snowden leaks, NSA believes it is running even with the European Union and Switzerland in achieving potential breakthrough in developing quantum computing capabilities.

The QuICS will bring even more academic and government resources to bear on NSA’s goal. To get there, topics QuICS researchers will initially examine include:

  • Understanding how quantum mechanics informs computation and communication theories.
  • Determining what insights computer science can shed on quantum computing.
  • Investigating the consequences of quantum information theory for fundamental physics.
  • Developing practical applications for theoretical advances in quantum computation and communication.

Creation of the center will enable some of the most experienced researchers in government and academia to pursue these challenges, according to its organizers.

Dianne O'Leary, a computer science professor at UMD and Jacob Taylor, a NIST physicist, will serve as co-directors of the new center.

“The capabilities of today's embedded and high-performance computer architectures have limited advances in critical areas, such as modeling the physical world, improving sensors and securing communications,” they said in an announcement.

“Quantum computing could enable us to break through some of these barriers.”

UMD and NIST have a history of collaboration, noted UMD President Wallace Loh, who said new quantum program, “will team some of the best minds in physics, computer science and engineering to overcome the limitations of current computing systems."

Posted by GCN Staff on Nov 05, 2014 at 5:55 AM


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