Imagine super-fast computers that can solve problems much quicker than machines today. These “quantum computers” are being developed in laboratories around the world. But scientists have already taken the next step, and are thinking about a light-based quantum internet that will have to be just as fast.
It’s not easy to develop technology for a device that hasn’t technically been invented yet, but quantum communications is an attractive field of research because the technology will enable us to send messages that are much more secure.
There are several problems that will need to be solved in order to make a quantum internet possible:
Getting quantum computers to talk to each other Making communications secure from hacking Transmitting messages over long distances without losing parts of the message; and Routing messages across a quantum network What is a quantum computer?
A quantum computer is an ultra-fast computer that will be able to factor impossibly large numbers that the classical computers of today can’t solve.
In conventional computers, the unit of information is called a “bit” and can have a value of either 1 or 0. But its equivalent in a quantum system – the qubit (quantum bit) – can be both 1 and 0 at the same time. This phenomenon opens the door for multiple calculations to be performed simultaneously.
But the qubits need to be synchronised using a quantum effect known as entanglement, which Albert Einstein termed “spooky action at a distance”.
There are four types of quantum computers currently being developed, which use:
Light particles Trapped ions Superconducting qubits Nitrogen vacancy centres in diamonds
By being able to solve problems incredibly quickly, quantum computers will enable a multitude of useful applications, such as being able to model many variations of a chemical reaction to discover new medications; developing new imaging technologies for healthcare to