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Although you can’t forge a quantum cheque, there is one weak point in this system, says Subhayan Roy Moulick , a researcher at the University of Oxford who originally proposed the experimental proof. To encode her qubit, Alice has to access it using a passcode, so if someone stole that passcode and her qubit, they could theoretically tamper with the qubit. But as long as the passcode is memorised or securely locked away the risk of tampering is extremely low, says Moulick.
Then there’s the problem of transporting qubits. Some of our current quantum computers need
huge cooling systems
. It is possible to store qubits at room temperature
, but Moulick says that a quantum cheque is more likely to be a laptop-sized black box than something you can slip into your pocket.
Scott Aaronson at the University of Texas suggests applying the concept in a slightly different way. If the bank managed the entire transaction, he says, it would still be ultra secure, but there would be no need for anyone to carry around quantum cheques.
However, the real application is a way off, Aaronson says. At the moment, the qubits in the IBM system only last for microseconds at a time. “Ideally,” Aaronson says, “one would like cheques that can last longer than that before being cashed or deposited.”
Besides, in this experimental scenario, the bank gives away two qubits every time it issues a cheque. Even if the bank only issued one cheque a day, it would need hundreds of qubits, and quantum computers of that size are still decades away from becoming reality. The current most powerful quantum computers only have 20 qubits, although Google is on track to build a 49-qubit machine by the end of this year.
Erika Andersson at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, thinks that the whole idea is unnecessarily complicated. Instead, quantum computers could be put to better use creating secure keys instead of physical cheques, she says. The bank could authenticate transactions using a technique called quantum key generation , where quantum computers are used to generate shared security keys to verify the identity of the parties involved in the transaction. This would cut out the need for anyone to carry qubits around.
And, unlike qubit cheques, quantum keys are already catching on in the real world. The technology was used to help keep the results of the 2007 Swiss election secure while in 2012 the Chinese government used it to help keep the discussions at the 2012 National Congress away from prying eyes.
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