Engineering the quantum internet has become a national priority for the U.S. government. Agencies are working towards uncovering the vast potential of the quantum internet, which is expected to revolutionize computing, scientific research, and data security. Continue reading to explore the concept of the quantum internet, its extraordinary capabilities, and the technological advancements driving its development.
The future of the internet is quantum, and it isn’t far from actuality. Over the past two years, the U.S. federal government has made the creation of the quantum internet a national priority. In early 2020, the Department of Energy (DoE) held a workshop that resulted in a roadmap and guide for creating the first quantum internet, and in 2021 the government budgeted over $235 million to begin building this next generation communication network. Most recently, on May 4, 2022, the Biden Administration signed two directives aimed at advancing national initiatives in quantum information science (QIS). Many federal agencies have begun expressing interest in the massive capabilities that quantum technology enables, and with some already beginning to develop ways to harness this power, this is only the beginning of the quantum era.
What is Quantum Internet?
Simply put, quantum internet is a term for the network that will support communication between quantum endpoints including quantum computers and quantum sensors using properties of quantum mechanics. Agencies and research institutions globally are collaborating in a full-scale effort to develop the technologies needed to make the quantum internet widely available, something that, if current predictions are correct, will happen this decade. This revolutionary technology will connect quantum computers to the benefit of solving currently intractable problems, hastening the pace of scientific research and driving economic development. Furthermore, they can facilitate the transfer of larger amounts of data in a more secure manner than current capabilities allow. The benefits are evident for agencies already using quantum technologies, and eventually will work to fully integrate with the current Internet (thus, becoming a key part of the United States’ infrastructure).
Advancements in Quantum Technology
The quantum internet can in the future allow secure transfers of massive amounts of data. While classical data technology uses digital bits to store and transmit information, quantum technology uses qubits. The difference between standard bits and qubits is that standard bits are deterministic, only holding one value at a time, represented by either a ‘0’ or a ‘1’. Qubits on the other hand are probabilistic, representing both at the same time. Another difference is how the data technologies are represented in communications; bits are represented by electrical voltages or optical power, but qubits are represented by certain properties of quantum particles like photons or electrons.
Using elements of quantum physics, this rapidly advancing technology can allow new paradigms for computing and communications. To make the quantum Internet feasible on a wide scale, researchers and organizations are focusing on developing technologies related to specific quantum properties. These quantum properties are at the core of quantum communications.
- Quantum Superposition—The qubit’s ability to exist in two states at once as both ‘0’ and ‘1’ is known as superposition. Quantum superposition allows for parallelism, making it possible for agencies to analyze multiple outcomes in one operation, as well as making the data more secure. The superposition is broken down and reverted to a deterministic, classical bit value as soon as the qubit is read or measured, making it extremely difficult for hackers to infiltrate because they destroy the qubit as soon as they read it.
- Quantum Entanglement—A significant part of quantum communications, quantum entanglement happens when two subatomic particles interact and influence each other. Using entangled qubits, it’s possible for agents to generate secure cryptographic keys on two separate devices. Quantum entanglement also allows for an exponential increase in computing power as well as data transfer rates.
- Quantum Teleportation—Quantum teleportation exploits entanglement to enable data transfer between quantum endpoints encoded in qubits. This secure transfer method allows a substantial amount of information to be transported with very few bits being used on a traditional network, transforming how agencies share massive internal and external data.
In the future, the quantum internet will offer a wealth of new communication capabilities, some of which have yet to be imagined. It was the DoE’s 2020 symposium that formally launched the quantum internet initiative on a federal scale, but it will require a collective effort from agencies and research institutions to make it a reality. By combining these efforts, it is hoped that quantum internet will one day augment the current internet, making everyday internet connections across the world more secure and efficient. Come back for part two of the guide, taking a look at how agencies can prepare for the quantum internet, as well as insight on cryptography and security for future networks.