By Bruce Ng
Ever since Bitcoin was created, the perennial question, asked by skeptics and advocates alike, could be condensed into four simple words:
Can Bitcoin be hacked?
The perennial answer: No, unless, that is, someone, someday achieves a stunning, world-changing breakthrough, creating a computer that’s far faster than any supercomputer in existence today. Nearly everyone agreed that was an extremely remote possibility. But now, some folks fear that day may be closer than expected.
The reason: Google claims to have built a quantum computer.
It’s a computer that’s no longer constrained to just 1s or 0s. Instead, it has bits that exist in multiple states at once, called quantum bits or qubits. It’s a computer that, in theory, could be one billion times faster than today’s fastest computers … that could run 10,000 years of supercomputer calculations in a meager 200 seconds. It’s a technology that, in theory, might ultimately do things which otherwise take millions of years.
So, can Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) quantum computer hack Bitcoin? No, not even close!
Google’s breakthrough, no matter how noteworthy, is still very new, very experimental and light-years away from the capabilities needed to hack Bitcoin. Here’s why …
First, Google’s quantum computer merely generates random numbers, like tossing a coin repeatedly. It has no immediate practical applications.
Second, it has only 53 qubits. To crack Bitcoin cryptography, it would need at least 1,500.
Third, it’s not just a matter of quantity. To evolve from 53 to 1,500 qubits will be extremely difficult and will take many years.
Fourth, qubits are highly sensitive. They require supercooled temperatures to operate. They must be stored in enclosed vaults protected from stray dust, vibrations and contaminants. Building a 1,500-qubit quantum computer would be a monstrous undertaking.
“But suppose,” say Bitcoin fearmongers, “that some…