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The Military Science Technology

NSA and Army On Quest For Quantum Physics Jackpot 110

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-win-but-only-if-you-don't-know-the-prize dept.
coondoggie sends this excerpt from NetworkWorld: "The US Army Research Office and the National Security Agency (NSA) are together looking for some answers to their quantum physics questions. ... The Army said quantum algorithms that are developed should focus on constructive solutions [PDF] for specific tasks, and on general methodologies for expressing and analyzing algorithms tailored to specific problems — though they didn't say what those specific tasks were ... 'Investigators should presuppose the existence of a fully functional quantum computer and consider what algorithmic tasks are particularly well suited to such a machine. A necessary component of this research will be to compare the efficiency of the quantum algorithm to the best existing classical algorithm for the same problem.'"
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NSA and Army On Quest For Quantum Physics Jackpot

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  • This just in... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sfazzio (1227616) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:19PM (#25551009)
    NSA and Army wants quantum computations researchers to do exactly what they have been doing for the last 15 years.
    • If you've got the money, honey, I've got the time....

      It's an old song.
    • by kosty (52388)

      "should focus on CONSTRUCTIVE solutions" -- They're goin' for irony points on that one, right? I mean, "constructive" solutions are Bechtel's and Kellog Brown & Root's job -- after the army has employed the *destructive* solutions. Wouldn't want to starve the contractor$ now, would we. /sarcasm

  • What's the point.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LingNoi (1066278)

    That's probably what they're trying to figure out with this.

    Why should we fund this? I mean look at the depression we're all in, they're obviously trying to make budget cuts and aren't sure if they should drop quantum computing.

    • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:32PM (#25551069)
      Why must people with no idea on a particular subject always be in charge of the budgets around a particular subject?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by CodeBuster (516420)
        because they have all of the money, wasn't that easy?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Because people who do understand subjects like this usually have a hard time deciding their budget shouldn't be unlimited.

        I know, because I happen to be one of those people. I'm just saying I can see how it might be seen as a conflict of interest to expect people to limit their own budgets (when those budgets).

      • by evilviper (135110)

        Why must people with no idea on a particular subject always be in charge of the budgets around a particular subject?

        Because a "budget" has to make choices between ALL different possible areas of funding, based on the relative trade-offs of each, and NOBODY is a skilled expert on every subject.

        The theory is, you have a group of experts on the range of topics reporting to someone who is impartial, and will take that information and decide which options are potentially the best use of the money. It's just tha

      • by h4rm0ny (722443)

        Because human society has primarily developed over its history the seldom questioned concept that one person is in charge and another person does work for them. As soon as you reach such a level of work that specialist knowledge or ability which can only be obtained by doing the job is required, then this inevitably implies the person in charge hasn't got that level of knowledge or ability.

        For you to have the people who are actually doing the work in charge of the work, you have to reverse millenia of k
        • by skarphace (812333)

          For you to have the people who are actually doing the work in charge of the work, you have to reverse millenia of king -> Serf cultural accumulation.

          I'm curious. What would you replace it with?

          If you look at pretty much all social structures in nature, you have a leader that organizes and directs the rest of their society or group. I suppose democracy would work, but it's far from efficient. And efficiency is what is needed for businesses.

      • by kabocox (199019)

        Why must people with no idea on a particular subject always be in charge of the budgets around a particular subject?

        Its like a basic rule of nature. God's in his retirement home; he assigned one of his best agents to run hell, and then his worst agent to run the universe in general, and his second worst agent to run heaven. That explains everything.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Why must people with no idea on a particular subject always be in charge of the budgets around a particular subject?

        Why, for the same reason we need phone sanitizers ... So we can have some good satire.

        Sadly, deciding budget allocations and the like seems to be where we put people when we've ran out of places to put them to keep them out of trouble. Especially, I'm told, in the Army! :-P

        Cheers

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MrMista_B (891430)

      Also likely, from this 'Investigators should presuppose the existence of a fully functional quantum computer' is that they /already have/ a fully functional quantum computer, and are just trying to figure out what to do with the darned thing.

      • Yah, we're getting really lax on playing our cards close to our chests aren't we.

        I wonder if the quantum computer that the NSA doesn't have runs Linux yet.
        • by Plunky (929104)

          I wonder if the quantum computer that the NSA doesn't have runs Linux yet.

          Well, until you open the box, it does and it does not .. at the same time!

    • by sjs132 (631745)


      Why should we fund this? I mean look at the depression we're all in, they're obviously trying to make budget cuts and aren't sure if they should drop quantum computing.

      I agree, it has been rather depressing lately... With unemployment @ 6%, taxes with new president will wipe out more companies and increase unemployment... Very depressing. Almost enough to make one forget about a recession.

  • 'Investigators should presuppose the existence of a fully functional quantum computer and consider what algorithmic tasks are particularly well suited to such a machine.'

    Presupposing the existence of new technology is the same process I (and I imagine others) use to think of new business idea's ahead of the curve.

    • quantum computer simulator exists and do work as supposed/intended, so theories could well be tested without the actual hardware. (still, it takes ages or a very powerful computer)
    • This kind of request means that the NSA doesn't already HAVE a quantum computer that it uses to break codes. For now, your strong crypto is strong even from them given a large enough number of bits.

      They want to know just how many bits and what algorithms THEY need to use to remain secure even should the enemy get create a quantum computer codebreaking machine.

      And of course they want a quantum codebreaking machine so they can read everyone's email.

      They also would not want the senders of such email to kno

  • by FlyingBishop (1293238) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:39PM (#25551101)

    A chemist, a physicist and a mathematician are stranded on a desert island, and all they have is a can of beans. They need to open the can so that they can eat, so they each in turn set about devising a method to open the can.

    The chemist comes up with a method that involves making seawater acidic enough to get the top off (while neutralizing the acid with some basic coconut juice from a nearby tree.)

    The physicist comes up with a complicated rock apparatus to basically smash open the can.

    The mathematician scratches his head, and walks around the beach for a while considering the problem. Finally, he comes and sits down next to his fellow castaways and says, "Assume a can opener..."

    • I prefer this one:

      A psych grad student asked a mathematician and a physicist to help him out with his experiment. First, the psych student gave the physicist an empty kettle, and asked him to go boil some water while the mathematician was waiting in the other room.

      The physicist went to fill the water at the tap, then put it on the stove and turned the flame on. Next, it was the mathematician's turn. He took the empty kettle, filled it at the tap, and put it on the stove and turned the flame on. That was

      • by amliebsch (724858)

        My favorite:

        A mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer were all friends, and had all three decided to go together to an interesting-sounding symposium. Since the event was in another city, they all three booked rooms in the same nearby hotel so they could arrive a day early. They arrived, had some dinner and some drinks, and retired to their respective rooms, eventually falling asleep.

        Later that night, the engineer awoke to find that a small fire had started in his room. Judging the size of the fi

      • by adavies42 (746183)
        Q: How many mathematicians does it take to change a lightbulb?
        A: One. He gives it to a physicist, thus reducing it to a previous joke.
        • I nearly laughed at that joke, but that would have been redundant.

          ---

          Several mathematicians were sitting around at a conference. These mathematicians knew their jokes so well that they assigned numbers to them. In order to save time, instead of telling a joke they would just shout out its number.

          "487," shouted out one mathematician. The others all laughed loudly in approval of the joke.

          "934," shouted a female mathematician. The others laughed heartily at this one.

          "623," shouted another of the mat

    • by Fry-kun (619632)

      Consider a spherical cow... :)

    • A chemist, a physicist and a mathematician are stranded on a desert island, and all they have is a can of beans. They need to open the can so that they can eat, so they each in turn set about devising a method to open the can.

      The chemist comes up with a method that involves making seawater acidic enough to get the top off (while neutralizing the acid with some basic coconut juice from a nearby tree.)

      The physicist comes up with a complicated rock apparatus to basically smash open the can.

      The mathematician scratches his head, and walks around the beach for a while considering the problem. Finally, he comes and sits down next to his fellow castaways and says, "Assume a can opener..."

      Mathematician's solution: Excuse me if I ruin an old joke. Put a plate by the tin of beans, and wait for them to appear. They probably will! (See "How to catch a lion" passim).

    • by Fyz (581804)
      A chemist, a physicist and a mathematician are stranded on a desert island, and all they have is a can of beans.

      Wait, is this a hypothetical situation, or is it something we should prepare for what with the credit crunch?
  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by FlyByPC (841016) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @11:39PM (#25551105) Homepage
    "Investigators should presuppose the existence of a fully functional quantum computer," huh?

    Does anyone else here read this as "NSA has a nifty, shiny new toy and are looking for ways to use it" ...?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, too suspicious to regard that as an "if we had one"...

      *dons foil hat*

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's just as possible that they don't have one but are working on one. Their goal may be to have a supply of algorithms already available by the time they complete their development of a quantum computer.

      Another possibility, which was mentioned by someone else above, is that they may be trying to decide whether they should try to build a quantum computer.

      • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by shawb (16347) on Wednesday October 29, 2008 @12:02AM (#25551229)
        Alternatively, they may be trying to convince the world that they DO have a quantum computer.
        • by Dutchmaan (442553)

          Maybe they're trying to have a future quantum computer send its manufacturing information back to the present so it can be created.

        • Re:So... (Score:5, Funny)

          by moosesocks (264553) on Wednesday October 29, 2008 @12:49AM (#25551443) Homepage

          Alternatively, they may be trying to convince the world that they MAY have a quantum computer.

          Fixed that for you. When it comes to Quantum, you can never be too certain.

          • by Phrogman (80473)

            "Fixed that for you. When it comes to Quantum, you can never be too certain"

            Are you sure about that?

          • by Alsee (515537)

            In Quantum Mechanics you can be completely certain half the time.
            The only problem is that you never know which half.

            -

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          Alternatively, they may be trying to convince the world that they DO have a quantum computer.

          Or, maybe they're saying "if we had a quantum computer, what would we do with it? And would it be worth having one in the first place?".

          You know, I'm all for a little good fun and some paranoia, but at some point, the tin-foil hat mentality here on Slashdot does get a little into the realm of the absurd. :-P

          Cheers

        • Alternatively, they may be trying to convince the world that they DO have a quantum computer.

          Some quantum computing technology has apparently been tested in the lab (see: Spintronics) [speculist.com], or do your own Google search on "quantum computing actual devices".

          There is little doubt in my mind that the NSA either has or expects to soon have practical quantum computers and is now actively seeking help figuring out how to best make use of this new technology.

          Once it is known a technology is feasible, it doesn't take long for others to duplicate it. Look at the atomic then thermonuclear arms races the U.

    • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday October 29, 2008 @12:01AM (#25551219) Homepage

      "Investigators should presuppose the existence of a fully functional quantum computer," huh?

      Does anyone else here read this as "NSA has a nifty, shiny new toy and are looking for ways to use it" ...?

      I'm sure a lot of people read it that way. Personally, I read it as, "We know a quantum computer will be practical in the near future, and when that happens we want to be able to hit the ground running while everybody else says 'we has a nifty, shiny new toy and are looking for ways to use it.'"

      • Yet another plausible explanation is that they are concerned that someone else may soon have one (possibly even already) and they would like very much to know what things it renders insecure.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Arancaytar (966377)

      Two problems:

      1.) They wouldn't tell us. They wouldn't even tell us this subtly.

      2.) They would have no lack of work for their shiny new toy, and the algorithm exists already. See Shor's algorithm [wikipedia.org].

    • more likely is that the NSA office is currently being overrun by cats and they are trying to figure out a way to get rid of them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by blueg3 (192743)

      No. Too obvious. They might as well just say they have a quantum computer. If they had one and didn't want anyone to know about it, they'd get this research done more quietly.

      This is a "construct reasons why quantum computers should be funded". Also, if they feel that working quantum computers are on the horizon, their design may need to be influenced by their future application. (For example, Algorithm We Must Have required 192 qbits -- so make sure that first working quantum computer has at least that man

    • by hey! (33014)

      Well, for an organization like NSA or the DoD to start thinking about what a working quantum computer would mean for things like cryptography is not after such a computer has been found to exist.

      That would be ... suboptimal.

      And, after all, since nobody knows whether such a thing is a practical possibility, it might take only one person having a really clever insight to make it possible. If such a thing is a practical impossibility, well, even so studying how it might behave may still be quite useful.

    • by bendodge (998616)

      Well, my paranoid side reads this as: "they have a basic quantum computer and are having trouble using it." If you recall, Colossus [wikipedia.org] was the first large-scale programmable computer, not ENIAC, and the Colossus computers were hidden inside Bletchley Park [wikipedia.org], busily breaking the 'unbreakable' encryption of the day. I would not be shocked to learn that the NSA or some similar agency is already breaking our current encryption schemes with computers that "don't exist".

      • This is true. The quantum computer at Stanford can factor large numbers into primes many times faster than any other computer. They're just trying to find other uses. One that came out recently is the quantum light switch, possibly making optical communication faster.
    • by bagsc (254194)

      No, they want to see if it's worth the time and money to get one. No sense devoting that kind of resources if know one even knows how its going to be useful in theory.

      It takes a pile of existing research to convince politicians to spend military budget money on actually important technology rather than something stupid that is made in their district.

    • They do have one. My buddy at Stanford has been working on it(with dozens of others) and it's all finished. They basically need an OS(a bunch of compiled algorithms) and a list of problems they can solve in order to compare it to a 64-bit AMD 16-core, etc.
      It's not a big secret, I think the Japanese have one as well that's nearing mass-production.
    • by royler (1270778)
      its probably just some jerks who want to get some patents they can cash in on as soon as someone does make a quantum computer
  • Can't a quantum computer (givin the proper network of a fully functional CPU) break any encryption instantly by only actually arriving at the destination assigned?

    I'm not sure on the exact complexities.. but yea, isn't it that quantum computers are the next thing because they only give the superimposed electrons always take the path that's watched?

    • but yea, isn't it that quantum computers are the next thing because they only give the superimposed electrons always take the path that's watched?

      That string confused me, it must be quantum.

      • err.. whoops. that's what I get for rewording mid-sentence and then not proof-reading -.-'

        It should be relatively close enough to legible English for someone to understand it though xD

        ...

        Or.. maybe I just speak to people with horrible writing enough that I can understand really really bad English :\

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FrangoAssado (561740)

      Can't a quantum computer [...] break any encryption instantly by only actually arriving at the destination assigned?

      No. Quantum computers can theoretically solve some problems faster than classical computers. Among these (and perhaps most famously) is factoring -- see Shor's Algorithm [wikipedia.org]. Fast factorization breaks RSA encryption, which is what everyone uses.

      It is not known whether quantum computers can in general solve problems exponentially faster than classical ones. Further, it is not known for most important problems how to take advantage of quantum computers to achieve dramatic speedups (or even if it's possible). It

  • Start brute forcing crypto keys and infiltrating enemy networks.

    Isn't that quantum computing's claim to fame?

  • by EEPROMS (889169) on Wednesday October 29, 2008 @12:47AM (#25551431)
    Jim "well it is this new quantum encryption software, everytime I open a new subject the encrypted output window is already full of encrypted text and I havent even typed anything.
    IT Support "ah yes that is normal, it is a side effect of quantum state data transfer, you know, it arrives before it leaves etc, just ignore it"
    Jim "out of curriosity has anyone ever tried decrypting the text before they have actually written the message"
    IT Support "God no, dont ever do that, laws of time and space become screwed up, the last guy who tried that vanished with a sucking noise and was replaced by a plush cookie monster toy"
  • It's about time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Quantum computing has been getting quite a lot of grant money in recent years, ever since IBM's Peter Shor found a quantum algorithm to factor products of large primes in polynomial time, threatening to break a lot of public key cryptosystems. The money that this unlocked has supported a lot of neat basic physics research, but at present Shor's algorithm remains the only known killer app for quantum computers. It's about time somebody asked for more applications. If none are found soon, funding for QC wi

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by darkstar949 (697933)
      If I remember my theory correctly, then any of the NP-Complete problems would most likely be solvable in polynomial time using quantum computers. A couple of the problems have more obvious military uses than others; for example, the knapsack problem would allow for the optimization of logistics and it looks like there is already a quantum algorithm of knapsack problem. [sciencelinks.jp]
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You don't remember your theory correctly. Most QM researchers believe that NP complete problems -cannot- be solved in polynomial time, using a QM computer. I think that particular paper is now considered dubious, to put it mildly.

        The real open problem that might be accessible to a QM computer is graph isomorphism.

        • Alright, I went and did a bit more reading on the subject and it looks like you are right. However, it seems that I was thinking about some of the papers that use quantum computers as an oracle machine that would allow for polynomial time solutions. But those papers start to trend outside of my knowledge base - anyone have recommendations on papers and books in this area?
      • Yes, any NP-Complete problem can be solved on a quantum computer by Grover's algorithm with a quadratic speed-up. I dunno why they're asking for help when they could just go get a list NP systems and start solving those...
  • Break current encryption in linear time and disintegrate people. The first one is pretty obvious from the specs, the second one is just something the Army has always wanted to do.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think cracking codes is one of the least meaningful purposes quantum computers will have. Simulation of quantum systems, for basic research as well as for engineering, will make a much bigger impact. Yet people always seem to focus on the promise it holds for code-cracking. I think most people just don't appreciate how important quantum mechanics has been in creating the technologies that are all around us in the modern world. Being able to more 'naturally' simulate these systems that rely on quantum

  • That means they have a working quantum computer and need additional code to throw at it.

    So in about 10 to 15 years we will start seeing quantum computers available for the masses.

    COOL!
  • Here's a good book on Quantum computing [amazon.com] (November 5, 2003)
    All about what you can and can't do with quantum computing (and how to implement it)
    If you don't want to wade through everything, skip to Chapter 11 [google.com]
  • ...And there isn't a Quantum Computer that can do this computing.

    Both the existence and non-existence on the state of the application can be pre-supposed, but the recognition of the answer is going to take a larger computer -- which cannot reveal its solution, otherwise the existing, non-existing Quantum Computer will collapse.

    The Quantum Computer will be really great, at recognizing a face and returning an answer immediately, from a database of 50 million. The answer will be; "Yes." Then a traditional comp

  • These DoD proposals are all fake. They have friends that have already done the research and now they're publishing a fake solicitation because they're required to, by law. After a fake bidding process, the money will be awarded to their buddies who have already completed the research and they'll use the money to do their next research project, which will be funded retroactively with another fake solicitation like this one.
    I've seen thousands of these over the years and the truth is that any proposal you s

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