06 March 2009

Spooky Action

An experiment has been devised to directly observe the quantum paradox in action.

The quantum paradox is probably not a subject that most of us spend time thinking about. Quantum entanglement, dubbed "spooky action at a distance" by Einstein, goes against the grain of our common sense understanding of our universe. Einstein hated it.

It is exciting to know that the quantum paradox can now be observed in some way, given that it was the act of observation that was both the spanner in the works and the key component of the theory.

Quantum entanglement makes teleportation possible. Lab experiments have demonstrated that photons can be 'teleported' and it won't be long before scientists are able to teleport something as (comparatively) large as a virus. There is no prospect of teleporting people, though. Too much data and the drawback of having to die as part of the process should rule it out for the foreseeable future.

It would be easy to wax philosophical about quantum entanglement. The fact that an electron in a star in another solar system may be able to tell me the quantum state of its entangled partner in the iris of my eye, is something that I could struggle with. It seems like that should mean something profound. But it doesn't. Just because I currently 'contain' one of the electrons does not imply significance. The entangled partner could just as easily be in a pile of yak faeces.

The quantum paradox is real. That means that it is a tool that can be used. It is fascinating to watch scientists learning to use paradoxical tools. They are already starting to build computers using quantum states. A fully-fledged quantum computer will produce encryption that is truly unbreakable. These devices may become common, they may be used by scientists, governments and individuals. And yet they will still be operating by the power of paradox.

And once it starts to work for them, will anyone care that it is paradoxical?

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