Apr 21, 2011

Quantum Teleportation Breakthrough May Pave the Way for Quantum Computing

originally published by Alex Knapp on Forbes

Quantum teleportation: the name brings Star Trek to mind, although that’s not quite accurate. What quantum teleportation really transmits isn’t people, but rather information (called “qubits”, as an analogue to the classic “bit” that we use to slice up memory in traditional computing). In theory, quantum teleportation is the transmitting of cubits from one position to another without the qubits travelling in the intervening space.

Reliable trasmission of qubits is something that’s necessary for the development of quantum computers. Quantum computers, if they’re possible to build, would in theory be able to take advantage of quantum mechnical algorithms, enabling them to use algorithms that can perform calculations much, much faster than traditional computers.

So ever since quantum teleportation technology was first proposed in the late 1990s, there have been two major avenues of research. The first is being able to transmit information over long distances — right now, the longest distance claimed is about 10 miles by researchers in China. But the second important avenue of research is maintaining the integrity of the signal. Right now, the nature of quantum teleportation is such that there’s an inevitable loss of integrity — the quantum teleporter equivalent of the scene in Galaxy Quest when an animal is beamed up to the ship — inside-out.

But now researchers at the University of New South Wales may have achieved a breakthrough in maintaing the integrity of qubits during the quantum teleportation process. They successfully transmitted large, complex sets of information quickly, without loss of integrity.

Professor Elanor Huntington, in the School of Engineering and Information Technology at UNSW’s Canberra campus at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), was part of a team led by University of Tokyo researchers. She said the team’s achievement was another step towards building a super-powerful quantum computer and transmitting quantum information.

“Just about any quantum technology relies on quantum teleportation. The value of this discovery is that it allows us, for the first time, to quickly and reliably move quantum information around. This information can be carried by light, and it’s a powerful way to represent and process information. Previous attempts to transmit were either very slow or the information might be changed. This process means we will be able to move blocks of quantum information around within a computer or across a network, just as we do now with existing computer technologies.
”If we can do this, we can do just about any form of communication needed for any quantum technology.”

Before we can have quantum computing, there are a number of physical problems that have to be solved. But this breakthrough may be a huge step in the right direction.