So the world's most clandestine spy agency is working on something called a quantum computer, The Washington Post tells us.
It's based on rules Einstein himself described as " spooky ," and it can crack almost any code. That's got to be top-secret stuff, right? Guess again.
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The second physicist I called for today's story, a guy named Christopher Monroe at the University of Maryland, not only knew the National Security Agency did this research; he had actually worked with the agency. The reasons for trying to build a quantum computer are no secret. Most of the world's computers encrypt their data using very large s.
To break the code, spy agencies have to divide the s by other s — prime s. Finding the right prime s can take a while.
That's where a quantum computer comes in. Most computers work using bits of data — ones and zeros.
The bits in quantum computers can be both one and zero at the same time. What's more, these quantum bits can all be interconnected in a fundamental way. Known as entanglementthis connecting of bits effectively allows the computer to try many s at once.
A code that was impossible to break could be cracked in weeks, days — maybe even hours. That's why the NSA needs to pay attention to quantum computers. While the NSA's interest is clear, the documents leaked by Edward Snowden to the Washington Post seem to indicate that the agency's progress on a quantum computer is slow.
The modest advances described in one area, semiconducting quantum bits, seem to be roughly equal to what's happening in the open world.
Aaronson's not surprised. Quantum computers are fragile and very, very difficult to build. It could be decades, or even centuries, before one is fully realized.
The NSA needs to be involved with what scientists are doing, but it doesn't need to spend billions on a crash program to build a quantum computer. It already has plenty of ways to read people's s.
The National Security Agency is pursuing a new kind of computer that could crack almost any code, codes like the ones that protect and bank s and medical records, that revelation today courtesy of leaker Edward Snowden. The documents were published in the Washington Post. As NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel reports, this code-cracking project is still in its infancy.
It's based on rules Einstein himself described as spooky.
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He's not surprised the NSA is involved. To break the code, spy agencies have to divide the s by other s, prime s.
Finding the right prime s can take awhile. And again, all you have to do is add another digit, it gets twice as hard.
You can add another hundred digits, and forget it, you won't be able to ever do it. Rather than just trying one at a time, it can try all the s.
And that's why the NSA needs to be working on quantum computers. MONROE: If you think about it, it would be worrisome if they would not pay attention to this field because it could shake them to their roots. If somebody comes up with a quantum computer, and they're not prepared for it, that would not be good for this country.
They're really hard to build. BRUMFIEL: The documents leak today seemed to indicate the agency hasn't made much more progress than researchers like Monroe, and as another researcher pointed out to me, the NSA already has plenty of secret tricks and legal tools for reading the world's s.
Who needs a quantum computer when you've got a court order? Related Program:.
All Things Considered. Share Tweet. The agency has been trying to build a quantum computer, The Washington Post reports — but that news doesn't surprise experts in the field. Copyright NPR.