Communicating using entangled quantum networks sounds very complicated, but even dummies are doing it. Well, in a simulator anyway. And you need to read up on it in-depth beforehand if you don’t want to feel lost in make believe like Alice in Wonderland at first.
Alice is one of the characters in a serious game on a new QuTech website. QuTech is the partnership between TU Delft and TNO on quantum technology. One of the applications which you can experiment with on the website is Quantum Key Distribution, a technique that promises untappable communication. You can take on the fictional characters of Alice and Bob in a simulated environment. They send each other messages over the internet of the future without being hacked.
QuTech assumes that the most exciting applications of quantum networking will not be invented by a select group of academics, but will emerge from a large community of scientists and enthusiasts and hobbyists. QuTech already has the hardware needed to do simple quantum calculations. (The Quantum Inspire, a simple computer containing a few qubits has already been make public. Read more about it here.) And it is working on software for the quantum computers and the internet of the future. What it lacks though is a community of enthusiasts who can think about relevant issues and build on each other’s ideas. The Quantum Network Explorer, as the website is called, will allow this to happen.
Programming to your heart’s content
Visitors to the website can explore the network applications using a user-friendly graphic interface. Another part of the website is designed for people who are more familiarised with the technology. On this part of the website they can programme to their heart’s content.
“The quantum internet is still in its early days,” says Ingrid Romijn, researcher at QuTech. “It is hard to prdict how it will develop. If we draw a parallel with the current IT situation, it is as if we are still in the 1950s.”
At that time nobody was thinking about web applications, such as streaming, or the worldwide web. “This is where the quantum internet is now. However, there is one major difference – it is not a closed government project. With the quantum network explorer we want to make it accessible to everyone.”
What we do know is that the future internet will work with qubits. These are calculation units that can become entangled. This means that if you assess the situation of one of these units, you are assessing the situation of the others at the same time, even if they are miles away from each other. This brings us back to Alice.
Unique encryption key
Imagine that Alice wants to send an important message to Bob that must not be intercepted by anyone. She can then use the entangled qubits to generate a unique encryption key. Should a hacker – called Eve in the game – try to steal the key, it is detected immediately.
So this means safer communications. But quantum technology can offer a lot more. One thing is improved clock synchronisation to provide better positioning in GPS and other satellite systems, and another is highly complicated calculations. And of course we have to wait and see what the clever minds on sites such as the Quantum Network Explorer come up with.