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"Beam Me Up, Qubit?" A Quantum Internet May Be Possible?

June 9, 2022
CLARK'S REMARKS: Once confined to science fiction, the concept of teleportation is now being explored seriously by physicists using quantum computing.

"Beam Me Up, Scotty!"

You don’t have to be a Star Trek fan to have heard that expression. For those who don’t know its origin, it comes from Starship Enterprise commander Capt. Kirk’s order to Chief Engineer Scotty to teleport him back up to the starship from whatever planet he happened to be on. (Fun fact: It turns out that exact phrase was never actually spoken, either in the original TV series or in any of the films.)

Today, however, teleportation is not limited to science fiction.

Quantum teleportation was investigated and hypothesized as early as 1993 by physicists from IBM, the University of Montreal, the Ecole Normale Superieure, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and Williams College. Four years later, two groups of scientists even accomplished it, at least experimentally.

Unlike the Enterprise’s transporter, quantum teleportation transfers quantum information using quantum bits or qubits. The qubit is a two-state analog of the binary bit used in computers. The bit is either 0 or 1, while the qubit can be both 0 and 1. Qubits are transferred from the sender’s location to another location, which may be unknown and hundreds of miles away, without actually moving the physical matter in which the information is held. The actual process uses what the scientists call quantum entanglement, which puts two or more separate particles into a single, shared quantum state. If one of the particles is moved or changed, the other particle mirrors the change.

Qubits are also the basis of the quantum circuit computing system, a type of quantum computer.

Quantum computing – at least in theory – has been around since 1980. In October 2019, Google, in partnership with NASA, claimed that its quantum computer had performed calculations not possible on a traditional supercomputer. One of the reasons that quantum computers are so much more powerful is that the traditional computers process bits, while quantum computing can use qubits. So where a bit holds only one value (0 or 1), a qubit holds two values. Therefore, two qubits hold four values, three qubits hold eight values, four qubits hold 16 values, etc. In other words, as the number of qubits increases, the quantum computer becomes exponentially more powerful.

Now, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, quantum computing start-ups are booming.

However, just as traditional computers required networks and the development of the internet to reach their full potential, quantum computing cannot reach its own full potential without a “quantum internet.” Until recently, quantum teleportation was limited to just two points. Now, according to a May 25, 2022 article in Nature, physicists at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, used quantum teleportation to send data across three physical locations. As the authors of the Nature article stated in the abstract's opening sentence, “Future quantum internet applications will derive their power from the ability to share quantum information across the network”.

This is, perhaps, the beginning of that quantum internet.

A regular contributor to HPAC Engineering and a member of its editorial advisory board, the author is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability. He can be reached at [email protected].