back to article 'I give fusion power a higher chance of succeeding than quantum computing' says the R in the RSA crypto-algorithm

As they do every year, the names behind the RSA crypto-system took the stage in San Francisco for the RSA Conference's crypto panel, sharing their thoughts on the pressing issues facing the information security world. Ron Rivest (the R in RSA), Adi Shamir (the S), and Whit Diffie (of Diffie–Hellman key exchange fame) were …

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  1. Detective Emil
    Boffin

    Glib rejoinder

    Clarke's First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    1. druck Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Glib rejoinder

      Well I'm with him 100%, I've never believed you will get anything really useful from quantum computing. I would go as far as saying you are more likely to see cold fusion succeeding.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Glib rejoinder

        Cold fusion? Probably not. But I agree that quantum computing isn't going to be all that useful even if it does take off. Fusion power, on the other hand, will probably be more of a game changer than steam power was.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Glib rejoinder

          >Cold fusion? Probably not

          There's an interesting Outer Limits episode where a university student invents cold fusion.....

          An ex-student returns to blow up a university with bombs he's made by cracking the secret of cold fusion, after being booted from the school's physics program. Todtman swears he won't follow through if authorities execute 5 people he hates. Most physicists believe cold fusion is impossible, so Todtman detonates a demo bomb by remote control. Should the government kill his 5 or risk Todtman killing 5 million?

          https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0667892/

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Glib rejoinder

            I'd go with option 3. Ask for a demo of it (only got a bomb? Fine, we've got test ranges for that) and tell him that if it works then for a major scientific advance on a level not seen since Einstien he's awarded a pass with honours by government fiat, and has a job offer for a million a year with a thirty billion budget a year to build it outputting commercial scale energy, as he's just obviously singlehandedly solved the global warming problem if he can build something with the power of an atom bomb in his flat on a shoestring budget.

            Large amounts of cheap CO2 free energy solves basically all of the worlds problems.

            Water levels rising? Split sea water to hydrogen and oxygen on a large scale. Massively energy intensive of course, but if you've got practically unlimited cheap and CO2 free energy...?

            CO2 Sequestration? Again, energy intensive and therefore currently expensive, but if we have practically unlimited cheap and CO2 free energy...?

            Not enough drinking water in Africia? Stick in lots of desalination plants and turn the huge desert into a garden. All you need is fresh water and an oil style pipeline to move the water around. Making a new continent's worth of vegetation would also have a quite significant effect on atmospheric CO2 when it starts getting pulled absorbed by the plants. Again, possible if you have practically unlimited energy because just a matter of scale rather than a matter of new technology.

          2. GrahamRJ

            Re: Glib rejoinder

            I'm not sure that qualifies as "interesting" there - just the Trolley Problem with a different backdrop.

            And the best revenge on your university, after it ditched your project and you solved it on your own, is not blowing up the university, or even killing the people responsible. It's demonstrating your results, selling your results, making enough money to buy small countries, and being able to say at every press conference: "And those morons at university could have had a slice of this. Professor Smith and Professor Jones, I bet you feel stupid now." Having them remembered not for anything they achieved in their academic careers, but for being the people who were too stupid to spot a world-changing innovation - *that's* revenge. Served very cold indeed.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Glib rejoinder

              >Trolley Problem with a different backdrop.

              The Trolly Problem is nothing new either, people have being making those decisions for centuries, especially in wartime. Someone running a philosophy course re-invented the wheel, gave it a trendy label in the 60s and thought themselves a smart arse.

              PS have you even seen it to offer a critique as there is more to it ?

              1. Tom 7 Silver badge

                Re: Glib rejoinder

                The trolley problem is off its trolley. If there can be a trolley problem redesign your track.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Glib rejoinder

                  or MULTI TRACK DRIFTING!!!

            2. rcxb Silver badge

              Re: Glib rejoinder

              I'm not sure that qualifies as "interesting" there - just the Trolley Problem with a different backdrop.

              It isn't. The AC's description is simply lacking.

              The crux of the Outer Limit's episode is that someone discovered building a city-destroying bomb is inexpensive and technically simple. It is inevitable that others will make the same discovery, the knowledge will get out, and every psychopath out there will soon have as many nukes as they feel like making.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Glib rejoinder

                Was that the twist ending of the episode, then: that more were being made?

          3. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: Glib rejoinder

            Personally, I would never have enrolled a student named Todtman. The university is just asking for trouble.

        2. Imhotep

          Re: Glib rejoinder

          It's interesting that small startups are now working on fusion. Perhaps this is going to be like the spaceship field with rapid innovation and successes. The few companies I've read about are taking interesting and different approaches to the problem - but all are looking at systems much smaller than un the past.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Glib rejoinder

          We already have fusion power. How do you think wind power and solar PV actually work?

          The problem is achieving it on Earth, where we won't have 140 million kilometres of isolation from the really nasty stuff.

          1. Gareth Pye

            Re: Glib rejoinder

            And even with that distance we rely on having a free source of magnetic shielding from certain radiation and ozone sheilding from UV. There is a lot of things lined up for us to have it easy.

            And it does raise serious questions about the realistic safety of fusion power when we figure it out, it still might be pretty dirty, most likely less than fission, but there does not appear to be any free lunches in physics.

            1. Peter2 Silver badge

              Re: Glib rejoinder

              We have contained fusion at the moment: it's been figured out.

              The current models are of course lab test sizes and have previously required more energy for containment than they generate and are only run for a couple of minutes at a time, but we do have working (electro)magnetically contained fusion. Some of it even generates a net gain (as in more energy generated from it than is used containing it) hence why all of a sudden a lot of companies are interested in building fusion plants.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Glib rejoinder

                Remind us again how they plan to shield everybody from the neutrons produced by D-T fusion, and where we are going to get the T from?

                To quote Wikipedia:

                "As can be seen, the easiest to ignite of the aneutronic reactions, D-3He, has an ignition temperature over four times as high as that of the D-T reaction, and correspondingly lower cross sections, while the p-11B reaction is nearly ten times more difficult to ignite."

                I'd like a citation for this "sudden...interest in building fusion plants." Because at the moment it looks like pure fantasy

                1. Jaybus

                  Re: Glib rejoinder

                  The T is produced in the reactor itself. The Li blanket surrounding the vessel is bombarded by high energy neutrons from the reaction, producing T. This is similar to how it is currently produced in the Watts Bar 1 reactor by using a burnable absorber rod containing LiAlO2 pellets. High energy neutrons from the reaction bombard the pellets, producing T by thermal neutron irradiation.

        4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Glib rejoinder

          I'm using fusion power right now, and it's keeping this room toasty warm and well-lit.

          For safety reasons I keep the reactor about 1 AU away.

          1. HelpfulJohn Bronze badge

            Re: Glib rejoinder

            I'm in Free-UKland, it is February (just barely) and the local fusion reactor is keeping the room's temperature marginally above Absolute Zero.

            The heating element that uses electrical energy made from stored fusion energies (fossilized plant and animal stuff mostly) - the desktop PC unit - contributes a share to the room's "warmth", too.

            For you to be "toasty warm" you must be in daylight and on the bottom end of the planet. Yes?

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Glib rejoinder

              "For you to be "toasty warm" you must be in daylight and on the bottom end of the planet. Yes?"

              Not necessarily. I'm in Sonoma California, it's just gone Sunset (630PM) and I have had the office zone of my HVAC turned off, and a fan in a window blowing fresh air in since 10AM. Smells of cherry blossoms, and the temperature in here is ~75F (~24C). I'll probably return the HVAC to normal operation in an hour or so.

      2. NoneSuch Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Glib rejoinder

        "These newfangled automobiles will never be more popular than horses..."

      3. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Glib rejoinder

        Well I'm with him [Ron Rivest] 100%, I've never believed you will get anything really useful from quantum computing. I would go as far as saying you are more likely to see cold fusion succeeding. ....... druck

        Well I'm with Clarke's First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong, druck.

        And be a huge fan of Laws Two and Three too. ..........

        [2] The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

        [3] Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

      4. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Glib rejoinder

        I think there is a chance we will but probably not using the current methods. Probably greater than the chance of really clean fusion.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Glib rejoinder

      "When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

      Then explain Alan Turing's Halting Problem disproof, in which case he was provably RIGHT.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Glib rejoinder

        Was Turing elderly at the time ? Trick question, sadly Turing never got to be elderly.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Glib rejoinder

        Proving something is formally impossible has been done many times. It includes not only relatively recent theorems like the Halting Problem, the Uncertainty Principle, Chaitin's Omega, and a vast number of others (FPL and PCL are a couple of my favorites), but also older ones such as the impossibility of squaring the circle (which is actually relatively recent too, come to think of it, and is a corollary of the proof that pi is transcendental). And, of course, any positive theorem has an "impossible" converse: Euclid proved the infinitude of prime numbers, which means he also proved the impossibility of finding the largest prime.

        There's a tremendous difference between those sorts of formal proofs and claims that something is practically impossible. In the latter domain there are some areas we may be fairly sure of, at least on the grounds that a practical demonstration otherwise would have such drastically unfortunate consequences that we needn't worry about being proven wrong - there won't be anyone left to mock us. Those include the impossibility of perpetual-motion machines (cooked by over-unity runaway energy production) and faster-than-light travel (breakdown of causality means all bets are off). In others, though, even the highly knowledgeable are often just making largely-unfounded guesses when they declare something impossible.

        Personally, I'm still dubious about the economic and to some extent the physical feasibility of practical QC (real QC, not adiabatic shit), but I admit they've scaled up faster than I expected.

        1. illiad

          Re: Glib rejoinder

          'faster-than-light travel'??

          note that 'speed of light' is not about light... it merely means you got there faster than light would have...

          all of this is STILL based on a 50 year or older theory!! when we ** properly ** get into space, we may find something totally unusual happens!!

          until then, its just stupid presidents and limited budgets keeping us down here... >:(

          1. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

            Re: Glib rejoinder

            > note that 'speed of light' is not about light

            Exactly, it is about the speed of causality. It so happens that given some basic maths that any massless particle, like a photon, must travel at the speed of causality.

    3. illiad

      Re: Glib rejoinder

      'man will never fly'

      'man cannot survive speed in excess of 20 MPH in this new-fangled automobile'

      'we will never travel faster than light' then how did UFOs get here??

      the problem with most scientists, is that they will not believe anything except **absolute** truth.. they only have 'theories' ... It may be ststisicall prossble that life is on other planets, it is *only* a theory until an alien walks up and shows them their spaceship...

      what is the USE of fusion power ?? we can then stop polluting the planet with carbon and radioactive waste..

      I remind people that the current 'quantum computer' is covered with SOOOO much chatter, when AFAIK it is not really more advanced than the original 'turing computer' ... It can just do millions/billions more computations in a very short time...

      GO ON, geeks, do explain it ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Glib rejoinder

        >GO ON, geeks, do explain it ...

        Are you here for the 5 minute argument or the full half hour ?

        1. illiad

          Re: Glib rejoinder

          LOLOLOL... :D :D

          I found a link that *may* explain the 'quantum computer' problem..

          https://www.technologyreview.com/s/615180/quantum-computer-race-ibm-google

          it can do something a normal computer would take 10000 years to do - BUT!! it all has to be cooled to absolute zero, meaning it is very big..

          these are usually math problems, etc.. we will have to wait for them to do something 'worthwhile', like Turing's pattern recognition machine that helped the war effort..

          and until we can get 'room temperature superconductors' it will not be useful in mainstream computing!!

      2. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: Glib rejoinder

        ... *only* a theory ...

        I don't think that word means what you seem to think it means.

        Incidentally, there are no "absolute truths" in science - science doesn't work that way. For absolute, unshakeable truth that cannot be pulled down, no matter the evidence, you need religion.

        Just saying

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Glib rejoinder

          That word, and maybe a few dozen others in that post. I don't think anyone's going to steer that particular ship back on course.

        2. Jaybus

          Re: Glib rejoinder

          "For absolute, unshakeable truth that cannot be pulled down, no matter the evidence, you need religion."

          Not so. There are absolute truths in maths that cannot be refuted.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Glib rejoinder

            Really? Even under modern algebra where nigh ALL the rules can be rewritten?

            I'm personally of the belief there is NO absolute truth ANYWHERE.

      3. eldakka Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Glib rejoinder

        ... they only have 'theories' ...
        I'll just quote the perfectly clear and simple wikipedia entry on what a theory is as opposed to your completely ignorant interpretation (emphasis mine):
        In modern science, the term "theory" refers to scientific theories, a well-confirmed type of explanation of nature, made in a way consistent with scientific method, and fulfilling the criteria required by modern science. Such theories are described in such a way that scientific tests should be able to provide empirical support for, or empirically contradict ("falsify") it. Scientific theories are the most reliable, rigorous, and comprehensive form of scientific knowledge, in contrast to more common uses of the word "theory" that imply that something is unproven or speculative (which in formal terms is better characterized by the word hypothesis). Scientific theories are distinguished from hypotheses, which are individual empirically testable conjectures, and from scientific laws, which are descriptive accounts of the way nature behaves under certain conditions.

        1. illiad

          Re: Glib rejoinder

          Theory?? I think you need this one..

          https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/theory

          eg

          "If something is possible in theory, it should be possible, but often it does not happen in that way:

          In theory, the journey should take three hours, but in practice it usually takes four because of roadworks"

          as is often said, theory is totally different from 'practice'

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had no idea that..

    I didn't realize that he was an expert in Quantum mechanics AND pure mathematics.

    1. herman Silver badge

      Re: I had no idea that..

      He probably has a few brain cells more than most of us. Trying to diss him, is probably not wise.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I had no idea that..

        It has well been said that a good man always knows his limitations.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: I had no idea that..

          He may have also spent a lot of time studying quantum computing. If you do you will quickly see that the current methods being tried are massively precarious and expensive.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I had no idea that..

          Actually it was Goethe in Natur und Kunst who wrote

          In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister.

          In effect he says that the Master shows himself by working successfully within limitations.You could say that's far more appropriate for Turing with his Baby computer that used absolutely minimal resources (he planned to use war surplus vacuum tubes like EF50s, and delay lines filled with alcohol rather than mercury) than the vastly expensive proof of concept quantum computers that so far haven't delivered actual computing. They may get there...but one of the three people who rediscovered Cocks's work that was concealed by GCHQ surely has a right to be sceptical.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I had no idea that..

      I suppose that since he was the "R" in RSA that designed the algorithm, he would take an interest in technology that would potential break it?

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: I had no idea that..

        Rivest has worked on a lot of things. I expect he's interested in a lot more.

        And, to be fair, we don't know that factoring is a hard problem for conventional computers. The complexity class of factoring (for DTMs) is unproven. It's clearly in NP and co-NP, but P is a subset of NP (so it might also be in P), and it's suspected to not be in NP-Complete (or NP-Hard, which is a superset of NP-Complete, assuming P != NP). It's subexponential, but no one knows if there's an efficient classical algorithm for factoring large semiprimes.

        Obviously it's in BQP (Shor's algorithm).

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Torben Mogensen

    About voting machines and blockchain: https://xkcd.com/2030/

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Voting Machines

      Ireland bought voting machines and eventually scrapped them. Paper and pencil isn't perfect, the STV PR isn't perfect. But voting machines, the US Electoral College, Israeli list for entire country PR and UK FPTP are all worse.

      Even though we can't currently form a government. That's not to do with PR, but Civil War politics and one party being far better at Social Media and traditional media PR. Belgium didn't come to a halt because it took ages to form a government.

      The USA State (Washington) having online smart phone votes is mad. A signature on a low resolution touch screen? Making a paper print out of it isn't an audit trail.

      The ancient Athenian idea of voting for a pool of candidates (on paper of course) and then randomly by lot selecting the final officials (to avoid corruption) has some merit. Perhaps combine that with the PR STV larger constituencies.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Voting Machines

        "That's not to do with PR, but Civil War politics"

        The two are not mutually exclusive. AIUI one of the effects of FPTP is to exaggerate* the ratio of votes when determining the ratio of seats. That's likely to make a stalled outcome less likely.

        * I remember reading a long time ago that the ratio of seats is proportional to the ratio of the squares of the votes.

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