When heavyweight technologies begin to clash, it isn’t always a straightforward matter of competition. Beyond the inevitable struggles for dominance that arise within technological sectors, separate spheres of technology can sometimes create existential threats for each other despite sharing little of a marketplace in common. Just as interestingly, these kinds of hostilities between realms can evaporate as quickly as they arise for essentially the same reason: advancing innovation.
This week brings news that the pendulum of innovation is arcing toward at least one such conflict’s resolution as blockchain technology gains an edge over quantum computing in the fight against obsolescence. An archetypal example of non-competitive disruption, quantum computing may not be a newer, better form of digital currency, but it does threaten to obliterate the viability of any such currencies by introducing a level of computing power that would render the ultra-secure encryption protocols safeguarding Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies feeble. The specter of quantum computing has already spurred blockchain developers onto a search for solutions that has so far faced crippling tradeoffs between privacy and security. In short, protocols strong enough to resist quantum attacks cannot be private, and protocols that are private enough can never be secure.
Now, the Australian government’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has reported its completion of an unprecedented blockchain protocol design that can effectively overcome the privacy-security tradeoff. Dubbed MatRiCT, the protocol appears designed primarily to improve the efficiency of blockchain transactions, providing a simpler and more direct path to authentication that reduces the energy costs of blockchain computing. This is important not only toward making protocols quicker and more resilient to attacks, but also to reducing the environmental impact that Bitcoin mining and other energy-intensive transaction models are known for. An additional benefit of MatRiCT appears to be an audit functionality that could allow authorities concerned by the illicit use of digital currencies to track suspicious activity, potentially easing regulatory acceptance for a technology that has stirred controversy among government bodies.
Blockchain is to many traditional sectors what quantum computing has been to blockchain: a little-understood powerhouse of disruption. Whereas companies in the financial services and IT sectors may seek to embrace blockchain, however, blockchain seems to have less to gain from quantum computing. MatRiCT is a fairly contained development to monitor, but the significance of a blockchain protocol without a known natural enemy in the computing world is tremendous. For blockchain to advance, developers and investors will need to take risks, and perhaps they may now do so without accepting the ultimate risk each time they seek to commit funding and resources to innovation.
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