In my last blog I spent some time talking about why I thought that organizations like the NSA may be using technology to gather information in ways that are "contemporaneously controversial". No need to rehash that in this post. In fact, if you're reading this post I commend you. Just the mere mention of the term quantum physics sends most people into deep Beta sleep.
What I want to discuss here is how advances in one area of technology usually lead to advances in others. We could go all the way back to the battle of Kadesh in ancient times, circa 1700 B.C., and look at how the advent of iron weapons (versus bronze) made for huge counter-advances in armor technology. Then we could fast forward to 1415 to look at how the English Longbow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Agincourt) ended the 2000 year reign of heavy cavalry. Then, 100 years later the full use of gunpowder removed heavy armor from the battlefield altogether.
Today, advances in technology are much more consumer driven than they are by war. People are still competing, it's just for dollars and not survival! In the IT world, more complex applications drive changes to hardware, which in turn drive more innovation in software development. If you look at the advances in medicine, robotics, and nanotechnology, it would be easy to argue that we'll have computers hardwired or grown into our brains within the next 50 years. In fact, it will become a necessity. Traders on Wall Street today are investing in networking technology that will allow them to be milliseconds quicker on their transactions. Talk about the early bird getting the worm!
On the subject of the NSA and their surveillance program, when the news broke about what they were doing a whole new technology gained a huge amount of momentum. Think about this fact for a second. If you know that someone can see everything that you send electronically, what is the counter move? The answer is, of course, encryption. If I encrypt something then I don't really care who can see the information because they won't be able to understand it. The Germans created the Enigma machine during WWII as a way to encode their messages. However, the Allies, just like the NSA found out that through brute force analytics (and some spycraft) that they could break that coding.
Would that war have gone differently if the Allies did not know every German plan for the last 1.25 years of the conflict?
Most people "in the know" understand that the NSA and most 1st world governments have the ability to brute-force crack any encryption. That's why the game has changed.
Back in 1927, a physicist named Werner Heisenberg came up with a theory called "The Uncertainty Principle". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle) In a nutshell, it stated that no-one could know both the position and speed of a particle in motion. You could know one or the other but not both at the same time. Yes, this is boring stuff. But what is not boring is one of the side effects of the Uncertain Principle called "The Observer Effect". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_%28physics%29) The meaning of the effect is that, everything being part of a quantum universe, every time something is observed it changes. In other words, you cannot look at or measure anything without changing its nature.
The science and benefits of Quantum Encryption are all built and predicated on the validity of the observer effect. Using modern science, technologists have developed software and hardware that allows a sender to apply quantum encryption before sending. Of course, the recipient has the key. What makes quantum encryption so powerful is that it cannot be cracked. Because of the observer theory, every time someone looks at it the encryption changes. No matter how powerful you are and how much computing resources you have, it is impossible to crack an encryption schema that changes every time you view it! It doesn't matter to the recipient either because the key will unlock the encryption no matter how much it has changed. Anyone in the middle, however, will find themselves quite frustrated.
It is a testament to how effective it is that so many "experts" have come out to try and debunk the efficacy of quantum encryption. However you want to look at it, the emergence of quantum encryption shows that there is always a check and counterbalance to every technology.
Such is human nature and the drivers of human kind.