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?”