Last December the US government enacted the National Quantum Initiative Act, which will lavishly fund a number of research hubs dedicated to quantum technologies, including quantum computers and networks. The Trump administration’s 2021 budget boosts spending on quantum information science by about 20 percent, to $237 million. David Awschalom, a quantum engineer at the University of Chicago told CNBC: “That level of funding will enable us to begin to develop the groundwork for sophisticated, practical, and high-impact quantum networks.
“It’s significant and extremely important.”
Delft University’s Ronald Hanson said: “The main feature of a quantum network is that you are sending quantum information instead of classical information”.
Classical information deals in bits that have values of either 0 or 1.
Quantum information, however, uses quantum bits, or qubits, which can be in a superposition of both 0 and 1 at the same time.
Qubits can be encoded, for example, in the polarisation states of a photon or in the spin states of electrons and atomic nuclei.
A quantum network leverages the counterintuitive behaviour of nature’s particles to manipulate and share information in entirely new ways, with the potential to reinvent fields including cybersecurity and material science.
While the traditional internet for general use isn’t going anywhere, a quantum network would offer decisive advantages for certain applications.
Researchers could use it to develop drugs and materials by simulating atomic behaviour on networked quantum computers, for instance, and financial institutions and governments would benefit from next-level cybersecurity.
And in the future, it is up to the creativity of imaginative humans to discover applications for the new technology.
Many researchers around the world think such a quantum network may be built in the next five years.
But the US is not on its own in the quest for quantum internet.
Europe is competing with a similar national efforts in China, which in 2016 launched Micius, a quantum communications satellite.
China has already realised an early application, quantum encryption, between certain cities.
But, fully quantum networks spanning entire countries will take decades, experts say.
Building it will require re-engineering the quantum equivalent of routers, hard drives, and computers from the ground up.
But, foundational work is already underway today.
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