I am an optimist. I have been waking up with the idea that life is good and my work might make the world a slightly better place. However, I don’t put much trust in unicorns (nifty horses with a long pointy horn or the Silicon Valley type), fairies, or magical mermaids. When new technology comes along, I view the explanations of the technology’s wonders with skepticism. Mobile phones are interesting, but the phone has been around for a while. Shrinking chips make it possible to convert the “phone” into a general purpose thumbtyping machine. Nifty, but still a phone on steroids.
I thought about the human tendency to grasp for silver bullets. This characteristic runs through Jacques Ellul’s book The Technology Bluff. Its decades-old explanations and analyses are either unknown or ignored by many informed individuals. My hunch is that the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal assumes that its writers are responsible for understanding certain topics.
I read “Effective Cybersecurity Needs Quantum Computing.” Perhaps I should send a copy of Dr. Ellul’s book? But why? It’s not like the hippy dippy books included in the Murdoch book reviews. Dr. Ellul likes interesting words; for example, Mancipium. Does Mr. Murdoch’s oldest son know the meaning of the word? He should he lives in a mancipum-infused environment.
The essay asserts that a new and essentially unworkable technology will deal with the current cybersecurity challenges. How many years will be required to covert baby step lab experiments into a scalable solution to the business methods employed at outfits like SolarWinds and Microsoft? One, maybe five, or a more realistic 25 years?
The problems caused by flawed, short cut riddled, and uninformed approaches to coding, building, deploying, and updating enterprise software are here-and-now puzzles. For a point of reference, the White House sounded an alarm that a really big problem exists and poses threats today.
Sure, let’s kick back and wait for the entities of nifty technology to deliver solutions. IBM, Google, and other firms are beavering away on the unicornesque quantum computing. That’s fine, but to covert expensive, complex research and development projects into a solution for the vulnerability of that email you sent a few minutes ago is just off the wall. Sure, there may be a tooth fairy or a wizard with a magic wand, but that’s not going to be the fix quantum computing allegedly will deliver.
The WSJ essay states:
The extraordinary sensitivity of qubits reveals interference instantly and unfailingly. They would alert us when hackers read, copy or corrupt transmitted files.
Sure, if someone pays attention. I want to point out that exactly zero of the cybersecurity systems monitoring the SolarWinds’ misstep sounded an alarm. Hooking these systems into a quantum system will result in what, another two to five years of development. Walking by today’s quantum computers and waving an iPhone close to a component can create some excitement. Why? Yep, sensitivity. But why worry about trivial details.
The Murdocher does admit that quantum computers are years away, there is zero value in kicking today’s security disasters down the road like a discard can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Funding is fine. Conflating the current radiation poisoning of digital systems with quantum computing is like waiting for an Uber or Lyft driver to come by in a chariot pulled by a unicorn.
Stephen E Arnold, March 12, 2021