Quantum cryptography and the cycle of life

I never dared spelling it out so bluntly, but I have been thinking for quite some time that “quantum cryptography is dead”. I have been wrong. The dynamics is instructive enough to be recorded here, hopefull it will help others to avoid such mistakes.

Last week, I went to shake some friends’ hands at a conference on quantum cryptography in Zurich and present our latest work in that area. Some predictions I made two years ago have been strictly fulfilled: the field has mainly split into very technical maths and very technological developments. However, in spite of this growing specialization, the experimentalists and the theorists still talk to each other and mutually enrich their topics. Moreover, the corridors of the conference were a hive of new ideas, experimental challenges, new shared interests…

Then I understood.

The topics of quantum cryptography, which we summarized in a review a few years ago, are indeed dying. But if a field is healthy, the “old” topics should be dying: the faster the death rate (within reasonable limits required to reach sufficient depth), the better. The fact that topics die does not mean that a field is dying — the opposite is true: a field is dead when its topics are fossilized.

Trivial, isn’t it? Then, how could I miss it? The answer is simple: my negative stance was the reflection of stupid personal frustrations: a perceived lack of recognition of my work in this field, the impression that the time spent in cryptography had prevented me from developing other topics… That is why the history of Waverley Jong stopping chess resonated so much within me months ago, while I was reading “The Joy Luck club” by Amy Tan.

Thanks God, I had never really quitted. And two days ago, in the train crossing the Alps, I have found a completely new way of attack for one of the big open problems of the field… answer in two years’ time 😉


About valerio

Principal investigator at Centre for Quantum Technologies and professor at National University of Singapore

Posted on September 19, 2011, in Career, Latest topics. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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