Quantum computing timelines

[Jaime Sevilla is a Computer Science PhD Student at the University of Aberdeen. In this guest post, he describes our recent forecasting work on quantum computing. – Jess Riedel]

In Short: We attempt to forecast when quantum computers will be able to crack the common cryptographic scheme RSA2048, and develop a model that predicts less than 5% confidence that this capability will be reached before 2039. A preprint is available at arXiv:2009.05045.

Advanced quantum computing comes with some new applications as well as a few risks, most notably threatening the foundations of modern online security.

In light of the recent experimental crossing of the “quantum supremacy” milestone, it is of great interest to estimate when devices capable of attacking typical encrypted communication will be constructed, and whether the development of communication protocols that are secure against quantum computers is progressing at an adequate pace.  

Beyond its intrinsic interest, quantum computing is also fertile ground for quantified forecasting. Exercises on forecasting technological progress have generally been sparse — with some notable exceptions — but it is of great importance: technological progress dictates a large part of human progress.

To date, most systematic predictions about development timelines for quantum computing have been based on expert surveys, in part because quantitative data about realistic architectures has been limited to a small number of idiosyncratic prototypes. However, in the last few years the number of device has been rapidly increasing and it is now possible to squint through the fog of research and make some tentative extrapolations. We emphasize that our quantitative model should be considered to at most augment, not replace, expert predictions.  Indeed, as we discuss in our preprint, this early data is noisy, and we necessarily must make strong assumptions to say anything concrete.[continue reading]