What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Quantum Mechanics Could Yield Ultimate Privacy

April 14, 2014, 6:14 PM
Bt_blue_heads_mind_shutterstock

Editor's Note: This article was provided by our partner, RealClearScience. The original is here.

Code-makers and code-breakers are locked in an eternal conflict. Thus far, they've matched each other pretty much blow for blow, with triumphs by one side followed by resurgences from the other. But when quantum computing arrives, that balance could be forever altered.

RSA, a widely used public key cryptosystem developed back in the 1970s, allows for secure data transmission. It's based in the practical difficulty of factoring two large prime numbers. But while RSA proves difficult to crack for both modern day computers and our meager human minds, it could very well be child's play for a quantum computer. In the next few decades, RSA may be obsolete.

"Confidence in the slowness of technological progress is all that the security of our best ciphers now rests on," laments Artur Ekert and Renato Renner. But the scientist duo hasn't given up hope for privacy just yet. In a new paper published to the journal Nature, Ekert, a Professor of Quantum Physics at the University of Oxford, and Renner, a Professor of Theoretical Physics at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, elucidate how the very same system that gives rise to quantum computers -- quantum physics -- can be blended with a dash of free will to generate a form of privacy so flawless that not even the NSA could eavesdrop.

According to Ekert and Renner, the method for achieving perfectly secure communication is as simple as constructing a cipher, basically a key. Instead of unlocking doors and being composed of metal, however, this key takes the form of an algorithm, one that can transform a jumbled mass of meaningless information into a clear and precise message.

"It is vital though that the key bits be truly random, never reused, and securely delivered..." The researchers say. "This is not easy, but it can be done."

To sate these requirements, particles of light -- a.k.a. photons -- can be utilized. Governed by quantum theory, polarized photons can be used to generate random, yet counter intuitively correlated outcomes. Using two matched devices designed to read those outcomes, two people can transmit a cipher. If an outsider were eavesdropping, they would just see randomness.

But surely the makers of such a device would be able to listen in on conversations? Not so, says Renner. With a little bit of freedom, randomness can be amplified.

"As long as some of our choices are not completely predictable and therefore beyond the powers that be, we can keep our secrets secret."

"It all looks bizarre and too good to be true," the researchers admit. "Perfect privacy, secure against powerful adversaries who provide us with cryptographic tools and who may even manipulate us? Is such a thing possible? Yes, it is, but ‘the devil is in the detail’ and we need to look into some practicalities."

Vitally, the photon detectors within the devices would have to be keenly tuned. A load of theoretical observations about quantum physics would also have to manifest in the real world. Even if ultimate privacy is possible, it's likely decades away. Although it is a very intriguing possibility, especially today, when secrecy is the exception, not the rule.

(Image: Shutterstock)

 

 

Quantum Mechanics Could Yie...

Newsletter: Share: