It goes without saying that all of us would love to never again hear the phrase “Can you hear me now?” coming from our cell phone. Well, here’s one out of left field…
(Stick with me; I promise your head won’t explode!)
Quantum Physics is a somewhat revolution branch of physics that’s been around since the days of Albert Einstein (early 20th century), but only in the last 10-15 years has it gotten really exciting in a way we gadget types might actually care about. Putting aside the various theories about quantum teleportation and duplicated universes, let’s focus on something that truly would “raise the bar” in the communication world – quantum communication.
So, you may or may not know that the protons, neutrons and electrons in the atom aren’t actually the smallest things going. Turns out that these too can be broken down into even smaller pieces called “quarks”. The study of quarks is what we science geeks call “Quantum Physics”.
One of the most interesting aspects of quarks is that they always come in pairs and have what we call “spin”. In every pair, one spins up and one spins down – no matter what. So, if I cause one to flip over, the other one flips over too, so as to maintain this rule of opposite spin.
So what, you ask? Well, the cool part is that quark #2 does the flipping over instantaneously, completely independently of how far apart the two are. So, if one were on Jupiter and the other in downtown L.A., and I flip one (let’s leave “how” to flip these things for another day, okay?) then the other flips two. Period. Somehow, these little puppies are connected on some hyper-dimensional level – like the 6th or 7th dimension or something completely defying all that Newtonian nothing-goes-faster-than-the-speed-of-light goofiness.
Peek your interest yet? If not, think about what you could do with something that has two states – up and down. Sounds an awful lot like the two states computers love so much – zero and one. Slap a bunch of these things next to each other, and you end up with a data stream much like the one your cellular phone uses to communicate with its cell tower of choice (at least most of the time).
The practical application of this somewhat trivial-sounding piece of physics: the ultimate cell phone. Take pairs of quarks – like 128 pairs, so as to end up with a 128-bit data stream. Separate them at birth (so to speak), so you’ve got 128 quarks spinning up and the other 128 spinning down. Put the first group in a nifty little microchip in your cell phone, and the other group in a similarly-nifty little microchip in the CO of your favorite phone company. Now, when you talk, your cell phone does the magic of converting the sound of your voice to a 128-bit signal (much like it does now), but instead of sending radio waves containing that signal to the nearest cell phone tower, it flips the corresponding bits (quarks) at the phone company.
And presto! You now have the ultimate cell phone. No radio wave to be interfered with or intercepted. No lost signals. No security issues. No traceability. No being out of range. No dropped calls. Because basically, there’s no signal — as current physics defines it. Just quarks doing what they do best – flipping spins. Essentially, the matter in the chip in your cell phone and the matter in the chip at the phone company are the same, so they always know what each other are up to – no need to send some signal between them. Extra-dimensional communication at work.
Now, we won’t be seeing this level of use of quantum technology next week or anything, but here’s hoping our kids will someday be able to take a wrecking ball to our friends the cell towers, and “Can you hear me now?” will be permanently shelved with “Where’s the beef?”
Anyway, it’s just a thought.Technorati tags: quantum physics, quantum communication, cellular
Let me start by saying that it’s a crying shame that “where’s the beef?” is no longer a part of the current vernacular. I say, bring back that grumpy old gal in search of a decent burger. She represents the eternal struggle that is the human experience and as such is deserving of our respect and, dare I say, our emulation. To put her on a level with such uninspired, festering tripe as “Can you hear me now?” is a crime against humanity.
Sorry about that… I just get excited about the prospect of a good burger. Mmmmmmmmmburgers….
Burgers aside, the quark pair cell phone application is an interesting thought. The rub of course is turning theoretical physics into an engineering reality. Off the top of my head, I see a few big engineering hurdles that would have to be solved to make the theory real:
* How to extract and separate quark pairs?
* How to manipulate the spin of quarks to encode your message?
* How to observe the spin of quarks (cheaply and without affecting their spin) to decode the message?
* How to link different sets together? For example when one cell phone is talking to another cell phone, two matched sets of 128 quarks would be involved. You’d have to read one set of quarks (at a relay station of some kind?) and set the other. What does that do to your performance now that the relay element has effectively wiped out the whole instantenous aspect of the communication? Would all cell phones’ matched quarks exist in one central location to make a switching function possible?
* Would Armin Shimerman (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “Quark”) be willing to come out of retirement and be a spokesman for this new quark-communication company (in full Pherengi makeup, of course)?
I guess that last question is more a marketing issue than an engineering function…
I’m disappointed in two things…
1) That you had to call me out on the “Where’s the beef reference”. You’re SO right. I repent.
2) That you mispelled Ferengi. I was all ready to be impressed, but… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferengi
Other than that, you bring up some great points. And nobody is saying that this is right around the corner, or that there aren’t major technical hurdles to get over. I was particularly interested in your comments about how communication wouldn’t be “instantaneous” any longer.
Here’s the deal… Nothing is instantaneous. Your point is that the amount of time it takes electrons to travel the airwaves, then through wires between cell towers, then back across the airwaves seems small when compared to the perceived time it would take to “convert” a set of spinning quarks to a “more traditional” digital signal, then back again. That may be true now, but it would have to be overcome for this tech to work.
And the hurdle’s a lot lower when you’re broadcasting to Mars. Then any conversion rate would be faster. Would still have to be below some kind of threshold to do live chat, but certainly improves on how long it takes the mars rover to send back images no matter how long the conversion would take (withing reason).
Also, yes, I think you’d see central hubs (like you do now) with walls of circuits in them. Each one would contain the 128 quarks associated iwth a specific quantum cell phone. So, yes, a whole new form of routing / switching is require.
Another GREAT point you made that I hadn’t even thought of was how to observe the spin of the quark without disturbing it. Any quantum physicists out there who could enlighten us?
I HATED quantum physics, but I do seem to recall that you cannot observe quarks without effecting them. I also think you can only observe them indirectly.
Now, how about that transporter? In a sligthly disgusting aside, is sex with an alien bestiality? I thought of this watching the roast of William Shatner a few days ago.
Brad… Please tell me you don’t spend considerable time pondering questions like that? But to complete the aside, I have a “does intelligent life exist on other planets” entry in mind. Would anyone be interested?