For the first time, quantum information was transmitted over a network
By: April Carson
Few characters were as immediately liked in September 2006 as Hiro Nakamura, appropriately named. Hiro, who could stop time and slow down, accelerate, and pause time, could not only delay but also teleport from one location to another. It's a great talent if you need to get somewhere in particular at a specific moment in time or space so you can combat an evil brain surgeon or prevent the apocalypse. It's also useful if you want to create the quantum internet.
Researchers at QuTech, a collaboration between Delft University of Technology and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, just took a significant stride toward making it a reality. For the first time, they were successful in sending quantum information from one non-adjacent qubit to another on a rudimentary network. Their findings were published in Nature magazine.
To create the network, the team used a process called "entanglement swapping." This is when two particles that are not next to each other become inextricably linked, or entangled. It's a bit like if you have two pieces of string that are tangled together; even if you untangle them, they're still connected.
To encode information, contemporary computers employ bits, zeroes, and ones. Quantum computers utilize quantum bits (or qubits) to encode information. A qubit works similarly to a bit in that it can represent both a 0 and a 1 at the same time, allowing for faster and more effective computations. When you want to transmit that data to another location, however, there is a problem. Communication difficulties plague quantum computing systems.
Today, if you want to communicate with another computer on a network, the most common method is through fiber optic cables. The information from qubits may be sent in the same way as other data, however only over short distances can it be done so successfully. Fiber optic networks have a high failure rate and need duplication bits to boost their signal for long transmission. Qubits, on the other hand, cannot be cloned or boosted. As a result, when information is lost, it is forever gone and the longer the trip, the more likely this occurs. Even if you could send information without fear of loss, there is another problem. You would need an extremely complicated and sensitive receiver to be able to take in all the different frequencies that a qubit can represent. The slightest interference would disrupt the message.
That's where Hiro Nakamura, or at least his quantum counterpart, comes in. Researchers use quantum teleportation to transmit quantum data. Einstein derided it as "spooky action at a distance," a property that relies on entanglement. When two particles are entangled, they share a quantum state. So, if one particle is measured, the other instantly takes on the complementary measurement. That's how information can be transmitted without sending any physical particles.
Understanding entanglement isn't easy, but for our purposes, we'll simplify things. When two particles are entangled, they share a connection that exists regardless of their physical distance from one another. You can determine the state of one entangled particle merely by knowing the condition of the other, even if it is out of view. It's as if you're sharing a single pair of shoes among two individuals. If you know the first person has the correct shoe, you know the second person has the wrong one. You don't even have to see the second person to make this determination.
This quantum connection is so strong that it can hold up even when the particles are very far apart, which makes entanglement a powerful tool for quantum communication. In fact, it's the key ingredient in quantum teleportation, a feat of quantum information transfer that was first demonstrated in 1997.
The particles require a link via some spooky connection in order to send information between them, which is then absorbed by one of the particles. That's where the comparison to teleportation comes in. First, it is here, then it is no longer there without the need for a cable journey. Only information is transferred; no physical stuff is carried across. Our BrundleFly-level teleporting capabilities aren't yet available.
The concept of quantum teleportation is not entirely new. It's been done previously, but only between two adjacent entangled particles. In communications jargon, it's the quantum equivalent of talking to a buddy in the next room using two cans linked by a string. To build a genuine quantum network, we'll need to be able to transmit data from non-adjacent nodes via intermediaries.
In this case, researchers wanted to transfer information between nodes named Alice and Charlie, using Bob as a go-between. To make that happen Bob created an entangled state with Alice and stored his portion of the entanglement in a bit of quantum memory. Next, Bob repeats that process with Charlie. Then, using what researchers at QuTech describe as “quantum mechanical sleight of hand,” Bob completes a measurement and passes on the entanglement between Alice and Charlie.
Once that’s done, Charlie prepares the information he wants to send and completes a complicated measurement between his message and his half of the entanglement with Alice. Quantum mechanics goes to work, and the information vanishes on Charlie’s end and appears on Alice’s. It doesn’t matter how far apart they are—the information is transmitted instantaneously. It’s the first time anyone has demonstrated quantum teleportation over a network.
This has some important implications for the future of communication. First, using quantum teleportation networks avoids the threat of packet loss over fiber optic cables. Second, it effectively encrypts the information at Alice’s end. In order to decode the information, you need to know the result of the calculation Charlie performed.
The third thing builds upon the first; despite the immediate transfer of quantum information, we are still bound by the speed of light. As you know, the cosmic speed limit isn’t just a suggestion, it’s the law. Sending the calculation information to Alice in order to decode the information relies on more traditional communications bound by light speed. No getting around it.
While this is an important step toward a quantum internet, in order to build the sorts of networks we’ll need for everyday use, we’re going to need a lot more nodes. But, hey, even today’s global communications network started with a single telephone.
Telecommunications companies are already working on laying the groundwork for a quantum internet. This technology could have a huge impact on secure communications.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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