On Quantum Computing with Quantum Resistant Ledger’s Adam Koltun
Adam Koltun, the Lead Evangelist for the new Quantum Resistant Ledger (QRL), spoke with Bitsonline about what we know, don’t know, and should know about quantum computing. It’s a topic he’s well versed in, as his project’s explicitly designed to sidestep traditional cryptocurrencies’ vulnerabilities against quantum computers.
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Taking Stock of Quantum Computing: an Interview with Adam Koltun
William Peaster, Bitsonline: In your view, what’s the main misconception, or some of the main misconceptions, that people have about quantum computers when it comes to cryptocurrencies?
Adam: I would say there are two main misconceptions that we encounter regularly. The first is that quantum computers are a matter of science fiction, and that their existence is a matter of debate on par with alien life (seriously, we have heard “Quantum Computers? What, like aliens use?” before). This is not the case. Quantum computers exist today, albeit they are not powerful enough to run Shor’s algorithm and threaten a cryptocurrency.
The second main misconception we face is that we cannot possibly be developing a quantum-resistant network, because fully-functional quantum computers don’t exist yet. This is a misunderstanding of the mathematics that underpin both pieces of technology, as well as a discounting of the very real and very active field of post-quantum cryptography, which is entirely predicated on the ability to mathematically demonstrate things that may not yet be technologically achievable.
WP: Do you think it’s possible that government or private actors are much further along regarding quantum computing developments than the mainstream realizes? How far away do you think we are from mature QCs?
Adam: I am hesitant to speculate as to what it is we do not know. However, it can be generally stated that the United States and other governments tend to bring notice to the public in a not-so-timely manner as it relates to technological development.
Furthermore, security agencies, as a subset of government, tend to exhibit this pattern more extremely. So when the NSA says that elliptic curve cryptography is on its way out, and that post-quantum cryptography should be explored and switched to, I am of the opinion that the NSA probably reached that conclusion earlier than it made that conclusion public. That NSA statement was in 2015.
WP: Why shouldn’t we wait for quantum supremacy, as you’ve remarked in the past?
Adam: One metaphor I like to use to explain why being proactive is better than being reactive is nautical in nature: it is easier to seal a boat while it is on land, than when it is already in the water.
While blockchains do allow for hard- and soft-forks, it is not a matter of simply forking the problem away when it comes to signature schemes. It is much easier to do the right thing from the beginning, than to try to integrate it later on.
WP: As Lead Evangelist, what is your elevator pitch for the Quantum Resistant Ledger? Why is it important and/or needed in your view?
Adam: Depends who I am talking to. If it’s just an elevator pitch, it’s entirely dependent on who my audience is. Hedge Fund/Investor type? “QRL: The responsible hedge against the future for any cryptocurrency portfolio.” Technologist/Blockchain Enthusiast? “QRL: A novel and stateful signature scheme that is truly unique in the space and can show the blockchain world how to better secure the technology we all love.” Blockchain Developer? “QRL: The most forward-looking, secure platform to build on. When you are building your app, you want to make sure that the network it is running on is open source, and will be secure 3-5 years from now. We are both those things.”
A man in my position has to be ready to deal with different audiences, at different levels of technical understanding, and with different levels of passion for blockchain.
WP: How do you think the crypto space as a whole will or should respond to the advent of quantum computing?
Adam: Quantum Resistance right now could be considered a luxury, though obviously we at QRL do not consider it so. However, that ‘luxury’ status is temporary, we are heading towards an inevitable future in which quantum resistance is going to become necessary.
Just as Quantum Computing has gone from a question of “If?” to a question of “When?” as regards its feasibility, so too will quantum resistance go from something that is forward-looking, to something that is dealing with the problems of the day. In that way, it will go from elective to necessary, so why not start now?
Taking a Look at Quantum Resistant Ledger’s USP
The Quantum Resistant Ledger and its native currency Quanta are designed to provide the normal benefits of a crypto-blockchain ecosystem while leveraging a quantum-resistant hash-based signature tree called the Extended Merkle Signature Scheme (XMSS) to underpin its own blockchain.
Such a scheme can be contrasted against the Elliptic-curve cryptography (ECC) used by virtually all blockchain projects hitherto, with experts hailing this cryptography as susceptible to being cracked by future quantum computers. The tree-like structure produced by XMSS is considerably more complex, and thus quantum-resistant, compared to the “curves” generated by Elliptic-curve cryptography. The usage of XMSS, then, underlies QRL’s unique value proposition, as least as the ECC-filled cryptoverse currently stands.
Indeed, Koltun has argued that companies looking to develop on-chain for long-term projects can rest comfortably working with “QRL’s rock-solid security” when it comes to quantum resistance:
“At our core, we are a quantum-resistant blockchain; more secure and future-oriented than other blockchains out there today. If a person or organization wants to build a secondary-layer application on top of a blockchain, then QRL’s rock-solid security and open source orientation makes us an ideal platform.”
Alas, how QRL and the wider cryptoverse fare in the continued advent of quantum computing remains an open question for now. But, in the least, expect more innovation to pick up regarding blockchain communities’ responses to increasingly mature quantum computers.
What’s your take? Do you think quantum computing poses a major threat to the crypto ecosystem? Will other projects soon follow Quantum Resistant Ledger’s lead on XMSS? Sound off in the comments below.
Images via The Quantum Resistant Ledger, BBC,