Could Google's Quantum Computer Mine 3 Million Bitcoin in 2 Seconds?

Will Heasman

Quantum computing is typically feared due to its potential to render bitcoin obsolete by cracking its cryptography. However, one analyst alleges that there may be a much simpler way to do it: by beating bitcoin at its own game.

The Quantum Threat

A Medium post theorized on the capabilities of the quantum computer, "Sycamore," Google's latest quantum breakthrough. Sycamore, which allegedly gave Google "quantum supremacy" has apparently managed to perform a benchmark computation in 200 seconds - beating the world's fastest supercomputer by around 10,000 years.

Almost instantly following this news, a fervor of panic erupted within the crypto community. Talks of obsoletion were on the table, and conversations as to how to combat this new quantum threat were discussed at length.

Though, for the most part, anxieties subdued, and the hyperbole was seen for what it was, that is until the aforementioned Medium post was published.

Based on Google's benchmark performance tests, the post hypothesized that the remaining 3 million bitcoin still left to mine could be extracted by Sycamore in under than 2 seconds.

However, the since-deleted post got a few things wrong. First, the calculation made by the author suggested that 1 BTC was produced every 10 minutes. This is wrong. In actuality, the network currently yields 12.5 BTC approximately every 10 minutes. This miscalculation alone would throw the theory out to some degree already.

Yet, there are other glaring omissions. The post fails to include the difficult readjustment which occurs every 2016 blocks. If a quantum computer did manage to mine all 2016 blocks, the network would simply adjust the difficulty, bottlenecking Sycamore's further attempts. Still, in reality, the likelihood of bitcoin network being able to produce a difficulty setting of this level is improbable.

Quantum Computers Could 'Break' Bitcoin 

Nevertheless, the author is right in a sense. Any attempt from a quantum computer to mine BTC could credibly result in the denigration of the network. This is because a difficulty level set to match quantum computer would make it so that only another -- more powerful machine -- would be able to compete to mine the remaining BTC; that is, as long as the original attempt didn't wholly ravage the network in the first place.

Regardless, the notion of Sycamore or any other quantum computer targeting cryptocurrency is pretty ludicrous. Besides, Andreas Antonopolous, a bitcoin advocate who has been relatively vocal on this subject, suggests that bitcoin is not the issue we should be worried about. 

If we get quantum computers that can do thousands of qubits without a correction and consistent results, we have a much bigger problem. The bigger problem we have is that the entire world’s classified communications, confidential communications, financial systems etc, all depend on cryptography today.

In order to defend against any threat, worldwide communications would have to be upgraded to a quantum-resistant standard. Ironically, this is far easier for cryptocurrencies than it would be for global communications systems.   

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