back to article RAND report finds that, like fusion power and Half Life 3, quantum computing is still 15 years away

Quantum computers pose an "urgent but manageable" threat to the security of modern communications systems, according to a report published Thursday by influential US RAND Corporation. The non-profit think tank's report, "Securing Communications in the Quantum Computing Age: Managing the Risks to Encryption," urges the US …

  1. karlkarl Silver badge

    Even if an iPhone had a quantum processor, it would still be a locked down piece of crap. I would still only be able to consume apps of a tiny uninovative store and I would still need to rent provision (DRM) profiles from Apple to run my own code.

    Basically, quantum computing will be useless unless it is "open". I don't even particularly mean "open-source". More like the IBM PS/2 compatible with a BIOS where we can do what we need to.

    Because of this, I don't think quantum computers will ever be owned by us "plebs". We will probably only ever be able to access their "benefits" via a stupid web browser.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Boffin

      Even if an iPhone . . .

      What have iPhones or Apples to do with it? Also Apple is for people with money to spare. Us plebs buy $99 android phones and $400 laptops, some of the laptops run Linux.

      The PS/2 didn't have an open BIOS and was a failure in the market place.

      Real Quantum computers may or may not happen. Currently they need cryogenics, so even a "small" tower cased sized one might need a room full of support.

      Also Quantum computers are not simply faster computers. They handle specialised sorts of problems, so even if really useable ones ever exist you'd probably not want one.

      -

      Fusion power might be closer, it's hard to say. Basically unless there is a sort of working prototype of something any forecast is total guess work.

      Prototypes can take 6 months to 10 years to be commercial:

      See Passenger Jet Aircraft (idea is from 1938!). LED is 1924 or 1962. Radio 1898, but home in 1922. Electronic TV proposed 1905, working 1935. LCDs.

      Lithium cells nearly 20 years before used in phones and laptops.

      1. karlkarl Silver badge

        Re: Even if an iPhone . . .

        I used iPhone as an umbrella for consumption hardware. You think Android is more open? You still can't do anything on them but browse silly websites.

        The PS/2 compatible (compatible with PC/AT/XT) had 2 bios. One was "open".

        What I guess I was trying to say is that the quantum processor isn't important if we aren't allowed to do anything productive with it other than viewing adverts.

        1. Mage Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Even if an iPhone . . .

          The PS/2 used different I/O cards. MCA. It never had an open BIOS. Nor did the PC/XT/AT.

          The compatibles of the PC non-PS/2 systems didn't have an Open BIOS either. Compaq developed their own and the Phoenix BIOS a commercial clone supposedly created by a separate team reverse engineering the IBM PC BIOS (not PS/2) and issuing a spec. It was licenced. It was never open source at the time.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Technologies#Cloning_the_IBM_PC_BIOS

          The IBM PS/2 was really the third generation IBM-PC. Unlike the first which used catalogue HW, IBM proprietary BIOS and MS's version of a reverse engineered CP/M-86, it had more proprietary HW and more IBM designing in it.

          "These models were in the strange position of being incompatible with the IBM-compatible hardware standards previously established by IBM and adopted in the PC industry. "

          The higher spec models were supposed to run OS/2, incompatible with DOS. The lower spec models were inferior spec to PC-AT clones at the same price, so despite about 3M corporate sales, the PS/2 was a failure. The PCjr even more so outside the USA.

          No PS/2 models could take the popular ISA expansion cards.

          Ironically the PS/2 came out the same year as the Archimedes running on ARM. 1987.

          PS/2 and OS/2 were too little, a couple of years too late.

          1. martinusher Silver badge

            Re: Even if an iPhone . . .

            The PC BIOS was indeed open because in keeping with IBM documentation policy both the schematic for the computer and the assembler source for the BIOS were in the user manual. This is really what set the whole clone thing on fire -- anyone who could throw a PC board together and had a supply of the chips to make it was in the clone business. These halcyon days came to an abrupt end when IBM noticed the competition and sent a politely worded nastygram to the various manufacturers giving them a month to replace the BIOS. This resulted in a mad scramble to quickly code up a replacement -- not that difficult except that these early machines used a bunch of hardware specific gotchas to implement things like system calls so the result was 'compatible' but not necessarily 'identical'.

            Subsquent models of the PC were required to be software backwards compatible so essentially the difference between a PC, XT, AT and so on what was in what was added to support things like hard disks. Things like the audio casette interface (and eventually, ROM based BASIC) gradually disappeared since they were less than useful -- there's no point in cluttering up the address space with a language if you're not going to use it.

            (Luckily for everyone IBM's lawyers hadn't come up with the API copyright wheeze or we would have really been screwed!)

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Even if an iPhone . . .

          "You still can't do anything on them but browse silly websites."

          This may come as a surprise to you, ut you can also use them to make phone calls.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Even if an iPhone . . .

            Some of us only make and recieve telephone calls from our phones. A simple tool that does a simple job, but does it extremely well. (I'm an old UNIX hacker. So sue me.)

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Even if an iPhone . . .

        Apple is for people with money to spare. Us plebs buy $99 android phones and $400 laptops, some of the laptops run Linux.

        This pleb doesn't have money to spare for phones so i buy ised iPhones for not very much money.

        To avoid Android.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Even if an iPhone . . .

          Aren't all iFads ised, by definition, making "ised iPhones" redundant?

      3. TeeCee Gold badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Even if an iPhone . . .

        The PS/2 didn't have an open BIOS and was a failure in the market place.

        I have news for you. Shunned by sad nerds who only want the thing to run something else on isn't a failure. Sold like hot cakes for kids' games, which is what it was for. Ended up pretty much wiping out Nintendo and Sega, which was success beyond the wildest dreams of Sony when they introduced it.

        1. stuartnz

          Re: Even if an iPhone . . .

          Um, sorry but the OP was talking about, and here I quote, "the IBM PS/2" - not the Sony PlayStation 2 The IBM PS/2 did not wipe out either Nintendo or Sega, nor was it introduced by Sony.

  2. Brian Miller

    Quantum vs COBOL

    Ok, so the US just might be vulnerable to encryption being cracked by quantum computing. Maybe. If there is usable quantum computing...

    The thing is, the really sensitive government stuff is protected by encryption that is not public. The problem is one for the rest of us out here, who are actually far more vulnerable to a chair and rubber hoses than encryption being broken by quantum computers. And because some mainframe back there is running COBOL, doesn't mean that it has information that is sensitive enough to warrant the expense of being cracked using a quantum computer.

    Current encryption is far more vulnerable to math and GPU attacks than the alleged eventual arrival of quantum computers.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Quantum vs COBOL

      "The thing is, the really sensitive government stuff is protected by encryption that is not public."

      When designing a cryptosystem, you should assume that the enemy knows what it is. Security through obscurity is rarely a good idea.

    2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: Quantum vs COBOL

      Quantum and COBOL is the obvious approach.

      Follow the path pioneered by CHAPS - all the complex message handling and protocol management was initially done on relatively slow Tandem NonStop fault-tolerant computers, which front-ended the member bank's mainframes. These undoubtedly did, and still do, run COBOL programs that handle all the bank's internal accounts and transactions. The Tandem machines used a very secure encription engine* which handled all outbound message encryption and inbound message decryption. The combination provides a secure, reliable gateway to the CHAPS financial network.

      This is a good way of handling security while maintaining network uptime and throughput. At the same time it keeps the internal systems well isolated from network nasties. Of course such a setup isn't cheap, but if manglement thinks its sensitive data doesn't justify the expense, then they deserve to carry the can if/when proved wrong.

      [*] This encrypt/decrypt engine could be quantum-based when, if ever, that technology achieves 99,99% uptime, something that Tandem NonStop systems and encryption engines achieved in the early '80s.

    3. Persona Silver badge

      Re: Quantum vs COBOL

      Current encryption is far more vulnerable to key stealingthan math and GPU attacks

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Quantum vs COBOL

        XKCD. Hit him with the spanner till he gives the key

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Quantum vs COBOL

          Citation needed:

          https://xkcd.com/538/

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Quantum vs COBOL

            But what happens when you're up against a masochist or a wimp? A masochist would ask for harder and a wimp would faint before you even got started.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Quantum vs COBOL

              "But what happens when "

              Then you start on the family instead.

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: Quantum vs COBOL

                Either orphaned or a black sheep. The former has no family to threaten and the latter could care less...or even provide their address. There IS such a thing as Too Kinky to Torture...

                1. jake Silver badge

                  Re: Quantum vs COBOL

                  Whatever. Show me one example of a dude (or dudette, of course!) with those attributes and a need for strong encryption. Absurd example is absurd.

                  As a thinking point, does anyone reading this really have a need for strong encryption? And by "need", I mean "might get tortured into releasing the key, it's that important to someone else". (Yes, I use it too ... but I'm not so vain as to think anyone but me actually cares that I use it.)

                  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                    Re: Quantum vs COBOL

                    At that extreme, if they do, they're not going to tell you. But as a contra thinking point, do any of our everyday communications contain anything TPTB have any business being able to intercept?

                    1. jake Silver badge

                      Re: Quantum vs COBOL

                      "do any of our everyday communications contain anything TPTB have any business being able to intercept?"

                      No, of course not. That's why I encrypt them as I see fit, even if especially if there is absolutely no reason to do so :-)

                      1. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge

                        Re: Quantum vs COBOL

                        Most encryption will be applied automatically without you needing to provide a "key". The TLS handshake between your device and the server, and subsequent data encryption, will be transparent to the user. You might need to authenticate to some sites, so you'll need a "password ", and preferably a strong one...

                        Same applies to streaming services. A user might see no need for strong crypto, but a provider will!

    4. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Quantum vs COBOL

      I feel that a Quantum computing breakthrough might not be immediately revealed and spooks will operate it secretly like a modern Bletchley Park.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Quantum vs COBOL

        I think that because most research (outside Universities) is being done in publicly traded companies, any and all breakthroughs will be announced immediately to drive up the price of their stock. As seems to be happening, if you follow the news.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Quantum vs COBOL

          Really? What about black projects where the mere existence would be denied? Suppose the Utah data center is just a front for a black quantum computer project?

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Quantum vs COBOL

            Has anybody noticed a brain-drain, where any of the top Quantum researchers coming out of Uni just drop off the face of the Earth? Or do they all seem to wind up in public corporations (if they don't stay at Uni doing post-grad work, and teaching). From what I've seen, it's the latter, thus suggesting there are no major black quantum computing projects.

            Top boffins of this caliber are rather rare critters, and well known by all players, starting at a fairly young age. They don't appear out of thin air any more than they disappear into it.

            Sorry, my "Conspiracies Are Us" hat is in need of repair.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Quantum vs COBOL

              Usually doesn't work that way. People in black projects tend to have cover jobs to explain their absences. At least, that's how I read things worked during the work on the likes of the F-117 (which was a black project as well, not to mention more conspicuous given they were working on something comparably large in physical size).

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Quantum vs COBOL

                Works for general engineering like F-117 (which had no really new tech in it ... the way it was put together was the new part) ... but for something like Quantum Computing, the high-end talent pool is several orders of magnitude smaller. People going missing from their "day job" would be noticed immediately.

                1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                  Re: Quantum vs COBOL

                  Point is, they would still have a day job in a related but mainstream field. They wouldn't vanish. And I don't see much difference between a quantum computer and a stealth fighter; it's the design that's the hard part.

                  1. jake Silver badge

                    Re: Quantum vs COBOL

                    The trouble is that the few people researching in this field don't have time for so-called "black" projects[0]. There quite simply aren't enough hours in the day. If any were skiving off for the government of your choice, the time spent doing that would stick out like a sore thumb.

                    [0] May I coin a phrase? "Black DevOps" ...

  3. Denarius Silver badge
    FAIL

    what is problem with COBOL ?

    who cares what language source code is written in ? As for underlying hardware, does it matter anymore outsiide of specialist cases like extreme conditions? What matters are human factors. PHB bean counters getting rewarded for cutting costs, not punished for not funding upgrades or determining if systems are still fit for purpose, secure and supportable. In short, a complete management and leadership failure. None of which matters has anything to do with languages. For the record, I like COBOL, verbose as it is but if properly written, it has three big benefits.

    (a) source code is documentation if variables are rationally named. Again, human factor.

    (b) Excellent control structures are mandated by language.. Again, code quality is created and maintained by humans.

    (c) The DATA section forces thought and understanding of the data types. This is where so much goes wrong.

    Would I use COBOL outside of business ? Probably not. C, Fortran or whatever is most suitable for problem, even if by some fluke a fashionable language might be a candidate.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

      >who cares what language source code is written in ?

      It does suggest that if your government IT is still running the same code from the 60s with layers of patches because it has always lacked the money, management and technical staff to update it.

      Then switching the security model overnight to a post Quantum Computing world might be "challenging"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

      Over 30 years ago I was teaching old time COBOL programmers how to program in this new fangled language called 'C' (the K&R version).

      1. Steve 114

        Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

        As an 'old time COBOL programmer' I have been waiting for decades for something better. Good corporate experience with the 'Simplicity' skin for APL, still waiting for Object Orientation to deliver something remotely usable. Use-case: define the data/business problem unambiguously in words or diagrams that can be checked, then leave all the heiroglyphics to a compiler that will flag hidden ambiguities.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

          migrating COBOL data storage systems to SQL, at the very least, might be worth while [but requires that time/money thing to do it]

          Trying to gerrymander "Object Oriented" into that mix is likely to result in HORRIBLY INFLATED contracts and plenty of job security later on... as in "It is SO Object Oriented that only the author understands it".

          Object Oriented = Highly Overrated [and I wonder if those who are responsible for 'those kinds of abominations' could properly DEFINE what 'an object' is, in a single sentence... [it's a nice job interview question that will weed out the "job security" types from your development team]

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

            Wanting someone to define a complex idea in a single sentence is a sign that you really do not understand how definitions work. (Try defining "electricity" in a single sentence. Three quarter page sentences like the ones in a Thomas Hardy novel don't count.)

            Object orientation actually flows naturally from the SQLmodel of data, data flow diagrams, and scoping of functions just like we did in the 1970s. The problem in my experience is that spaghetti code programmers don't get it, regardless of age, because the ability to visualise a problem as blocks of functionality and data joined together by hooks of data flow and decision making is somewhat different from coding. For one thing, I think a degree of visual sophistication is necessary to design and understand architectures, and it's obvious that many programmers are very non-visual.

            I have always distrusted any programmer who cannot express themselves with diagrams on paper.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

              "Wanting someone to define a complex idea in a single sentence is a sign that you really do not understand how definitions work."

              Thinking that the interviewer is expecting a one sentence answer to that complex question is a sign that you don't understand what the interviewer is actually looking for.

              It's not the answer, rather it's how it is answered.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

                read BB's post to which I was responding. Jake, you can do better than these weak responses.

                1. jake Silver badge

                  Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

                  As usual, bob's commentardary was all over the place ... "multi-threaded", if you will. I was responding to the "interviewer" thread because it was the only portion that interested me at the time. I'm sorry if I upset your world view.

            2. jake Silver badge

              Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

              "I have always distrusted any programmer who cannot express themselves with diagrams on paper."

              One of the best programmers I have ever known was born blind. She doesn't do much drawing on paper.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

                So, take extreme corner case and try to use it to disprove a generalisation.

                You'd certainly fail my interview tests.

                1. jake Silver badge

                  Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

                  Handling edge cases is a major part of engineering. Failure to take them into account in the initial spec is a rookie maneuver.

            3. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

              "Try defining "electricity" in a single sentence"

              Electricity (noun): A form of energy resulting from the existence of charged particles (such as electrons or protons), either statically as an accumulation of charge or dynamically as a current. (Source: Lexico (OED))

              There, now where's my five pounds?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

                Nowhere. You have given no useful information at all. You have recited a dictionary definition of a noun,and haven't told anybody anything useful about what electricity actually is. Read Feynman's account of his visit to Brazil to see what I mean.

                1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                  Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

                  I don't care. I defined (by the definition of definition) the word you described within the specified limits.

                  You see, I tend to treat the English language like a computer language: with some degree of literal-mindedness. I tend to seek and (when I can) speak precisely. If someone wants a pack of cigarettes in a box, then that is what they get (a soft pack of cigarettes in a separate box). IOW, be careful what you ask for. What you really meant to say was that you didn't really want a definition but a thorough explanation. A thorough explanation in two sentences or less would be far-fetched, as would trying to explain a concept to someone who's never experienced it before (part of the plot of The Gods Must Be Crazy was how Bushmen dealt with something totally alien--a soda bottle--literally falling into their lives).

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

            "Object Oriented = Highly Overrated"

            I spent ages being suspicious of OO until I eventually discovered about 75% of it was IT SOP: wrap new words round what you've been doing all along.

            If you're programming in C you have a struct to define some data. If you're using SQL you have DDL to describe a table. At a design level you might have entities in an ER diagram. The extra bit with OO is that instead of having your struct and then free-floating functions you combine the two. Once you've got used to the changed vocabulary and the extra functionality it gives you you've added the next 24%.

            All you have to avoid is the 1% of the OO religious fundamentalists with the "everything's an object" approach. Stay pragmatic and it's simply another way of thinking about data and how to handle it. Sometimes you reach out for the set-oriented view of RDBMS and SQL, sometimes OO is what fits the job.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

              Well said.

      2. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Over 30 years ago I was teaching

        In 1987 I was writing C++ tutorials That's 30+ years ago.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Over 30 years ago I was teaching

          I've been recommending people buck the trend and learn COBOL and Fortran since they started dropping the two in favo(u)r of C back in the early '80s. Not a month goes by without a former student dropping me an email thanking me for the advice.

      3. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

        I still have my (hardback) copy of the original K&R book on C. Not signed unfortunately!

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: what is problem with COBOL ?

          Mine is dogeared, coffee & Guinness stained and signed by both Brian and Dennis. It's sitting next to my autographed first generation Xerox of Lions' Commentary. (The first was from when I was a student at Berkeley, the second was sent to me by John himself after he read a Usenet post of mine bitching about copyright restrictions for students that didn't exist when I was the student ... )

  4. HildyJ Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Won't matter to us plebs

    By the time we get quantum computing we'll also have laws in place banning end-to-end encryption by anyone other than government intelligence agencies.

  5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    What the likes of a RAND are terrified of <s>advising you</s>

    If adequate implementation of new security measures has not taken place by the time capable quantum computers are developed, it becomes even more impossible to ensure secure authentication and communication privacy ........ for surely since forever and presently is it impossible to ensure secure authentication and communication privacy as is evidenced by the great many bugs and vulnerabilities available for exploitation and monetisation?

    And ....... quantum code-breaking could be a thing in, say, 12-15 years is a just a wild guess and nothing more important nor definite than that. And to not imagine it a current unheralded utility/facility has one catastrophically disabled and unenabled against systems which have realised such a situation and exercise its almighty overwhelming advantage.

    1. Tail Up

      Re: What the ... </s>

      Fair

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: What the likes of a RAND are terrified of <s>advising you</s>

      Two things:

      1. The principle problem with quantum computing if it ever works probably isn't updating security practices and algorithms -- although that's bad enough. It's all the previously unreadable stuff that folks have recorded and can now read.

      2. Quantum decryption is at the it_doesn't_have_to_work_very_well_to_be_useful end of the computing spectrum. If it only works 1 time in 50 you can just try over and over until you get a result that isn't garbage.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: What the likes of a RAND are terrified of <s>advising you</s>

        Amen to that brace of points, vtcodger. Such is Win Win for Whatever Dares with Programs for more than just Ignorant and Arrogant Herds of Humans UNrecognisable as the Most Bountiful of Assets for Master Capture with Advanced IntelAIgent Resources.

        In many places they be wisely and deservedly suggested as being " In Mysterious Services of Crown Forces Right Royal Sources." although one never needs know and go any further than that unless cordially invited , .... for then you Run the Risk of Being Another One of those Persons of Immense Intense Interest to Authorities.

        Be well aware if a friend of the deep search, some things no one gets to know until the approach of death .... and that revitalises and energises one for another smarter go at life as you would then know it. A completely different world, with worlds you never ever heard tell of before, from the ones everyone is born into ........ and every one quite perfectly unique but expected to be unimportant and of no future consequence?

        I wouldn't like to be relying on future ignorance providing present arrogance any security or protection against any new forces which are out there.

        There are powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge. ....... Queen Elizabeth II

        She knows you know.

  6. NeilPost Silver badge

    “ RAND report finds that, like fusion power and Half Life 3, quantum computing is still 15 years away”

    Do you want to add

    - self driving cars

    - usable self-checkouts

    - usable CAPTCHA

    - usable automated call handling

    to that ‘15 year’ shit-list.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Mushroom

      "usable CAPTCHA"

      A "special place in HELL" is reserved for those responsible for THAT eldritch abomination! [some re-Captchas just DO NOT WORK AT ALL, 3 or 4 screens of click the photo, or slowly fade-out slowly fade-in photos of 'click the car', and it ALWAYS FAILS, even if you're careful, use a screen magnifier, and wait for each one to complete fading before continuing, and do them one at a time even!]

      I've complained, yeah. SEVERAL times. With PROFANITY even. I found the support e-mail address for it [took some searching]. Doesn't seem to have helped much, except that the worst of them aren't appearing as often any more during the COVID-19 shutdowns...

      1. TimMaher Silver badge

        Nice one @bb.

        Upvote for that.

        Now, click on every square thar contains a mushroom cloud.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        I may be wrong, but it seems the fault tolerance can be adjusted by the provider. More mainstream sites that use them (like Patreon) seem to commonly let you through after one screen where more spammy sites (like less-reputed download providers) will force you through several of them. Whether it's due to honest false negatives or the system forcing you through it twice by wrongly saying you're wrong, I can't say. All I know is that they demand a lot more from you.

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Not always awful

      "- usable automated call handling"

      A lot of them ARE pretty bad. OTOH, some are marginably usable. Especially the ones that let one key in information from the phone keypad instead of depending on voice recognition. Actually, I think the best automated call handling is less unusable than most 2FA schemes I've encountered.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I have no trouble at all with self-checkouts except the ones in Waitrose and W H Smith,and the weird ones in Sainsbury's in which some have a left to right flow and others a right to left.

      Fifteen years isn't required, a couple of days of all the manufacturers and customers locked in a room and not allowed out till they agree on a standard should do it.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Self-checkouts are probabilistic. With more than 3 items the probability of a failure exceeds my acceptability limits. If they were paying me to debug them it might be a different matter.

        1. jake Silver badge

          I have had no problems with the self checkouts for six or eight years. It's much, much faster than standing in line and getting checked out by a human. Even the odd problem takes almost no time to fix ... but then we're friends with most of the employees at our local stores. PleaseAndThankYou and a smile goes a long way when we're outside our usual stomping grounds.

    4. jake Silver badge

      AI

      'nuff said.

    5. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Actually I don't find self-checkouts a problem today - the rest, well could not agree more.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        I find self-checkout a pain but that's generally because I always buy alcohol and you have to wait for a staff member to agree you're old enough to buy it.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Here in California you can't purchase alcohol at the self checkout. I solved that problem by making my own ... its hardly rocket surgery.

          On the bright side, it's not New Jersey where you have to go to a separate store to get alcohol. (Worse, they won't even let you pump your own gas/petrol in NJ. It's a good state to avoid.)

          Tip: Most "grocery stores" here in California have a Customer Service desk with a till. If you say PleaseAndThankYou and smile nicely, most stores will allow you to purchase up to 8-10 items from there, which means no queue to purchase a couple bottles of plonk ... One caveat, the CS till has no scales, so you can't buy anything not pre-labeled by weight there (meat, usually OK ... produce, not so much).

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            "I solved that problem by making my own ... its hardly rocket surgery."

            But rocket fuel?

            1. jake Silver badge

              Yes, it is. Until its matured in the barrel for a few years. See this post from three years ago. We're up to about 350 gallons aging today. It's getting better :-)

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How odd. I've been using quite practical self checkouts for at least six years now, often to avoid the slow lines with human cashiers.

      And properly configured call handling works just fine.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "slow lines with human cashiers."

        The USA must be a strange place. Self service everywhere else in the world is faster for a couple of items, but only because of the lack of queueing. No way I'd scan a cart full of stuff myself when the cashier can do it 3-5 times faster.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Cashiers must be a whole other breed where you live because in most places the line is at the self-checkout because the cashier is slower than doing it your own damn self. Plus, with the whole Coronavirus business, less human contact is better, and self-checkout provides ways to minimize physical contact.

    7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Add lunar and asteroid mining to that list.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Nobody outside the SciFi community ever thought asteroid and/or lunar mining were anywhere in the near future ... unless you were NASA trying to lobby for funding from pig-ignorant congress critters.

    8. Art Jannicelli

      Re: Xpenology

      Captcha is an abomination.

      A programmer friend of mine, came up with a far superior solution 15 years ago...

      He would challenge a user with 3 questions with text boxes...

      What color is an Orange?

      True or False, adding two and two, adds up to five?

      True or False, False becomes before the word True in the dictionary?

      A computer does not understand context anymore than an image. Asking simple questions that rely on simple content/text versus math are at least as effective as ridiculous captcha's but far easier for humans to use...

      This is based on the computer science logic, that what is easy for humans is hard for computers, and what is easy for computers is hard for humans.

      Of course... The PHB went with his gut that captcha was a better solution...

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Xpenology

        "A computer does not understand context anymore than an image."

        You haven't been keeping up with machine learning, have you? They're getting better at those types of questions. And even if the questions were images, they can probably OCR them and go from there.

        And in any event, there's always the sweatshops.

  7. druck Silver badge
    FAIL

    15 years away

    Quantum computing will always be 15 years away, unlike fusion where you can turn towards the sun and feel the effects of real fusion happening. We just need to overcome the physical challenges of recreating, and crucially maintaining, the conditions at the heart of a star to generate more energy than you put in. With quantum computing you have to overcome the physical challenges of implementing wishful thinking that the right answer simultaneously coexists with all possible wrong answers and will magically pop out at you with enough funding.

    1. Andy1

      Re: 15 years away

      We have to do much better than reproduce the "conditions at the heart of a star". An article in New Scientist a long time ago said that Terrestrial fusion would have to be much denser than in the sun in order to generate any useable energy in a practical volume.

      1. Man inna barrel

        Re: 15 years away

        As far as I know, terrestrial fusion cannot achieve the densities that occur in stellar fusion. Magnetic confinement and so on cannot do the same job as gravity. The answer is to vastly increase the temperature over stellar values, so that slamming nuclei together overcomes electrostatic repulsive forces.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: 15 years away

          And gravity AIUI will only work over a certain critical mass. Basically, size is the main thing why something as big as Sol kicked off and something as big as Jupiter (which if you think about it is basically the same composition) didn't.

  8. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Controlled Narrative Operations for Deep See Divers .....

    With quantum computing you have to overcome the physical challenges of implementing wishful thinking that the right answer simultaneously coexists with all possible wrong answers and will magically pop out at you with enough funding. ..... druck

    That is not quite right, druck, for with quantum computing you have to overcome the physical challenges of implementing wishful thinking that the right answer simultaneously coexists with all possible wrong answers and will magically pop out at you freely for wider sharing which really only requires enough funding for right answers/novel application implementing such shared wishful thinking.

    That is never expensive for it requires only what is needed .... however a quirk in the program allows heart felt earnest gratitude from clients to consider high rewards an acceptable valid and viable valuable tribute to ...... well, in such a case they could be as Celebrants with Novel AIdDrivers.

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Controlled Narrative Operations for Deep See Divers .....

      Are you not a bit ridunculous here, amanfromMars?

      Please tick as appropriate:

      [ ] Yes

      [ ] No

      [ ] File not found

  9. vir

    Got Any Spare Change?

    I'm flipping coins and making one-time-pads to sell off in 15 years for a mint.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Got Any Spare Change?

      Bingo balls and spinning basket cages tend to be faster and more effective (History: It's how UK OTPs were made)

      1. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Got Any Spare Change?

        I'll just keep reusing the one I've always used. No point ditching a tried and tested OTP ;)

  10. LenG

    Timeline

    I have 50 year old books in my library claiming that fusion power would be available within 25 years. I believe that is still the estimate.

    I do not anticipate general availability of quantum computing within my lifetime, no matter how long I live.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Timeline

      And what nobody seems to explain is, suppose we can even sustain a fusion reaction - what's going to happen with all those hot neutrons flying out of it? Within a few weeks won't the reactor vessels themselves turn into nuclear waste? Is this really "clean" power?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Timeline

        I don't usually recommend Wikianything, but a good place to start is

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#Energy_source

        and

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#Waste_management

      2. Man inna barrel

        Re: Timeline

        Not all fusion reactions produce neutrons. Hydrogen-boron fusion produces alpha particles and no neutrons. Unfortunately, that particular reaction needs much more energy to initiate than the more common deuterium-tritium reaction.

      3. Shadow Systems

        Re: Fusion...

        I've solved the problem already.

        I buttered a slice of toast on both sides, wrapped it in copper wire, attached the wires to a sort of hoop so the wires never get tangled, then dropped the toast to the floor.

        Because it can never land butter side up (it's against the laws of the universe), it just hovers above the floor constantly spinning like a gyroscope toy on speed. The electricity generated by the spin is transfered through the hoop & is captured, controlled, & consumed by all the gizmos in my house.

        I tried using a cat at first, but it tried to kill me when I brought out the butter...

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Fusion...

          Nah, it'll either stop on edge so that neither side is up, spin so much it flings the butter off and finally lands, or just lands anyway and tears a hole in reality.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Fusion...

          "A dropped cat never lands buttered side up" ?

          1. Shadow Systems

            Re: Fusion...

            I was going to lay a stripe of butter down the cats back in the belief that it could not land butter side up, but neither could it not land on its feet, thus would do the same hovering spin maneuver as the toast.

            Unfortunately the cat saw the tub of butter, caused enough bleeding for me to require immediate medical attention, thereby proving the cat was an unwilling lab partner.

            I got even though, I gave MyFurryOverlord an unusual brand of canned tuna for dinner that caused a bout of catstipation...

            1. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge
              Flame

              Catstipation?

              Do you really think you'll still be even when that situation "resolves" itself?

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Note that the US government is still running COBOL"

    And that matters how, exactly ?

    Banks are still running COBOL, but the Internet gets nowhere near the mainframes that run it.

    If cracking passwords is going to take thousands of qbits, I predict that we'll have working fusion reactors before we have quantum computers.

    Because having the qbits is not enough, you still have to program the damn things. And programming for a quantum computer seems like a dark art.

    1. ILLQO

      Re: "Note that the US government is still running COBOL"

      I hate to say it but most IT work is a dark art. I have solved as many issues with planned testing and log inspections as I have with salt circles and chanting.

  12. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Happy

    Quantum pros and cons

    If quantum computing is powerful enough to break all current encryption, then it's also powerful enough to create "unbreakable" encryption in the future. When it first appears it will be expensive so it will only be available to governments, after a couple of years it will be driving phones and cars.

  13. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    When

    Quantum computing and fusion will at least 15 to 20 years away for the foreseeable future.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: When

      And flying cars

      And AI.

      'tis been true since I was first aware of what was happening at SAIL, lo these many decades ago.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dream on Matey

    Thanks for the links.

    The 2033 estimate is based on a "weighted average" of respondents. Which is fine if you believe the weighting coefficients chosen for the respondents. If you just take the median or even average (ignoring one low and one high)... well, that is a different story. The story is also different if you apply your own weighting. I prefer the AAS version.

    Finally, the RAND study is a sort of opinion piece, not really delving into the actual quantum computer developments but relying on a sort of filtered assessment by presumed experts. The weighting seems too heavy on academic folks, the ones dedicated to pumping out PhDs while fiddling endlessly with cash cow fusion.

    On the other hand, the discussion of various industry effects and impacts, and PQC, is worth reading if you into that sort of thing.

  15. NanoMeter

    Too optimistic or was that too negative

    I'm sure we will have powerful enough quantum computers in 5-6 years time.

  16. Mark192 Silver badge

    Waiting for the car to crash...

    ... before trying to avoid the accident has never been a good idea.

    For those advocating a wait and see approach because it's too expensive/difficult to take action now... how much more expensive will it be to retroactively do it at pace?

  17. John PM Chappell

    "US Government"

    A small point, but New Jersey is not "THE US government"; it's a state government, in the USA. You could technically it "A" US government, but it's by no means representative of the Federal government, and not necessarily representative of state governments, in general (though I wouldn't be amazed if it were, to be fair).

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: "US Government"

      True enough. Perhaps ElReg should have chosen another link, or none at all.

      But it doesn't alter the fact that the US Government does, in fact, still use COBOL (and Fortran) running on decades old Mainframes. And why shouldn't they? If it ain't broke ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "US Government"

        Or maybe it's too broken to fix and a clean beginning on a replacement is the way out.

        The last time I was forced to debug COBOL I did it the easy way by inspecting the assembler emitted by the compiler.

        And any language where

        DIVIDE A INTO B GIVING C

        and

        DIVIDE A BY B GIVING C

        produces the same code will never be self-documenting no matter how picky you are about variable names.

  18. Booh
    Megaphone

    This is the protoype, I'd like to see the production model...

    And if you aren't aware of this site already, it's a great geeky way to burn some lock-down time. ;)

    https://media.ccc.de/v/36c3-10808-build_you_own_quantum_computer_home_-_99_of_discount_-_hacker_style

  19. Bitsminer Bronze badge

    Ministry of Truth

    When quantum computing becomes available it will be about as much quantum as AI is AI.

    Which is to say, not a lot.

  20. IGnatius T Foobar !

    Crypto will be illegal

    Remember when the export regulations on "strong crypto" were relaxed? That happened because the government became able to break it in real time. If quantum computing (or anything else) brings us to a world where encryption is breakable by anyone ... you can rest assured that the government will make all encryption illegal again. Because only terrorists do that, or something.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Crypto will be illegal

      Remember when the export regulations on "strong crypto" were relaxed?

      You mean the US's export regulations? Wasn't that because they'd already been circumvented and the rest of the world was already able to use better encryption than the US public was allowed?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Crypto will be illegal

        The US public has been allowed to use whatever encryption we want. The restriction was on exporting simple math.

        I wore the PGP-in-perl T-shirt out of and back into the USA on maybe a dozen flights from '91 to '93 without anybody even blinking at me funny. Later, I occasionally carried a copy of Bruce Schneier's "Applied Cryptography" book containing source examples in the text (which did not fall under the export restrictions) and the disk containing the very same source, which was bound into the cover (and very definitely did fall under those restrictions). Again, nobody even noticed.

        This kind of security theater isn't worth the paper it is printed on. Never has been, never will be. Won't stop the idiots in DC passing laws, though.

        I stopped trying to get arrested on principle when I grew up and had a kid of my own to take care of. Priorities & all that. Today, she tells me I shouldn't have wimped out ... but she did take the shirt into "show and tell" occasionally, to explain to the class why it was considered "munitions".

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Crypto will be illegal

      Nonsense. Making crypto legal or illegal is pure security theater, nothing more, nothing less. Making it illegal is just as stupid as passing a law making Pi equal to 3, in that it makes absolutely zero difference to anybody, anywhere, who does math(s) for a living.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quantum computing will never exist, just like AI.

    Both are fools unicorns, a scam for the gullible.

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