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The US government recently announced plans to develop a quantum internet that would be impervious to cyber hacking. It will “metamorphosize our entire way of life,” says the Department of Energy. Nearly $625 million in federal funding is expected to be allocated to the project. 

A quantum internet would be able to transmit large volumes of data across immense distances at a rate that exceeds the speed of light. The system relies on entangled particles and a fiber optic network. Only a few hundred experts around the globe possess the scientific background to determine how to exploit the quantum quirks of science, according to Discover Magazine

What does a quantum internet really look like on the inside?

Classical computer data is coded in either zeros or ones. Quantum information is superimposed in both zeros and ones simultaneously. This helps to prevent prying eyes from stealing information. 

Academics, researchers and IT professionals will need to create quantum routers, repeaters and other quantum tools. Further experiments that will determine the precise tools and mechanisms needed for the quantum internet are still unfolding. 

Will the quantum internet replace our current internet infrastructure? 

No. The “classical internet“, as the regular internet is sometimes called, will still exist. It is expected that large organizations will rely on the quantum internet to safeguard data, but that individual consumers will continue to use the classical internet (at least for a while). 

In making the quantum internet widely available to the public, some speculate that it may need to exist in a clientless form in a cloud app. 

For organizations, what are the implications of the quantum internet?

Experts predict that the financial sector will benefit from the quantum internet when it comes to securing online transactions. The healthcare sectors and the public sectors are also expected to see benefits. In addition to providing a faster, safer internet experience, quantum computing will better position organizations to solve complex problems, like supply chain management. 

The foremost scientist who are developing this new internet aren’t entirely certain about what other advantages it can offer. Analysts compare the development of the quantum internet to the development of the first transistors. These devices were initially used in hearing aids, but ultimately led to the emergence of social media platforms and video conferencing. 

“It’s clear there’s a lot of promise. It’s going to move quickly,” says researcher David Awschalom. “But the most exciting part is that we don’t know exactly where it’s going to go.”

Will the quantum internet emerge soon? 

In April, The Harvard Gazette and Nature reported a “conceptual breakthrough” in regards to quantum engineering. “This is the realization of a goal that has been pursued by our quantum engineering community for more than two decades,” stated Mikhail Lukin, a Harvard professor and co-director of the Harvard Quantum Initiative. 

That being said, we are quite a ways away from the implementation of a quantum internet. Prototypes are currently in progress, and experts anticipate its emergence within the next decade

The three-node quantum network, an entanglement strategy

At the center of quantum communications is information stored in qubits. This is the the quantum version of bits, as commonly used in regular computers. On a quantum network, qubits on the network should be entangled with qubits on a connecting network. A prominent use-case for this is related to encryption. On account of the fact that entangled objects are always correlated, quantum network users can create encryption codes with the equivalent of private keys. 

New versions of quantum networks link three quantum devices through the principles of quantum entanglement. For each device, one qubit of quantum information is associated with it. And it can be entangled with two other qubits. Scientists believe that this type of network may be the wave of the future.

In the Netherlands, a group of physicists successfully linked three different devices together so that all networked devices retained entangled qubits. A three-way entangled state was also created. This enabled the three users to communicate privately.  

Quantum Key Distribution

Quantum Key Distribution represents another method of generating secure, quantum-based keys for communication purposes. “While the [existing, modern-day] encryption method is secure and sophisticated, unfortunately it is not entirely impossible to hack into or break,” reports Forbes. Quantum quantum key distribution (QKD), could change all of that. 

Not just quantum encryption, quantum memory

In one of the latest experiments in quantum mechanics, physicists constructed “quantum memory”. This, along with other techniques, could play a pivotal role in the development of quantum internet routers and other device development. Additional quantum networking and quantum computing techniques are expected to reach maturity in the near future. 

For more information on the science behind quantum computing and a quantum internet, visit Scientific American. For more on the latest quantum mechanics information, phrased in laypersons terms, visit Forbes. To find out about the US government’s role and perspectives, visit Energy.gov

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