Quantum Supremacy

by Ken Lloyd


On Friday 10th July the Conference of Defence Associations Institute’s Metro Expert Series held a Webinar on Quantum Supremacy and Its Many States of National Insecurity

The topics included the awareness of the Quantum potential in Communications, weather prediction and Intelligence analysis. Speakers itemized the impact for improvements in Artificial Intelligence and Target acquisition through improved Navigation capabilities. The thoughts from speakers periodically returned for their examples to the last great innovation in Cryptography and Computers, the Second World War and Bletchley Park.  




The Speakers recalled what may be learned from Bletchley: 1) Innovation came from a ‘Life and Death’ struggle. 2) The German’s risked all by relying  on one cipher system. For the Germans it was Enigma, today we rely on Public Key Cryptography. 3) Bletchley recruited ‘intelligent people’ from varied backgrounds; today the “Whitehouse” excludes foreign Quantum researchers while China has “1,000 talents’ programme to retain its researchers in China 4) Bletchley had a bureaucracy and organisation that kept its secret and could intercept information. 5) The German organizational policy was open to human errors and exploited by Bletchley. The Speakers said this taught the importance of creating an organisation and developing the people that could respond to Social and geopolitical trends.  One speaker spoke about learning from the past as the past was still relevant, especially in developing  agility readiness. He was referring to Elliptic Curve cryptography as an approach for public key cryptography rather than RSA.  He could easily have been describing the achievement of Bill Tutte in breaking the “Lorenz’ 12 wheel cipher machine in 1942. Mental agility enabled Bill Tutte to break the code without ever seeing the machine; he listened to the sound it made.



The speakers conjectured what may have happened had the British ‘commercialized’ the last major breakthrough in digital development, the first computer named Colossus” which was ‘ordered’ destroyed in 1945. 

The past may reveal some of the reasons for choices that may have been made. At the end of the War there were 30,000 Enigma machines available. Some were distributed amongst emerging nations and offered to the new Germany as a proven secure cipher machine. In 1974 Winterbotham published his book revealing the breaking of Enigma.  In the same year the German Border Patrol (Bundesgrenzscutz) part of the Ministry of the Interior, ceased using the Enigma to record names.  

The Soviet Forces in 1945 may have seized intact the Lorenz teleprinter cipher hubs in North Ukraine; East Ukraine; Central Belarus;  Konigsberg; Bucharest; and Berlin. Britain had 5 Russian spies in the Secret service known as the Cambridge 5.  John Cairncross actually worked in Hut 3 at Bletchley. Kim Philby rose to a senior position in MI6. They reported regularly to the Soviets.

 Officially the Colossus and the Bombes were destroyed. Several ‘Bombes” capable of breaking Enigma and “Colossus’ capable of breaking the Lorenz teleprinter code were thought to have been retained by GCHQ.   

A thoroughly enjoyable Webinar. If you would like to know more, please contact us!