A Blockchain Currency That Beats Bitcoin On Privacy

Zcash’s new cryptocurrency promises complete anonymity

6 min read
Photo: Morgen E. Peck
Preparing for Launch: Zooko Wilcox, CEO of Zcash, presided over a cryptographic process that ensured the currency’s security.
Photo: Morgen E. Peck

In October, I was in a van in Denver with Zooko Wilcox,the CEO of Zcash, a company that was soon to launch a new blockchain-based digital currency of the same name. On the floor next to me was a bunch of recently purchased computer equipment. I knew we were going to a hotel but didn’t know which one. I only knew that I’d be there for the next two days straight and that it would be my job to watch, ask questions, stave off sleep, and document as much as I possibly could.

That day began a cryptographic ceremony of sorts, one that could make or break a new digital currency. Zcash is identical to Bitcoin in many ways. It’s founded on a digital ledger of transactions called a blockchain that exists on an army of computers that can be anywhere in the world. But it differs from Bitcoin in one critical way: It is completely anonymous. Although privacy was a motivating factor for ­Bitcoin’s flock of early adopters, it didn’t deliver the goods. For those who want to digitally replicate the experience of slipping on a ski mask and handing over an envelope of unmarked bills, Zcash is now the way to go.

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Quantum Error Correction: Time to Make It Work

If technologists can’t perfect it, quantum computers will never be big

13 min read
Quantum Error Correction: Time to Make It Work
Chad Hagen
Blue

Dates chiseled into an ancient tombstone have more in common with the data in your phone or laptop than you may realize. They both involve conventional, classical information, carried by hardware that is relatively immune to errors. The situation inside a quantum computer is far different: The information itself has its own idiosyncratic properties, and compared with standard digital microelectronics, state-of-the-art quantum-computer hardware is more than a billion trillion times as likely to suffer a fault. This tremendous susceptibility to errors is the single biggest problem holding back quantum computing from realizing its great promise.

Fortunately, an approach known as quantum error correction (QEC) can remedy this problem, at least in principle. A mature body of theory built up over the past quarter century now provides a solid theoretical foundation, and experimentalists have demonstrated dozens of proof-of-principle examples of QEC. But these experiments still have not reached the level of quality and sophistication needed to reduce the overall error rate in a system.

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