Quantum Computing and the Internet

Category: Future Tech

Technology advances with ever-increasing speed, and with quantum computers promising mind-boggling speed breakthroughs, what will the future of the Internet look like? How will advances in physics affect computers, networking, encryption, and privacy? Let's look ahead to the Quantum Internet...

Quantum Computing and The Internet of the Future

Quantum physics describes a strange world that exists at the level of the very small; we’re talking atoms and sub-atomic particles such as photons. As the basic components of computers keep shrinking – a transistor can now be only 5 nanometers wide – it seems inevitable that we will end up computing in the quantum realm. What will that mean for ordinary users and for the companies that serve their computing needs?

Two aspects of quantum mechanics are especially relevant to computing and the Internet. The first is the principle of “superposition,” which states that a quantum-scale object can simultaneously be in multiple states such as up, down, or infinite combinations of those two states. Many readers are familiar with “Schrödinger's Cat”, a thought experiment that illustrates superposition. In this experiment, a cat sealed in a box is both alive and dead (and all the infinite combinations of those states) until an observer opens the box to see what state the cat is in.

Writing that that reminded me of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. German physicist Werner Heisenberg stated back in 1927 that the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time. What does all of this have to do with quantum Internet? I'm not sure, but here's a great video of the physics of falling cats, that brings both of those theories into play.

The Quantum Internet and Falling Cats

I seem to have digressed, so let's get back to the topic at hand. Superposition allows a “qubit” - a quantum bit of information – to have exponentially more values than either 1 or 0 as classical bits have. This property, in turn, allows exponentially more powerful and faster quantum computers that can perform many complex computations in parallel.

Quantum computers will be able to solve problems that are simply beyond the capabilities of the best computers based upon classical binary physics. One such problem is how to crack strong encryption in a reasonable amount of time. Today, we have classical encryption so strong that it would take the NSA hundreds of years to break it; but with quantum computers the job could be done in weeks, days or hours. That’s rather ominous for privacy, but another principle of quantum physics may provide a hack-proof alternative to classical encryption.

The second principle is “entanglement,” which Einstein derided as “spooky action at a distance,” but which modern physicists have found actually exists. When a pair of quantum objects are entangled, changes in the state of one object are mirrored in the other instantaneously, no matter how much distance separates them. This 1997 article from the New York Times describes an experiment conducted in Geneva, Switzerland which demonstrated the entanglement principle.

The Implications For Encryption Are Profound

Imagine an information sender, “Alice,” who wishes to communicate securely with “Bob.” She generates a great many pairs of entangled photons and sends one of each pair to him. If the state of any of the sent photons is measured by an eavesdropper (“Eve”) it will not match its counterpart in Alice’s possession when it reaches Bob. Because the photons are entangled,

Alice and Bob will instantly know of Eve’s interference. They will discard any intercepted photons, leaving them with a very long string of photons whose states are known only to them. A super-strong encryption key can be made from such photons. Any message encrypted with it can be decrypted only by Alice or Bob. Hopefully they'll remember where they put all those photons.

Quantum computing and networking will not replace the current system that’s based on classical physics, at least not any time soon. Quantum computers (if and when they materialize) will be expensive, and so will be available to users only through the cloud (“quantum as a service” if you will) and only for tasks that require its revolutionary speed and security. Consumers may encounter quantum computing and networking in financial applications. Scientific researchers will share time on quantum computers.

IBM is heavily invested in quantum research and computing, and through their quantum cloud services, you can try the IBM Quantum Experience or Qiskit for free. More advanced quantum systems are available to business clients in the IBM Q Network.

Google is also in the race to develop quantum computing devices that can be used for practical purposes. This article from the MIT Technology Review, Inside the race to build the best quantum computer on Earth, discusses the efforts of both IBM and Google.

Of course, there will be rumors that the government is using quantum computing to extend and perfect its surveillance and control of all citizens. We’ll never know if such rumors are true because any evidence will be locked down with quantum encryption.

Looking Backwards and Forward

This reminds me of the early days of mainframe computers. Because they were so enormous and expensive, you couldn't have one on your desk, or even have one all to yourself. In 1978, my high school had a Teletype with a 300-baud modem, which connected over telephone lines to a university mainframe about 30 miles away. I had a lot of fun writing programs in BASIC and FORTRAN, and even got myself into a bit of trouble.

I never dreamed that I would have a personal computer infinitely faster and more powerful right on my desk, or in the palm of my hand. I couldn't have imagined the information, services and opportunities that would become available via the Internet. Likewise, just the thought of quantum computers and quantum networking makes me a little dizzy. Toss in the rapid advances already taking place in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and I can only wonder… will that enormous power be used for good? If not, can we at least solve the mystery of falling cats?

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Quantum Computing and the Internet"

Posted by:

10 Aug 2020

The true capabilities of quantum computer will ultimately be tied to artificial intelligence(AI). The machines will eventually be smarter than their creators.

Posted by:

Jim Shaneman
10 Aug 2020

Had Einstein bought into this concept, we'd have never had the atomic bomb and atomic living. Still, he was a great believer in the observable.

Posted by:

10 Aug 2020


You say "a quantum-scale object can simultaneously be in multiple states such as up, down, or infinite combinations of those two states".

As I understand it, the qubit is a superposition of just the two states — both 1 and 0, if you like — and the power comes because, whereas 10 (normal) bits can represent 1024 distinct states, 10 qubits could represent all of these simultaneously. So instead of having to test each of the 1k+ possibilities, you can home-in on the one solution almost instantaneously.

Sorry! I think you pretty much got the rest of it right. I'm no expert, and may be wrong, but I am interested.

Posted by:

10 Aug 2020

Re: "...sub-atomic particles such as photons."
Not sure photons are subatomic particles, though breaking up nuclei and their constituents produces photons.

Posted by:

10 Aug 2020

In 1969 I used to program in Algol & Fortran and the card or paper-tape printed output was carried bodily to the mainframe computer called "Baby" at Manchester Uni. UK. The program was batch processed overnight and resultant line-printer output was carried back to us. " Semicolon missing on line 32" D'oh. It took a long time to actually have a running program ! You youngsters don't realise how lucky you are.

Posted by:

10 Aug 2020

Sounds like those qubits can be in multiple(not just a pair of) states at any particular point of time (Dimmer rather than On/Off Switch (>2)) while complex computations can be performed in "parallel" (aka 'at any particular point of time'). So, this makes it certain that Heisenberg would have never known that Schrodinger's missing cat was in a box to look inside of. Thus, not even a quantum computer is of help bcuz the obvious answer is that Heisenberg's nose will eventually tell him that Schrodinger's dead cat is in that box w/o even opening it. Duh!

Posted by:

Brian B
10 Aug 2020

"...a cat sealed in a box is both alive and dead (and all the infinite combinations of those states)..."

That's where you lost me Bob.

Posted by:

10 Aug 2020

Like Steve above, I programmed in FORTRAN in the mid-60’s. If you were kind to the mainframe night shift computer operators, and/or bought them a beer from time to time, they might call you in the middle of the night when the computer was idle and let you have your own personal mainframe for a couple of hours. Turn around time was precious and was worth getting out of bed in the early hours just so you could have your very own computer.

Posted by:

10 Aug 2020

Interesting look at possibilities - or should that be probabilities?
BobD? sub-atomic particles are, in some theories, everything that isn't an atomic particle: Protons, Neutrons or electrons. That includes leptons, positrons, photons and bosons among others. There's also a variation on string theory that says there are no such things as particles; everything is just a collection of waves, some of which are smaller than others...
BrianB: Schrodinger was expressing a 'real world' illustration of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: basically (very much simplified) you can tell where something is, or what it is doing, but not both at the same time. It's all so totally unlike what we call the 'real world' that it's scary. I forget who it was who said that anyone who thinks he understands quantum theory has no idea. IF - and it's a big IF - quantum computing turns out to be as big as its theories promise then it will revolutionise computing as we know it. Or it might not...

Posted by:

10 Aug 2020

If I tried that with my cats they would shred me.

Posted by:

11 Aug 2020

Speaking of old computer languages, our state still uses computers with COBAL and it is raising hell trying to issue unemployment checks to those laid-off during this pandemic. Also, apparently they are used by the Election Commission (we are doomed). The legislature has turned down upgrading the system for the last 25 years.

Posted by:

Stukahna Sandbahr
11 Aug 2020

Wadever...Just fix the highlighting on "copy" for pasting.

Posted by:

11 Aug 2020

You say we'll never know if the government is doing surveillance. I think everyone already knows the answer to that.

Posted by:

11 Aug 2020

Most articles on Quantum computing, including this one, list breaking encryption as one of the results. This is true for *some* types of encryption, specifically the RSA key exchange. It is not true for other types of key exchange methods such as elliptic curve encryption.

Because of the "Threat" of quantum computing, encryption methods have been developed that are immune to to it. (or at least as immune as traditional digital methods.)

Stuff happen, things change.

Posted by:

11 Aug 2020

..."you can tell where something is, or what it is doing, but not both at the same time."
Who needs a quantum machine, since a simple VidCam can tell me both the 'where' AND the 'what'... along with the 'when' of that 'where/what' event in time?
All I hope from a qubit flip-flop is for it to tell the 'why' of it all! For example, 'why' was Schrodinger so cruel to animals, where he could have used the analogy of a coin, instead?

Posted by:

20 Aug 2020

Hi, really frustrated...can't read the article because 3 ads are covering it and I can't exit out them. Too bad, because I was interested in the content. Don't like intrusive popups. Thanks for listening.

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