Last week, the US department of energy released a blueprint for a national quantum internet. The project if successful, the government claimed, will ensure a safer and nearly unhackable internet within the next decade. Earlier this year, the University of Chicago, one of the participants in DoEs project, had created a 52-mile quantum loop to transfer subatomic particles.
The US, however, is not the only country to be working on quantum internet.
Dutch researchers are expected to es tablish a link between Delft and the Hague later this year. In February, Chinese researchers, in a paper published in Nature had claimed to have successfully demonstrated some success in this regard over a 50 km range.
Last year, when Google announced that its quantum computer had inched closer towards quantum supremacy — when a computer can perform tasks that are out of reach for even the most advanced supercomputer — blockchain experts had expressed concerns about the technology as it would make it easy to break encryption. Recently, currency exchange and payments platform, Ripple’s CTO said that quantum computers could pose a threat to blockchain technology and bitcoin. Given that development of quantum computers is happening at an accelerated pace, there is also a need for a quantum internet to transfer information without danger of hacking.
While the US experiments are laudable, all eyes will now be on the Dutch researchers as they would also demonstrate a quantum repeater, which will help transport a single photon over long distances. The problem, till now, in establishing such a network has been transferring a photon. A repeater, if successful, can make this a reality.
The success, in this case, is dependent on a property of quantum particles called entanglement.
Entanglement allows two photons, when observed, at a considerable distance to take opposite values from each other. Albert Einstein in a 1935 EPR paper had discussed entanglement buttermedit as a spooky phenomenon as it defied his laws on relativity. Bell later confirmed Einstein’s observation. But using photons has been impossible largely because a photon cannot be cloned. Any interference destroys
the information. And, this property is what makes them safe as well.
But developing a point-to-point connection is quite different from creating a network. Dr Apoorva D Patel, one of India’s leading quantum researchers and a professor at Centre for High Energy Physics, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru says that we are still a long way from establishing a network. “We would need hubs, relays, standard storage and error correction, and all this is still years away.” He also debunks the claims of a quantum internet within a decade. “The 10-year timeline is the government’s
hypothesis, not the scientists’ hypothesis” Even if it is developed, the speeds Dr Patel says will be much slower, probably by a factor of thousand, than the regular internet. And this will not improve. So, it will have only limited application.
Besides, the system is not entirely unhackable.”The quantum transmission is unhackable, but end-points are still hackable. The sending and receiver stations are vulnerable, as at those points you are trying to convert the classical signal into the quantum signal or vice versa,” Dr Patel says.
Even worse, India may only be a spectator in this quantum race. “We are far behind in terms of the quantum internet, and much more behind when it comes to quantum computers. We are starting from scratch, and the government will need to do more,” Dr Patel highlights.
While the government announced a plan to invest Rs 8,000 crore over the next five years in the National Mission on quantum technology in the Budget, no disbursement has been made till now.
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