Chinese scientists have just successfully used teleportation to send data from Earth to a satellite and some people see its primary benefit as allowing private messaging.
The idea of teleportation, or teletransportation, carries a lot of weight in popular culture. It conjures images of characters asking Scotty to beam them up, a scientist Chronenburging himself up with a fly, or a young wizard flitting around via flammable powder and fireplaces. This is, unfortunately, none of those types of teleportation and won’t see you avoiding the evening traffic by transmitting yourself home with your phone.
What this team of scientists has managed to teleport is a tiny piece of information, reportedly 870 miles above the Earth. This is a new record distance for sending this type of data. Essentially, the scientists took two photons which are quantum entangled. This means that they are linked unfailingly regardless of the physical distance between them and, as one changes, the effect is mirrored in the other. One of these photons was sent via laser to the Micius satellite where its state could be observed so very far away from its partner. The remaining proton back on Earth was altered by having it interact with a third particle. Sure enough, the photon high above in space changed accordingly, immediately altering to match its mate. According to the BBC, some scientists regard the process as more like a fax machine, creating a distant copy of a message, rather than a way of physically moving something instantly across space.
Why is this important?
So far, this might not sound like a lot. It certainly isn’t the first time that information has been sent to and from space. In fact, 870 miles isn’t even particularly far on that scale. But there are a few factors to consider. One is that changes via quantum entanglement are not limited to the speed of light. These changes are effectively instantaneous as two entangled particles “think” they are the same thing. As one changes, so too does the other, in complete contrast to how physics work on the larger human scale. As this process improves, it may become possible to send simple messages instantly and potentially without being traced, to a partner who has the corresponding particles.
The application of this discovery which is most catching people’s attention is that it may prove to be impossible to discreetly hack. One of the unique factors of quantum entanglement is that the act of observing data affects it. This means that it could prove impossible to observe a message without leaving a trace behind on it and immediately broadcasting your presence. This could prove to be the ultimate method to check the security and privacy of messages.
The consensus seems clear that this is nowhere close to sending humans instantly across the cosmos. Such technology may never be achievable, or even desirable if it means destroying yourself and being faxed for reassembly. What this technology might be able to do is revolutionise our ability to communicate with each other quickly and reliably. Emergency beacons which can be activated outside of satellite range or even being able to receive messages immediately from astronauts on their way to Mars, this could very well be the technology which future exploration depends upon. It could even be the end of online hacking and the birth of a truly secure internet.