Teleportation is real, and it could help protect us from the NSA


Yes reader, teleportation is real. And scientists have discovered a new, more reliable way to teleport. This means we’re closer to encrypting data so well, even the NSA won’t be able to reach it. We’re also getting closer to really clear images from outer space. But let’s back up.

Teleportation, what?

This (sadly) is not beam-me-up-Scotty teleportation. It’s particles-sharing-information-across-space teleportation, and remains very much a work in progress. This type of teleportation happens when quantum (i.e., particle) information is transferred, or shared, from one location to another without sending it directly—and researchers from the University of Illinois say they’ve found a way to make that transfer more accurate. That way is donuts.

Donuts, what?

These (sadly) are not deep-fried donuts, but the geometric donut shape called a torus. According to a recent study published in Nature, the torus could make it easier for scientists to teleport quantum information. University of Illinois physicist Paul Kwiat and Hampshire College physicist Herbert Bernstein used the torus to innovate on traditional teleportation experiments, which use the sphere to help describe the quantum information being teleported.

Image via University of Illinois .

In Kwiat’s experiment, the torus replaces the sphere, which is traditionally used to help describe the quantum information being teleported. Kwiat told Fusion in a phone interview, “the way that we can typically represent information in a single quantum bit, or qubit, would be as… somewhere on the location of a sphere.”

Kwiat explained that, “classical information is represented by bits—things that are zero or one.” Bits, or binary digits, are the way our computers understand information. Kwiat continued that in “quantum information, you can have lots of different types of information: A lot of one, a little zero, different timings or phases between zero and one.” So qubits, unlike bits, are described using more than one number. It makes sense to think of qubits as a point on a sphere, and the two numbers pinpointing them the way latitude and longitude would. Easy enough, right? Not quite.

The problem with using a sphere, is that it’s, well, spherical, making it harder for the person receiving the teleported data to use context clues to figure out where, on the sphere, it was in the first place. Points on a donut are more discreet, and so it’s easier to figure out where it came from. At these early stages of teleportation, when researchers are still working out the kinks, that’s important.

This donut-based teleportation, or superdense teleportation, has proven more reliable than other methods of quantum teleportation attempted previously. The researchers found that they were able to teleport the information correctly 87 percent of the time—which is much higher than what is usually achieved with the sphere shape.

Teleportation will give us privacy, and help us understand outer space

Teleportation might not zap us from one place to another, but it could help us do something that might be even better: namely, protect our data from the NSA.

Kwiat explained that one of the main potential applications of quantum teleportation is cryptography, or “being able to send completely secret messages that nobody can eavesdrop on, not even the NSA.” He explained that some companies already sell quantum cryptography systems, and that successful quantum teleportation would improve the process.

Another application is more speculative: quantum teleportation is essential for the hypothetical quantum computer. Last year, The Week outlined some of the advantages of a quantum computer:

A quantum computer could crunch complicated calculations much quicker than the fastest computers today…Calculating factors might not seem like a big deal—until you realize that factoring plays a huge role in encryption.

Researcher Herbert Bernstein told Fusion that “we don’t have quantum computers yet, but we have proof that they can do something that is impossible for an ordinary computer… teleportation itself is very important, we are pretty sure, inside a quantum computer.” And, quantum teleportation could be helpful in terms of getting personal information to those computers. Said Kwiat: “People are storing things out in the cloud, and so if you want to do the same thing with a quantum computer,” you would need to teleport it there.

Quantum teleportation can also be used to help us see clearer images from space. “If you can have a bunch of sensors that are quantum mechanically connected to each other, you can get much better resolution for certain types of measurements,” Kwiat explained. “Eventually a network of quantum sensors could enable much better astronomy.”

So this donut innovation could bring us closer to beating the NSA and meeting aliens. Not too shabby.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.

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