One of the interesting aspects of the European Payments Summit (EPS), which took place in the Netherlands in mid-March, is its willingness to cover topics that seem incredibly futuristic. But as participants at this year’s event discovered, that future is much closer than they might have thought.

The conference chair, Harry Smorenberg, is a technology and payments enthusiast, and this is reflected in the conference programme. Rather than creating an event purely as a money-making venture, EPS makes you feel that it has been put together by people who are interested in and understand the payments business and also where technology could take this business.


For example, when was the last time you attended an event that included a presentation on quantum technology? I saw a presentation on quantum computing a few months ago as part of Nerd Nite; but that was for, well, nerds. (If you’ve never heard of Nerd Nite, search online; they’re fun evenings).


George Gesek, founder and CEO of Novarion Systems in Vienna, told attendees that a universal quantum computer is about two years away. In about four years, the world will have its first products based on quantum computing. The details of what quantum computing is are overwhelming enough; Gesek’s timeline really got the delegates thinking.


In financial services, quantum computing has significant implications for existing security measures. Current encryption methods based on prime factorisation are difficult to crack. For example, Gesek showed that it takes many trillions of years of computing time to crack RSA encryption algorithms on a Turing machine (Gesek used the term “Turing machine” to distinguish from quantum computers, which are very different “beasts”). Quantum computers are dramatically faster; within 70 microseconds, a quantum computer can decrypt any encrypted message. “That means all internet security is gone,” he said. “That could happen in five years.”


Quantum computing is something that any organisation that relies on data security (as in any transactional system) should consider a “big deal”.


A bit like the Hindu god Shiva, quantum computing will destroy current encryption methods (not technically “evil” if you know your Hindu gods), but also transform them. Companies can use quantum technology to make transactions more secure in the future, Gesek said. This can be done without abandoning current technology; Turing computers can run quantum algorithms to withstand attacks from quantum computers.


This could take the form of a quantum-backed blockchain. In June last year, MIT Review reported that Evgeny Kiktenko and his colleagues at the Russian Quantum Centre in Moscow had designed, built and tested a quantum blockchain system using quantum mechanics to provide security. It was built using a standard quantum cryptography system, such as is already commercially available. It uses a quantum identification system in which each party can verify the identity of the other in a way guaranteed by the laws of physics. This quantum signature is attached to each transaction, making it impossible to tamper with.


The MIT review echoed Gesek’s warning to EPS delegates: “The threat of quantum computing is certainly real – and not just to blockchain technology. Any information currently stored with conventional cryptography will become insecure once the first powerful quantum computer is turned on.”


Gesek predicted that the first quantum-safe algorithms for Turing computers would be available in software code by 2019. “Banks have within the next two years to get this technology and then another two years to implement it. That’s a possible timeframe for any organisation.”


Banks should initiate security assessments after Quantum Leap and find out which systems will be affected by quantum technology, he said. “Do that now because it will take a while. Once you have quantum-safe ICT, track developments over time because the technology will evolve and you will need to scale your defences to Turing machines.”

In response to the question of how much a quantum computer might cost in five years, Gesek said about $1 million. Another audience member noted that the US National Security Agency has said it is “years ahead” in the development of quantum computing. Gesek rather scoffed at this idea and put it down to “US marketing”. Europe, not the US, is well positioned to take the lead in the development of quantum computing “in this century”.


Another presentation at the EPS that set brain cells buzzing was that of Vivek Bajaj, vice president of IBM’s Watson Financial Services. He reminded delegates that any technology – no matter how advanced – needs context if it is to be of value.


“Artificial intelligence (AI) in itself is of no value; it’s about using technology to solve specific business problems,” he said. “You don’t have an ‘AI product’, you have a business product that uses AI….”



Here is the link to the original article in English: