“Beam Me Up Scotty”: The Future of Networking

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Issue 9, Volume 111

By Sathirtha Mondal 

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

There’s a good chance you picked the ability to teleport. Believe it or not, humans have achieved teleportation. But there's a catch: it’s teleportation in the world of quantum mechanics, and it may not exactly be what you had expected.

The phenomenon of teleportation is a popular subject in the world of science fiction. However, for a long time, teleportation has only been hypothetical. It may be decades before we can travel thousands of miles in an instant or recreate our favorite Star Trek teleportation scenes. But we have achieved the next best thing: quantum teleportation.

Quantum teleportation is the method by which quantum information is transmitted from one location to another. It’s made possible by entanglement, a phenomenon that links two or more particles to each other. Entangled pairs are correlated such that changes in the quantum state of one particle are instantly reflected in the quantum state or state of the system using integral quantum numbers of the other particle, regardless of the distance between the two particles. Therefore, any information can instantaneously teleport between the entangled pair even if they are great distances apart.

Scientists have achieved quantum teleportation before, such as the successful transfer of qubits, or quantum information, over 60 miles in 2015, but thus far, all transfers have had very low accuracy. As a result, the method was labeled unreliable.

Recently, a team of researchers achieved sustained quantum teleportation when they transported qubits a distance of 27 miles with 90 percent fidelity. By using advanced low-noise superconducting detectors and custom-made optics, the researchers teleported qubits a substantial distance without compromising accuracy. This attainment is a significant milestone because its high data fidelity and distance pave the way to creating a working quantum Internet, a project in the making.

Quantum computing is still in its infancy, and as a result, the researchers’ endeavors to create a fully developed quantum network in the near future may appear unfathomable. However, a fully realized quantum network, a system that can efficiently exchange data and communications, is imminent with the recent breakthroughs.

The quantum Internet would be a network that supports quantum devices and could potentially render the current Internet obsolete. Since it would harness the laws of quantum mechanics, a mature quantum network could become incredibly valuable due to its robust security and performance compared to the current Internet. Further, the quantum Internet would use quantum devices, which have a greater capacity to complete various tasks and process calculations than classical computers.

Quantum computing uses qubits, or quantum bits. Meanwhile, classical computing uses bits. Bits can occupy one of two states, either zero or one, and can be applied to a device that can also be in two possible states. Meanwhile, qubits can be in a state of zero, one, or a combination of the two. This is due to the phenomenon of quantum superposition, which can be illustrated by Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. The example states that if one places a cat in a sealed box containing a toxic radioactive substance, the cat can be either dead or alive after a period of time. Since the box is sealed, it exists in either state at the same time. Accordingly, superposition allows the qubit to indefinitely exist in multiple states simultaneously. As a result, a system using multiple qubits can increase its performance exponentially, as opposed to the classical bits whose performance increases linearly. Quantum superposition allows the quantum Internet to teleport information faster than the speed of light.

In addition to its unprecedented speed, the quantum Internet would also be far more secure than regular networks. This heightened security is accredited to entanglement, the phenomenon responsible for quantum teleportation. Since entanglement allows for linked particles to instantly change, information can be transmitted without vulnerability to attack from an outside source. Classical information, such as a message, travels in a straight line and passes through repeaters, or devices that receive, amplify, and alter signals before retransmitting them. This allows for privacy breaches since the information can be read. Quantum networks use quantum repeaters with entangled particles and can thus amplify the signal without needing to read it. QKD, or Quantum Key Distribution, encrypts the data in a quantum network and promises absolute security by using entanglement. Unlike classical cryptography where classical and quantum devices can effortlessly access the data, quantum cryptography makes networks virtually unhackable, even with quantum technology. As indicated by the $173 billion cybersecurity industry, protection and privacy are sacrosanct when using the Internet, and seeing that the current network is extremely flawed, nations such as the U.S. have pushed for the progression of the quantum Internet.

In spite of the promising future of quantum computing, there still exist considerable drawbacks and uncertainties. Firstly, quantum computers are immensely expensive and difficult to program. Nevertheless, proposals such as the United States’s 2021 $237 million request have accelerated the development of the quantum Internet. The primary concerns regarding quantum computing are the qubits being prone to error and decoherence. It has been discovered that the quantum states are vulnerable to noise and liable to errors. Nonetheless, Peter Shor has established error-correcting methods against sound, pushing error rates to zero. In addition, the qubits’ interaction with the environment prunes the signal and results in decoherence, or the diminishing of quantum properties as a result of interactions with the environment, leaving it prone to errors. Decoherence is an irreversible process in which the system reverts to a classical system by losing its quantumness and is the main hindrance to applying quantum mechanics in the real world, as it is impossible to isolate the particles from the environment. Nonetheless, it poses a challenge only because the study is relatively new, and as scientists learn more, new algorithms and techniques will arise and these setbacks will be overcome.

The quantum Internet is an evolving contender and may soon replace the Internet network. Thanks to recent achievements in quantum teleportation, scientists are closer than ever to securing the quantum Internet. Though obstacles and flaws such as funding and decoherence still remain, the world of quantum mechanics is promising and may prevail over these complications quicker than one might expect. Soon enough, you will be able to download terabytes of data or perhaps your favorite film series in an instant and use the Internet without worrying about your cybersecurity. As time progresses, our dependence on technology has only grown, and thanks to quantum mechanics, we can rest assured knowing our reliance will be in good hands. The world will soon experience the unmatched performance and security of the quantum network, the network of the future.