Had enough disruption? After COVID, riots, inflation, and busted supply chains, you’ll probably answer, yes enough for my lifetime. But things are just getting started. Here’s my predictions about the three technologies that will cause explosive disruption in 2022 (one of them very literally), with reverberations that will continue through the rest of the decade and even the rest of this century.
The first will be hypersonic missile technology. Unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons don’t follow a single trajectory. They can twist and turn on their way to the target, while their incredibly high speeds—faster than Mach 5 or one mile per second—render today’s land-based and space-based systems virtually obsolete because they can’t detect a hypersonic attack until it’s almost too late. It’s also not clear whether the Pentagon’s current command and control systems can process data fast enough to respond to a head-on hypersonic threat.
Last summer China tested a hypersonic missile that literally flew around the world before descending on its target, which it missed by a margin of error that can be corrected next time. A second test showed that these weapons can piggyback on a nuclear-capable ballistic missile—even carry a nuclear weapon themselves.
Although the U.S. has been the primary developer of hypersonic vehicles going back to the X-15 program in the 1960’s, China has performed hundreds of tests of hypersonic weapons in the last five years, compared to just nine for the United States. According to General John Hyten, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, China’s hypersonic missiles have all the earmarks of a first-strike weapon, with the United States as the most obvious target.
The US Army is not expected to field hypersonic weapons before 2023. Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency hopes to provide a hypersonic missile defense capability by mid to late-2020’s. All this may be too late to deal with a growing Chinese capability in numbers and lethality. A surprise attack with hypersonic missiles probably isn’t in the offing, but a radical rethinking of our military posture in the face of the hypersonic threat should be. It’s certainly the most serious threat to the strategic balance since nuclear weapons, and we need to respond with appropriate resources starting now.
The second top disruptive technology in 2022 will be cryptocurrencies. Last year was a banner year for Bitcoin and its blockchain-based cousins. For 2021 as a whole inflows hit $9.3 billion, a 36% jump from 2020. According to CoinMarketCap.com, more than 13,000 different cryptocurrencies are now being traded publicly. Cryptocurrencies continue to proliferate, raising money through initial coin offerings, or ICOs. The total value of all cryptocurrencies on Oct. 22, 2021, amounted to more than $2.5 trillion.
Don’t be surprised if they hit $3 trillion this year. All in all, it is estimated that the global cryptocurrency market will hit $4.94 billion by 2030, nearly double its present value, while the price of a single bitcoin may reach $1 million.
Some predict the current Bitcoin boom is actually a crypto bubble, which will end in a crash as bubbles eventually do. But whatever happens to Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies aren’t going away. As long as central bankers continue to make inept decisions, cryptocurrencies will continue to give state-denominated currencies literally a run for their money.
As for their underlying security, former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton correctly predicts that blockchain or the Distributed Ledger Technology cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin rely on to protect investors, is the future of cyber security. But only if it addresses the third disruptive technology, quantum.
I’ve written many times how decisive quantum technology will be for the future of the 21st century. A series of important breakthroughs this year in quantum computing—-such as China’s claim to quantum advantage with a 1000-qubit superconducting computer and unveiling of its 127-qubit Eagle quantum computer—have continued to accelerate the timetable for the development of a large-scale quantum computer, including one that could threaten existing public encryption systems. What skeptics used to say could never happen, is now something they admit could be real by 2040.
But those who see quantum computers as quantum tech’s most promising future are looking at the wrong place. The real quantum disruption in 2020 will be in quantum security, including using quantum-based technologies to secure data and communications from present and future threats.
Unlike quantum computers, this trend is already commercially viable. A growing number of companies are offering clients quantum-safe algorithms to protect against future quantum attack; several are now introducing hybrid security systems that integrate quantum random number generators, for example, with algorithm-based security to provide an extra layer of unhackable protection. Still others use quantum entanglement to create similar unhackable networks.
In fact the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) competition for quantum-resistant algorithms which is expected to publish its results by 2024, may already be lagging far behind the trend.
The advent of quantum secure systems, whether algorithm-based or quantum-based, will disrupt the entire landscape of cybersecurity since they protect against classical hackers as well as against future quantum assault. Deployed now, they can even defend against data harvesting, or Russian and Chinese hackers who steal encrypted data now to decrypt later when a large-scale quantum computer is ready—the most immediate threat that the race for quantum computers poses.
That quantum protection includes blockchain. It even includes the command-and-control systems that oversee our most vital defense networks, including those that will prevent a future opponent from interfering with our hypersonic defense or disrupting our own hypersonic capabilities.
Everyone recognizes that we’ll be living in “interesting times,” as the saying goes, in 2022. Look for this triad to make things even more interesting—that is, unless our government and leaders use this moment to turn long-term risk into opportunity, and disruption into strategic advantage.
Read in Forbes