Math in the Media

Also see the Blog on Math Blogs

Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Delicate information," by Rainer Blatt, Nature, 23 August 2001.

Blatt reaffirms that "Moore's law"---which simply states that processor speed,and hence computational power, doubles roughly every 18 months---has provedvalid over the past three decades. But he recounts how Peter Shor of AT&T cameup with a "stunning" algorithm in 1994. Shor showed that the factorization oflarge numbers---an extremely difficult and time-consuming problem for classicalcomputers---can be achieved in a highly efficient, rapid way using a quantumcomputer. Large numbers and their prime factors are commonly used to encryptdata and messages, as it takes too long to factorize a large number---and thusdecode the information---on a classical computer. If the factorization problemcould be solved, then all current cryptographic systems would be seriouslyendangered. Peter Shor's result therefore spawned a worldwide attempt to createa real quantum computer, which could be applied to basic research andtechnology. Blatt states that at this point quantum computers are able tohandle factorization and run a few other algorithms faster than the classicalworkhorses of information processing but that current research in quantumcomputation will serve as fundamental building blocks for tomorrow's generalquantum technology---that "quantum engineering may be the key technology of thetwenty-first century."

--- Annette Emerson

American Mathematical Society