Today’s internet is not like that the final frontier of communication. Physicists have created a new method of communication where information can be sent through the so-called “quantum internet,” a network of quantum devices that provide hyper-secure communications, ultra-precise timing, and dozens of other applications that scientists have yet to begin. to guess Even trying is like waiting for Alan Turing to predict TikTok.
Scientists at QuTech, a collaboration between Delft University of Technology and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, which built the world’s first quantum network last year, published the breakthrough in a journal article. Nature on Wednesday. Using a concept long debated by quantum physicists, the team successfully sent quantum information between two non-neighboring nodes (think: quantum routers). Star Trek fans are the same: teleportation.
“Teleportation is like you know from science fiction,” says Ronald Hanson, co-author of the paper. Reverse. Hanson is an experimental physicist, co-founder of QuTech and distinguished professor at Delft University of Technology. “Information disappears on my end and appears on your end, but it doesn’t cross the space between us… It’s a very powerful way to send information.”
This ability to teleport is what makes up the quantum network at its core—the deep physics that holds everything together. Without the ability to transmit data via teleportation, the quantum internet would not be possible. However, this “teleportation” isn’t exactly like destroying Captain Kirk’s atoms only to rematerialize on a newly discovered M-class planet. This isn’t organic matter we’re talking about—it’s information, or rather, quantum bits (or qubits).
Today, the internet uses bits, combinations of 0s and 1s, to form everything online, including this website. Qubits are 0s and 1s that exist simultaneously in a state called “superposition,” which allows quantum computers to answer complex math problems in minutes that would take a powerful supercomputer 10,000 years to understand.
The quantum internet is also inherently secure because qubits rely on the physical properties of photons rather than sensitive code, so they cannot be intercepted. In other words, quantum messages are almost impossible to crack.
So where does teleportation fit in? To use quantum computers to their full potential, they must be networked together, but qubits cannot be sent in the same way as traditional bits. While the bits travel through light (fiber optic cables) or radio waves, the photons carrying the qubits decay quickly using the same methods. Moreover, since qubits cannot be amplified or copied (“cloned, as quantum physicists say”), the signal cannot be amplified either. So scientists have found a different way to send quantum information using teleportation, all brought to you by a mysterious phenomenon known as quantum entanglement.
Quantum entanglement is when two particles are bound together, so when you read one, you immediately know the state of the other — whether it’s in the next room or the next galaxy. This basic quantum principle is such a mystery that even Albert Einstein, a top physicist and thoroughly intelligent friend, threw up his hands and described it simply as “scary motion at a distance.” But because of this “spooky move,” if a network can entangle over large distances, say from the United States to China, qubits can teleport without losing any fidelity.
“There’s no classical analogue to the whole teleportation process … there’s nothing like it,” Hanson says. “It’s the entanglement that makes this whole process possible.”
The way quantum teleportation works is both simple and complex (it can only be quantum mechanics), and this study shows how teleportation in the quantum internet works in miniature. In the study, QuTech scientists teleported data between three nodes. Data was sent from node C or Charlie to another node called node A or Alice. For this, the researchers used an intermediary, node B or Bob.
First, Alice and Bob run through an optical cable using quantum processors, and Bob stores this entangled state in a so-called “memory qubit.” Bob then entangles with Charlie, and using what QuTech calls “quantum mechanical sleight of hand,” Bob takes a special measurement on his processor and changes his entanglement with Charlie into an Alice entanglement stored in a memory qubit. Alice and Charlie are now in a mess, but that’s not the end of the process – Scotty has just heated up the teleporter.
Charlie then prepares the quantum bit for teleportation and finally performs a co-measurement with the message and its entangled state with Alice. This is where the real power of the quantum internet comes from. When the information disappears on Charlie’s side, it immediately appears on Alice’s side. After some quantum decryption, the information is now available.
Although the quantum internet has achieved technological wonders that are impossible by today’s standards, it is unlikely that one day all our laptops and iPhones will simply go “quantum”.
“Most people don’t think the quantum internet will replace the internet,” says Hanson. Instead, he envisions a future where our classical internet and quantum internet work in tandem—for example, with quantum teleports on standby when extra secure communications need to be sent or when dealing with other highly sensitive data. But streaming the latest Netflix binge will likely be a chore for your standard, modern internet.
While the QuTech research only focused on a simple three-node network, Hanson says the idea can be expanded to include as many nodes as needed. The next phase of research is to test the method outside the lab and teleport the data over greater distances. This is just the beginning of the technology expansion process that will power the era of quantum communication.