Quantum Computing and How Cryptography Will Have to Change

By: Laurence Weir
Technology Lead, Biomedical Engineer

23rd January 2020

5 minute read

Home » Plextek

The creation of quantum computers is one of the ethereal technological challenges of the modern age, along with the likes of nuclear fusion reactors, and low-cost space travel. Algorithms designed for quantum computers will offer results which have a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. Problems like protein folding (used to find new Cancer drugs), or SETI (the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence), will be solved many orders of magnitude faster than is currently possible with supercomputers. However, this also means most of our secure data is at risk.

Back to basics; the state of a “bit” in computing, is binary;

1 OR 0. HIGH OR LOW. VOLTAGE OR GROUND.

With the inception of quantum computing and the quantum bit, or “qubit”, this is going to change. Qubits are not just 1 or 0. They are 1 and 0 and everything in between. Those without a background in quantum mechanics, feel free to just go with the flow.

Conventional binary computers offer amazing abilities to solve linear logical problems. Many of these problems can be simplified as:

“WE KNOW INPUTS A,B,C…, AND HOW THEY INTERACT TO PRODUCE OUTPUTS X,Y,Z…”

These algorithms almost instantaneously change their outputs to changes in inputs. Problems such as:

“HOW MUCH MONEY DO I HAVE TO SPEND THIS WEEK?”

“WHEN IS MY TRAIN GOING TO ARRIVE?”

“WHAT IS THE WEATHER GOING TO BE LIKE TOMORROW?”

However, with qubits, in a quantum computer, as well as being able to solve do everything the conventional computer can, new problems will be solvable. These can be simplified as:

“WE KNOW OUTPUTS X,Y,Z…, BUT HOW DID WE GET TO THIS?”

These problems are solved right now using either brute force algorithms, or rely on being able to identify patterns. Here are some examples:

“HOW TO WIN THIS CHESS GAME?”

“HOW DO I FOLD THESE PROTEINS TO CREATE A CURE FOR CANCER?”

“HOW DO I BREAK THIS PASSWORD?”

For instance, a password in binary is just a fixed series of 1’s and 0’s. A traditional computer can crack this by trying every combination of 1’s and 0’s, perhaps also intelligently predicting what series are most likely. However, with limited processing power, and a long enough password, solving this takes longer than is reasonable (usually the age of the universe). However, with enough qubits, a quantum computer is able to solve it. The qubits instantly try every combination of 1’s and 0’s, and the password is cracked.

The modern cryptographic method involves multiples of two primes to create very long numbers. Certain numbers only have two factors, both of which are prime numbers. For instance, the number 889. To find them might take you several minutes by hand. A conventional computer would be able to brute force it by checking a list of primes. However, if the number was 2000 digits long, this search algorithm would take too long. Again the quantum computer is able to solve it by just using two groups of qubits representing the two primes.

BTW…THE PRIME FACTORS OF 889 ARE 7 AND 127.

When this quantum computer potentially emerges over the next decade, it will be able to break every encryption method and protected piece of information. It will also be able to impose its own encryption on the data which can never be broken by conventional computing. The owner of the quantum computer will be in sole possession of most of the world’s protected data.

Before that happens, the designers of quantum computers will have to overcome immense technical hurdles. A single qubit right now costs around $10k to create, compared to around $0.0000000001 for a conventional computer bit. These $10k qubits are still not of good enough quality for large scale computers. This creates compounded problems to develop error corrective algorithms to overcome this poor quality. At the moment, controlling multiple qubits simultaneously is very difficult. Lastly, each qubit requires multiple control wires.

Regardless of these challenges, we are now looking at a post-quantum era to which we should be designing our cryptography. In 2016, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) put out a call to propose algorithms that would not be able to be solvable by a quantum computer. They are analysing 26 leading candidate before implementation in 2024. IBM has selected one, in particular, called CRYSTALS (Cryptographic Suite for Algebraic Lattices). This method generates public and private keys based on “lattice algorithms”. An example of which is; A set of numbers is produced, as well as the sum of a subset of those numbers. Determining the different combinations of numbers which made up the final answer is currently unsolvable by quantum computing due to the multidimensional nature of the problem.

Therefore, quantum computing will solve many of life’s problems but will make some of our current cryptographic methods redundant. We will have to start soon moving to new methods to keep our future data safe.

If you want to know more about Quantum Computing, please get in contact with us below.

The creation of quantum computers is one of the ethereal technological challenges of the modern age, along with the likes of nuclear fusion reactors, and low-cost space travel. Algorithms designed for quantum computers will offer results which have a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. Problems like protein folding (used to find new Cancer drugs), or SETI (the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence), will be solved many orders of magnitude faster than is currently possible with supercomputers. However, this also means most of our secure data is at risk.

Back to basics; the state of a “bit” in computing, is binary;

1 OR 0. HIGH OR LOW. VOLTAGE OR GROUND.

With the inception of quantum computing and the quantum bit, or “qubit”, this is going to change. Qubits are not just 1 or 0. They are 1 and 0 and everything in between. Those without a background in quantum mechanics, feel free to just go with the flow.

Conventional binary computers offer amazing abilities to solve linear logical problems. Many of these problems can be simplified as:

“WE KNOW INPUTS A,B,C…, AND HOW THEY INTERACT TO PRODUCE OUTPUTS X,Y,Z…”

These algorithms almost instantaneously change their outputs to changes in inputs. Problems such as:

“HOW MUCH MONEY DO I HAVE TO SPEND THIS WEEK?”

“WHEN IS MY TRAIN GOING TO ARRIVE?”

“WHAT IS THE WEATHER GOING TO BE LIKE TOMORROW?”

However, with qubits, in a quantum computer, as well as being able to solve do everything the conventional computer can, new problems will be solvable. These can be simplified as:

“WE KNOW OUTPUTS X,Y,Z…, BUT HOW DID WE GET TO THIS?”

These problems are solved right now using either brute force algorithms, or rely on being able to identify patterns. Here are some examples:

“HOW TO WIN THIS CHESS GAME?”

“HOW DO I FOLD THESE PROTEINS TO CREATE A CURE FOR CANCER?”

“HOW DO I BREAK THIS PASSWORD?”

For instance, a password in binary is just a fixed series of 1’s and 0’s. A traditional computer can crack this by trying every combination of 1’s and 0’s, perhaps also intelligently predicting what series are most likely. However, with limited processing power, and a long enough password, solving this takes longer than is reasonable (usually the age of the universe). However, with enough qubits, a quantum computer is able to solve it. The qubits instantly try every combination of 1’s and 0’s, and the password is cracked.

The modern cryptographic method involves multiples of two primes to create very long numbers. Certain numbers only have two factors, both of which are prime numbers. For instance, the number 889. To find them might take you several minutes by hand. A conventional computer would be able to brute force it by checking a list of primes. However, if the number was 2000 digits long, this search algorithm would take too long. Again the quantum computer is able to solve it by just using two groups of qubits representing the two primes.

BTW…THE PRIME FACTORS OF 889 ARE 7 AND 127.

When this quantum computer potentially emerges over the next decade, it will be able to break every encryption method and protected piece of information. It will also be able to impose its own encryption on the data which can never be broken by conventional computing. The owner of the quantum computer will be in sole possession of most of the world’s protected data.

Before that happens, the designers of quantum computers will have to overcome immense technical hurdles. A single qubit right now costs around $10k to create, compared to around $0.0000000001 for a conventional computer bit. These $10k qubits are still not of good enough quality for large scale computers. This creates compounded problems to develop error corrective algorithms to overcome this poor quality. At the moment, controlling multiple qubits simultaneously is very difficult. Lastly, each qubit requires multiple control wires.

Regardless of these challenges, we are now looking at a post-quantum era to which we should be designing our cryptography. In 2016, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) put out a call to propose algorithms that would not be able to be solvable by a quantum computer. They are analysing 26 leading candidate before implementation in 2024. IBM has selected one, in particular, called CRYSTALS (Cryptographic Suite for Algebraic Lattices). This method generates public and private keys based on “lattice algorithms”. An example of which is; A set of numbers is produced, as well as the sum of a subset of those numbers. Determining the different combinations of numbers which made up the final answer is currently unsolvable by quantum computing due to the multidimensional nature of the problem.

Therefore, quantum computing will solve many of life’s problems but will make some of our current cryptographic methods redundant. We will have to start soon moving to new methods to keep our future data safe.

If you would like to learn more about quantum computing please get in contact below.

Try January – An Alternative Resolution

By: Kevin Jones
Senior Consultant

3rd January 2020

3 minute read

Home » Plextek

The New Year begins and perhaps you’ve made a promise to yourself with a traditional New Year’s resolution. Perhaps the festivities during the winter break were a little too indulgent and your resolution is a commitment to an alcohol-free Dry January. Personally, I prefer the less well known Try January. One definition of resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something” and this can feel that you’re setting yourself up for failure if you don’t quite complete your chosen task. On the other hand, one definition of try is “make an attempt or effort to do something” which, at least to me, feels like setting yourself up for success. The outcome is likely to be the same but if you treat your chosen quest as Try January rather than as a New Year’s resolution then the feeling of giving it a go, but perhaps not quite succeeding, is likely to be much more positive and much better for your wellbeing.

Let me put this into context. This year my daughter has decided to try to achieve zero waste during January. She knows she’s facing a difficult challenge given the amount of plastic packaging and single use plastics so she’s treating this goal as a Try January task rather than as a New Year’s resolution. Even before beginning this task our family has already changed many of our habits; we take reusable bags to the supermarket, we use a doorstep milk delivery service in reusable glass bottles and we refill water bottles. We even use loose leaf tea in reusable tea bags! My daughter is trying to take this even further; she’s found a zero-waste refill shop, she’s using a solar powered charger and she’s even ordered a bamboo toothbrush. She knows these aren’t perfect solutions because we have to drive to the newly-discovered shop and some of her purchases have to be delivered but she’s trying to make a difference knowing that not quite completely achieving zero waste will still be better than not trying at all.

I hope this motivates you to find a goal for Try January and that just leaves me to wish you a Happy New Year.

The New Year begins and perhaps you’ve made a promise to yourself with a traditional New Year’s resolution. Perhaps the festivities during the winter break were a little too indulgent and your resolution is a commitment to an alcohol-free Dry January. Personally, I prefer the less well known Try January. One definition of resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something” and this can feel that you’re setting yourself up for failure if you don’t quite complete your chosen task. On the other hand, one definition of try is “make an attempt or effort to do something” which, at least to me, feels like setting yourself up for success. The outcome is likely to be the same but if you treat your chosen quest as Try January rather than as a New Year’s resolution then the feeling of giving it a go, but perhaps not quite succeeding, is likely to be much more positive and much better for your wellbeing.

Let me put this into context. This year my daughter has decided to try to achieve zero waste during January. She knows she’s facing a difficult challenge given the amount of plastic packaging and single use plastics so she’s treating this goal as a Try January task rather than as a New Year’s resolution. Even before beginning this task our family has already changed many of our habits; we take reusable bags to the supermarket, we use a doorstep milk delivery service in reusable glass bottles and we refill water bottles. We even use loose leaf tea in reusable tea bags! My daughter is trying to take this even further; she’s found a zero-waste refill shop, she’s using a solar powered charger and she’s even ordered a bamboo toothbrush. She knows these aren’t perfect solutions because we have to drive to the newly-discovered shop and some of her purchases have to be delivered but she’s trying to make a difference knowing that not quite completely achieving zero waste will still be better than not trying at all.

I hope this motivates you to find a goal for Try January and that just leaves me to wish you a Happy New Year.

Home-Inspired Innovation to Create the Finest Multimeter Probes

Robert Fitzgerald, senior consultant

By: Robert Fitzgerald
Senior Consultant, Signal Processing

6th December 2019

2 minute read

Home » Plextek

During the course of my career in Electronics, almost all semiconductor components have become increasingly smaller. Whilst this has brought many benefits in terms of size, performance and power consumption, the task of debugging circuits has become much harder. Long gone are the days when you could attach a friendly IC test clip over a 16 pin DIL IC to probe key signals.

Magnifying the problem

The inexorable march of long sightedness has provided a double-whammy and made this task even harder. Help is at hand thanks to head mount magnifier glasses, which even with an LED only cost around £10.

In-circuit test techniques such as JTAG have helped, but sometimes there’s no substitute for actually debugging your PCB with a multimeter or scope.

If you’re lucky enough to be probing an IC that actually has pins or a QFN package where there is a tiny area of exposed metal to access, the probes that come with most multimeters are usually too broad at the tip to ensure you’re on the pin you want rather than shorting out the adjacent pin and making matters a whole lot worse!

Many well-known suppliers offer test leads with fine tips buts none were quite sharp enough – and they’re not cheap.

Inspiration!

Salvation came from the unlikely source of my wife’s needlework kit. Whilst rummaging through it looking for some elastic I was stabbed by a needle. Upon removing offending item from my finger I realized that being made of metal and sharp enough to draw blood, it was just what I needed for circuit debugging.

Said needle was promptly soldered to a 4mm banana socket with plenty of heatshrink to make the connection sufficiently robust and the net result is shown below:

innovation, creativity, problem solvingProbing a 0.5mm pitch quad flat pack IC is now slightly less precarious.

innovation, creativity, problem solvingThe end can be made even sharper with the aid of a file but beware such probes are very sharp as I found to my initial cost.
As every Engineer knows, it’s the magic smoke that makes all semiconductors work and these probes have helped me keep it on the inside and aided fault finding.

How have you solved problems in unexpected ways?

During the course of my career in Electronics, almost all semiconductor components have become increasingly smaller. Whilst this has brought many benefits in terms of size, performance and power consumption, the task of debugging circuits has become much harder. Long gone are the days when you could attach a friendly IC test clip over a 16 pin DIL IC to probe key signals.

Magnifying the problem

The inexorable march of long sightedness has provided a double-whammy and made this task even harder. Help is at hand thanks to head mount magnifier glasses, which even with an LED only cost around £10.

In-circuit test techniques such as JTAG have helped, but sometimes there’s no substitute for actually debugging your PCB with a multimeter or scope.

If you’re lucky enough to be probing an IC that actually has pins or a QFN package where there is a tiny area of exposed metal to access, the probes that come with most multimeters are usually too broad at the tip to ensure you’re on the pin you want rather than shorting out the adjacent pin and making matters a whole lot worse!
Many well-known suppliers offer test leads with fine tips buts none were quite sharp enough – and they’re not cheap.

Inspiration!

Salvation came from the unlikely source of my wife’s needlework kit. Whilst rummaging through it looking for some elastic I was stabbed by a needle. Upon removing offending item from my finger I realized that being made of metal and sharp enough to draw blood, it was just what I needed for circuit debugging.

Said needle was promptly soldered to a 4mm banana socket with plenty of heatshrink to make the connection sufficiently robust and the net result is shown below:

innovation, creativity, problem solvingProbing a 0.5mm pitch quad flat pack IC is now slightly less precarious.

innovation, creativity, problem solvingThe end can be made even sharper with the aid of a file but beware such probes are very sharp as I found to my initial cost.
As every Engineer knows, it’s the magic smoke that makes all semiconductors work and these probes have helped me keep it on the inside and aided fault finding.

How have you solved problems in unexpected ways?

Early Detection and Treatment of Hearing Loss May Stave off Dementia

By: Nigel Whittle
Head of Medical & Healthcare

29th November 2019

4 minute read

Home » Plextek

In a recent landmark study, researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Centre in New York have demonstrated a clear link between hearing loss and impairment of memory and cognitive skills.[1]

Previous investigations had already indicated a connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, but those studies only examined people already diagnosed with hearing loss, defined as the inability to hear sounds below 25dB. This current study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has taken the investigation a step further.

A team led by hearing specialist Justin Golub MD studied data from 6,451 adults with an average age of 59 who took hearing and cognitive tests. They found that for every 10dB increase in the lower limit of hearing, there was a significant decrease in cognitive ability. Moreover, the largest decrease occurred in those whose hearing was just starting to become impaired – just 10dB off normal hearing capability, when hearing is still considered normal.

This is significant as age-related hearing loss affects about two-thirds of the elderly over 70, while only 14% of American adults with hearing loss wear a hearing aid.

“Most people with hearing loss believe they can go about their lives just fine without treatment and maybe some can,” says Golub. “But hearing loss is not benign. It has been linked to social isolation, depression, cognitive decline and dementia. Hearing loss should be treated. This study suggests the earlier, the better.”

The current study could not prove that hearing loss caused cognitive impairment and it is possible that declines in both hearing and cognitive performance are related to common ageing-related processes. But the study’s design suggests a causal link: “It’s possible that people who don’t hear well tend to socialise less. Over many years this could have a negative impact on cognition.” Golub said that if that were the case, preventing or treating hearing loss could reduce the incidence of dementia.

Plextek Technology

Plextek has developed innovative hearing analysis technology that can reliably detect early signs of hearing loss well before a person becomes aware of the symptoms. It has been designed for integration within standard everyday consumer headphones and has been described as a potential ‘game-changer’ in the prevention of tinnitus and hearing loss.

“This clinical study indicates the importance of early detection of hearing loss, allowing remedial action to be taken in a timely manner. The data strongly validates our approach to hearing loss and we are excited about the impact that our technology could have on the rising incidence of dementia”, said Dr Nigel Whittle, Head of Medical & Healthcare.

If you would like to chat further to our medical team, please email hello@Plextek.com to set up a call.

 


[1]‘Association of Subclinical Hearing Loss With Cognitive Performance’, Golub, JS; Brickman, AM; Ciarleglio, AJ; et al. JAMA Otolaryngol. Head Neck Surg. November 14, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamaoto.2019.3375

In a recent landmark study, researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Centre in New York have demonstrated a clear link between hearing loss and impairment of memory and cognitive skills.[1]

Previous investigations had already indicated a connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, but those studies only examined people already diagnosed with hearing loss, defined as the inability to hear sounds below 25dB. This current study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has taken the investigation a step further.

A team led by hearing specialist Justin Golub MD studied data from 6,451 adults with an average age of 59 who took hearing and cognitive tests. They found that for every 10dB increase in the lower limit of hearing, there was a significant decrease in cognitive ability. Moreover, the largest decrease occurred in those whose hearing was just starting to become impaired – just 10dB off normal hearing capability, when hearing is still considered normal.

This is significant as age-related hearing loss affects about two-thirds of the elderly over 70, while only 14% of American adults with hearing loss wear a hearing aid.

“Most people with hearing loss believe they can go about their lives just fine without treatment and maybe some can,” says Golub. “But hearing loss is not benign. It has been linked to social isolation, depression, cognitive decline and dementia. Hearing loss should be treated. This study suggests the earlier, the better.”

The current study could not prove that hearing loss caused cognitive impairment and it is possible that declines in both hearing and cognitive performance are related to common ageing-related processes. But the study’s design suggests a causal link: “It’s possible that people who don’t hear well tend to socialise less. Over many years this could have a negative impact on cognition.” Golub said that if that were the case, preventing or treating hearing loss could reduce the incidence of dementia.

Plextek Technology

Plextek has developed innovative hearing analysis technology that can reliably detect early signs of hearing loss well before a person becomes aware of the symptoms. It has been designed for integration within standard everyday consumer headphones and has been described as a potential ‘game-changer’ in the prevention of tinnitus and hearing loss.

“This clinical study indicates the importance of early detection of hearing loss, allowing remedial action to be taken in a timely manner. The data strongly validates our approach to hearing loss and we are excited about the impact that our technology could have on the rising incidence of dementia”, said Dr Nigel Whittle, Head of Medical & Healthcare.

If you would like to chat further to our medical team, please email hello@Plextek.com to set up a call.

 


[1]‘Association of Subclinical Hearing Loss With Cognitive Performance’, Golub, JS; Brickman, AM; Ciarleglio, AJ; et al. JAMA Otolaryngol. Head Neck Surg. November 14, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamaoto.2019.3375

Railway Revolution

Nicholas Hill, Plextek

By: Nicholas Hill
CEO

5th November 2019

3 minute read

Home » Plextek

If you view the railway network as still lodged in the Victorian era, you should think again. A revolution in rail travel is in progress. Ever-increasing road congestion and worsening global warming are pushing more traffic onto the rail network and will continue to do so. Rail travel is an inherently efficient method of moving both people and goods in an environmentally sustainable manner.

We can build more routes, but the existing rail network needs to move more people and more goods every day. This means running more trains, more frequently and more sustainably.

But to push more trains onto the track, train spacing must be greatly reduced. This requires a revolution in train management, abolishing fixed track sections and creating new systems for detecting the precise location of trains, automated control across the network, highly sophisticated scheduling and more robust safety systems.

Building a sustainable network

Further improvements to sustainability will see the removal of diesel traction, replaced by further track electrification and battery or hydrogen fuel cell-powered trains. Rolling stock will also use advanced materials to reduce weight, regenerative braking to conserve power and more intelligent power control. Routing slow goods traffic in between passenger trains is difficult and inefficient and will be done at night when currently, routes are often closed for manual inspection.

Happily, manual inspection will become a thing of the past as track and rolling stock monitoring is performed by automated and robotic systems. Track, overheads and rolling stock will be fitted with extensive sensing for continuous monitoring and diagnostics. Further sensors built into track and overheads will monitor rolling stock while conversely, sensors built into rolling stock will monitor track and overheads, at full train operating speeds. Robotic trains and autonomous drones operating beyond-line-of-sight will conduct automated surveys. Sophisticated data exploitation techniques will process and examine all this data to look for trends in wear and defects, predicting potential failure before it happens and improving network up-time.

All about the passenger

All the above will benefit the passenger experience, through improved punctuality, better reliability and more frequent services. But this is only a start. Better management of passenger flows at busy stations will direct travellers to the most appropriate train carriage. Improved security screening techniques will keep people safe without impeding the flow, while accurate real-time passenger information will make travel decisions easier to make.

This revolution demands a strong culture of innovation to drive radical changes in train operating practice. It also requires the very best of current technology, including advanced sensing, ubiquitous communications, powerful but trustworthy data processing and enhanced autonomy.

If you need to be sure you are building the very best of current technology into your products and systems, do give us a call. We’d love to talk about how we can help you create the railway revolution.

If you view the railway network as still lodged in the Victorian era, you should think again. A revolution in rail travel is in progress. Ever-increasing road congestion and worsening global warming are pushing more traffic onto the rail network and will continue to do so. Rail travel is an inherently efficient method of moving both people and goods in an environmentally sustainable manner.

We can build more routes, but the existing rail network needs to move more people and more goods every day. This means running more trains, more frequently and more sustainably.

But to push more trains onto the track, train spacing must be greatly reduced. This requires a revolution in train management, abolishing fixed track sections and creating new systems for detecting the precise location of trains, automated control across the network, highly sophisticated scheduling and more robust safety systems.

Building a sustainable network

Further improvements to sustainability will see the removal of diesel traction, replaced by further track electrification and battery or hydrogen fuel cell-powered trains. Rolling stock will also use advanced materials to reduce weight, regenerative braking to conserve power and more intelligent power control. Routing slow goods traffic in between passenger trains is difficult and inefficient and will be done at night when currently, routes are often closed for manual inspection.

Happily, manual inspection will become a thing of the past as track and rolling stock monitoring is performed by automated and robotic systems. Track, overheads and rolling stock will be fitted with extensive sensing for continuous monitoring and diagnostics. Further sensors built into track and overheads will monitor rolling stock while conversely, sensors built into rolling stock will monitor track and overheads, at full train operating speeds. Robotic trains and autonomous drones operating beyond-line-of-sight will conduct automated surveys. Sophisticated data exploitation techniques will process and examine all this data to look for trends in wear and defects, predicting potential failure before it happens and improving network up-time.

All about the passenger

All the above will benefit the passenger experience, through improved punctuality, better reliability and more frequent services. But this is only a start. Better management of passenger flows at busy stations will direct travellers to the most appropriate train carriage. Improved security screening techniques will keep people safe without impeding the flow, while accurate real-time passenger information will make travel decisions easier to make.

This revolution demands a strong culture of innovation to drive radical changes in train operating practice. It also requires the very best of current technology, including advanced sensing, ubiquitous communications, powerful but trustworthy data processing and enhanced autonomy.

If you need to be sure you are building the very best of current technology into your products and systems, do give us a call. We’d love to talk about how we can help you create the railway revolution.