Our financial world operates on the basis of encrypted computer systems, but increasingly computers are getting advanced enough that such systems may not remain secure for long. Part of the problem is that "random number generators" in computer systems really don't generate random numbers ... they just use a variable process to create a number. A sophisticated enough computer system could, in theory, figure out what "random" number another computer is generating. Physicist Antonio Acin of Spain's Institute of Photonic Sciences believes he's come up with a process that can help - use quantum processes to generate genuinely random numbers.
Quantum mechanical random number generators aren't entirely new, but the nice thing about Acin's approach is that you can use Bell's theorem to test the quantum mechanical nature of the "coin flip" going on, without having to actually look at the process that's taking place. The system acts as a sort of "black box" and just by looking at the outputs you can confirm, based on the pure laws of physics, that the numbers being generated are fundamentally random in nature.
Of course, the problem is that quantum entanglement is incredibly touchy stuff, and pretty much any interaction causes the entanglement to collapse into a solid state ... and thus ruins the effect. Great care had to be taken by the researchers to maintain the system in an entangled state to get their qubits of data, and they didn't get nearly as many entangled pairs as they would have liked. So no one predicts this becoming the gold standard in random number generation anytime soon ... although it might inspire other innovative scientists to look for more practical ways to incorporate this idea into useful technological applications.
- Scientific America - Quantum Effects Exploited to Generate Random Numbers
- Nature - Random numbers certified by Bell's Theorem
- A Case for Quantum Cryptography - Aug. 31, 2008
- What is a Quantum Computer?