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August 23rd, 2023

Bank of Canada’s Maryam Haghighi on quantum computing in central banks

The director of data science talks about post-quantum encryption, payments simulation and optimisation problems, and how the quantum work is happening in a multidisciplinary way.


What do we know about how quantum particles behave, and what has your experience been working on technology that is based on a phenomenon that we do not fully understand?

Quantum computers are machines that exploit quantum physics phenomena to solve mathematical problems that are otherwise difficult to solve with conventional or classical computers. And this is nothing new. This has existed for a while, but recently there have been a lot of advances in this field. These advances have enabled us to have greater control of these systems to perform tasks.

And it may sound a little bit counterintuitive, but you can think of classical computing, if I use an analogy, like flipping a coin. With classical computing, you have bits which are zero or one, heads or tails. Quantum computing is based on quantum bits, or what we call qubits. And the analogy would be that it is like spinning a coin. It can be heads, or tails, or anywhere in between all of those at once.

That is the essential phenomena behind quantum computers. Quantum computers harness these counterintuitive but very strong powers of quantum physics principles to exponentially boost computational powers. So, you can solve complex problems much faster compared to classical computing. It is not per se an upgrade to conventional computing, but a new paradigm shift.

Quantum computing has both the potential to both create and solve security challenges. How should central banks balance that?

Without going into the details of quantum physics and qubits because there are properties like entanglement and superposition, we think these machines can perform certain tasks that classical computers cannot do. So that means amongst those tasks, if we have large-scale quantum computers, then those computers will be able to break many of the current encryption protocols we use to do financial transactions, securing data or, really, anything online.

Explore Central Banking's article here for a detailed elaboration on the collaboration between Bank of Canada and Multiverse.