Quantum Teleportation Race Heats Up: Ultra-Secure Communications, Super Fast Quantum Computers and Quantum Internet Next?

London, UK - 4th October 2012, 09:10 GMT

Dear ATCA Open & Philanthropia Friends

[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and threats.]

Ever since Captain Kirk uttered the immortal words "Beam me up, Scotty!" in Star Trek, teleportation has always occupied a fascinating seat within the front rows of our pop culture. Science has not yet caught up with the fiction of beaming a person or object between two places, however, quantum teleportation is no longer a fantasy. In fact, it's been proven so many times that an international space race to develop quantum teleportation is currently underway.

Record breaking Quantum Teleportation in the Canary Islands

Into The Realms of Science Fiction

Quantum teleportation transfers information between two points without any classic physical signature, like a radio wave, passing through space. This means it can't be intercepted and could provide a basis for totally secure mass communications, super-fast quantum computers, and eventually, a quantum Internet much more powerful than the one we have today. If one can send any quantum state from an input system to an output system as it is, then it will be an ultimate way of information transmission. Such an ultimate method is not only ultimate for information transmission but also considered to enable sending matter existing in this real world to another place without destroying itself which has been a dream and been hitherto considered to be in the realms of science fiction.

Chinese Lead Quantum Space Race?

There’s basically an international quantum teleportation space race going on to get into space first with a quantum satellite. The Chinese space agency has plans to launch such a satellite with quantum teleportation capabilities in 2016. European, Japanese and Canadian space agencies also have plans to launch similar projects in the coming years. Bringing up the rear in this race is the United States at present, whose quantum communication programs have stumbled due to bureaucratic reshuffling that left research projects without government support since 2008. Around the world, countries are investing time, precious resources and hundreds of millions of dollars into this new technology, which uses satellites to beam bits of quantum information down from the sky and could profoundly change worldwide communications.

Exponential Progress in Quantum Teleportation

In 1993, IBM's Charles Bennett was the first to prove that quantum teleportation is possible. Some predict Bennett et al could be in line for a Nobel Prize for this pioneering research. In 1998, Caltech physicists turned the IBM idea into reality by teleporting a photon. In 2002, Australian National University successfully teleported a laser beam. In 2006, Danish scientists beamed information stored in a laser beam into a cloud of atoms. In 2012, scientists reproduced the characteristics of a photon over 143 kilometers in the Canary Islands.

Quantum Experiments and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites

A team of international researchers have successfully teleported a quantum bit abbreviated as qubit in the Canary Islands over a record breaking distance. A qubit is a two-state quantum-mechanical system such as the polarisation of a single photon: here the two states are vertical polarisation and horizontal polarisation. In a classical system, a bit would have to be in one state or the other, but quantum mechanics allows the qubit to be in a superposition of both states at the same time, a property which is fundamental to quantum computing. Over a record distance of 143 kilometres or 89 miles, between the Canary Islands of La Palma and Tenerife, quantum teleportation experiments have consistently provided positive results. This distance is significant, as it is roughly the same distance to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites -- meaning it is now highly likely that a satellite-based quantum communication network could be put into place.

Reaching for the Stars

It's interesting how strong China has become in the last four or five years in the international quantum technology arena. In the last twelve months, a team of Chinese researchers and another group from Austria set new records for beaming bits of subatomic information and particles. Both teams used a laser to transport photons through the air over 60 and 89 miles, respectively. Considering the previous record, set in 2012 by the Chinese team, was just 10 miles, such exponential growth in such a short time has scientists and space agencies now reaching for the stars.

Pushing the Envelope of Teleportation

Far from being a dream, quantum teleportation is being replicated routinely in laboratories around the world. Currently, this is restricted to tiny particles, but enthusiasts believe that as the science develops; it will be possible to send larger objects; and eventually, perhaps a living creature will be teleported from point A to point B? Admittedly, this sounds farfetched at present. The challenges are enormous. Researchers must first create a machine to pinpoint, analyze, and store information from quintillions of atoms and bits, including consciousness. The machine must then transmit the data to another location where an exact replica forms and the old body dematerialises or there will be cloning. But some may wonder, "Is this new body really the same; or could something have got lost in the teleportation?"

Future Technologies

Forward thinkers believe that many teleportation issues will be resolved via future technologies. Molecular nanotechnology, expected by late 2020s, will enable devices that can capture and store the colossal amounts of data. And quantum computers aided by future artificial intelligence, predicted for mainstream use by late 2030s, may be able to process the information needed to record every atom in a body insuring that nothing gets lost in transfer. As this science advances exponentially in the decades ahead, by as early as the 2030s, we could be teleporting information routinely; and sometime during the last half of this century, the first living creatures might step onto a transporter and beam themselves instantly to anywhere on Earth; or to some faraway space colony via Star-gates?

Conclusion and Immediate Applications

Quantum teleportation may yet prove to be in the league of such major inventions and innovations of humankind as the printing press, computing and the internet.

Why is Quantum Teleportation useful? The simplest application at present is quantum cryptography. A pair of entangled photons is the perfect channel for securely transferring a cryptographic key. Due to the laws of quantum mechanics, it is physically impossible for someone to spy on the entangled photons. In the short term, a satellite-based quantum network is the kind of development that governments and large multi-nationals would set up for secure communications. In the long term, a quantum network could form the backbone of an internet populated by quantum computers. In theory, each quantum processor or computer connected to the quantum network could be instantly linked to every other computer via an entangled pair of photons. The next step is to launch a satellite capable of sending and receiving teleported qubits and that is already on the drawing board.


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