What is the Quantum Internet – Explain it to me like I’m 5 years old
If any of you have ever spent any time in ‘Reddit’, the Front Page Of The Internet, you’ll know one of the most popular threads to read is EILI5 – Explain It to me Like I’m 5. Experts, or at least well informed members of the public use this particular forum to impart very simple explanations of often complex phenomena. In this article, we’re doing that here with the Quantum Internet
What is the quantum internet?
Most of us have a great deal of experience with the current internet. We have fixed broadband connectivity at home, and, increasingly mobile broadband services, on top of that. Whether mobile or fixed, these internet access technologies simply provide a method of transmitting bits and bytes, the 1s and 0s that computers use to communicate, across a distance. The message might be sent through a cellular network, across glass fibers under the sea, through copper cables which connect your house to the fixed phone network or a combination of the above.
The idea that these existing access solutions could be replaced by a ‘Quantum Internet’ is going to come as a surprise. First of all, don’t worry. The Quantum internet is some way off yet although trials are underway in at least 2 parts of the world.
The proposed model for the Quantum Internet uses a feature of Quantum – a type of particle much smaller than an atom – to transmit bits and bytes which, until now, have been sent through fixed and mobile broadband.
Some quantum particles are ‘caught up’ together. The effect is known as ‘Quantum entanglement’. When you separate two quantum particles which are intertwined in this manner, something interesting happens. Moving one quantum particle causes the other to move in the same way. Even when you move one of these entangled particles a long way away – to the other side of the world, moving one of them causes the other to move too. There is no physical connection between them, but a feature of their natural state is that they remain ‘connected’. This connection can be used to transmit the 1s and 0s that current broadband solutions do.
Why do we need a quantum internet?
The original internet was ‘invented’ by Time Bernards Lee, and adapted by the US government in ARPANet, to offer ongoing communication in the event of a nuclear strike. It was hard for them to imagine where the technology they were playing with would end up and how fundamentally it would affect all of our lives. They weren’t even thinking about security at the level we now need to, with hacking and attacks by foreign governments commonplace.One of the major benefits of the Quantum Internet is that security is being built in to it from day 1.
The other major improvement a Quantum Internet would provide is that communication across it is instant. Quantum entanglement does not take any time to transmit it’s message. Think about that for a second. One quantum particle could be on Earth, the other half of it could be on Mars, and the movement of one would affect the other at the moment it was disturbed. When Elon Musk wants us to propagate the species across the internet, communication by current standards could incur, just to Mars, around a 10 minutes delay each way – the time taken to send the message at the speed of light. Using the Quantum Internet to send the message would mean that it could be there immediately, without that 10 minute delay.
Bringing it all together
Public WiFi is increasingly available all around the world. Councils are even considering putting it in town centers for free. The United Nations calls Broadband a ‘Fundamental Human Right’ Connectivity is such a basic elements of our lives now that reinventing the whole thing could be seen as a waste.
However, the security and immediacy benefits of the Quantum Internet mean it makes sense to develop one, even if only for specialized use cases like space travel and government / military communication. If history has taught us anything, however, it’s that, once these technologies are put in place for those uses, they tend to ‘leak’ in to the civilian world, too. In 25 years, we could all be using the Quantum Internet and just calling it the Internet.