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The Quantum Connection: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Thursday, January 6, 2005 23:34 EST



    The following Monday I went in to work and got reoriented and qualified as a full-time employee at an engineering pay scale. When I got through with all the paperwork, by lunchtime, Larry took me into a room with a combination lock on the door.

    “Steve, sign this here and date it here,” he told me and handed me a clipboard and pen.

    “Okay, there. What is this room?”

    “We call this, depending on the meeting, a SAP/SAR (special access program/special access required) room or a SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility). I’ll explain it once we are inside. Do you have a cell phone or beeper or anything?”

    “Nope,” I assured him. He put the clipboard back on the wall, and turned over an eight-inch green door magnet that said CLOSED over to the red side that said OPEN. The magnet made a metal clanging metal sound when stuck to the door. “After you,” he motioned his right hand to the door.

    We got inside the room and he closed the door behind us. He walked over to a tote board on the other side of the room and pulled down a sign that said THIS ROOM IS NOW CLASSIFIED SAP/SAR and then he sat down. There was nothing fancy about the room. It was just a normal looking conference room with cheap Government Issue furniture, white boards on each side, and a large flat screen television panel at the end. Larry turned the television on and fired up the laptop at the end of the table. The laptop had red and white stickers all over it claiming that it was AUTHORIZED FOR CLASSIFIED MATERIAL. And there were a lot of letters following the words TOP SECRET at the top and bottom of the computer screen.

    Larry spent an hour explaining how the classified world and protocols work and at the end of his briefing had me sign some documents stating that I knew I would go to jail, be executed, and probably burn in Hell if I divulged any classified material.

    “Alright,” he said. “Let’s take a quick bathroom break, grab a coke or something, and we will talk about your little circuit.” Larry loosened his tie a little and stretched. “You think this is exciting?” He smiled and raised an eyebrow at me.

    “Well, it’s pretty cool so far. But, I can’t wait to see what this circuit is.” I nodded at it.

    “We can’t both go at the same time or we have to lock the room back up. So you head on to the john and then I’ll go,” he told me.

    After the break Larry placed a disk with TOP SECRET and a bunch of numbers stamped on it into the computer. He opened up a file marked RAM Quantum Teleportation, clicked on a slideshow, and there on the big flat screen was a picture of the circuit that I had tried to reverse engineer.

    “The circuit you had wouldn’t work. The chip between the laser and the CPU chips, here,” he pointed at what I had labeled chip D. “It was a dummy. Also, this chip between the two CPUs served no purpose. Since it didn’t actually function, this dummy circuit wasn’t classified. If something don’t work, there’s usually no need to classify it. Besides, the parts were all common and it’s the application that is the big secret here.”

    “Then what does it do?”

    “Well, the circuit you had really wasn’t much more than a fax or data relay from one I/O port to the other. I’m glad you figured that out; we’ve tried two other co-ops that didn’t. I really believe you are the right person for this job.” He nodded his satisfaction.

    “Now, this circuit on the other hand, does work.” A new circuit appeared on the screen. “And what it does is allow for memory and instructions in the CPU chip on the left here to be teleported at the speed of light to the CPU chip on the right. Again, it is teleported,” he emphasized the word teleported. “The data is quantum interfered with this input beam here which is actually quantum connected to the input beam on the other side of the board. When the interference pattern is relayed over to and interfered with the unencoded quantum connected beam on the other side of the board, the wavefunction for the data collapses on the left side of the board and appears in the chip on the right side of the board.” He paused to see if I was following him -- and I wasn’t.

    “Uh…Larry, I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about at all. Quantum connection? Quantum interference?” I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders.

    “Don’t let it fret you none, son, it’s some kooky stuff here. Alright, hold on.” He stopped the slide show and opened up another one labeled “Clemons Briefing for President.” Larry rummaged through it a few slides and must’ve found what he was looking for. “Okay, this is it,” he said. “Way back in the early part of last century Einstein apparently had troubles with the modern theory of quantum mechanics. You see quantum mechanics describes every single thing in the universe as some sort of probability function, or wave function. For example, you could describe yourself as a superposition of a lot of different energy waves if you were real good at math. An electron for example can be described as a wave function that is fairly simple, like on this slide.” He pointed at a box with a sinusoidal wave pattern in it. “This is the function for an electron in a box. The function is different if there is no box. Now also assume that an electron has a value called spin. It spins about an axis either clockwise or counter-clockwise. We will say that one of the states is spin Up and one of the states is spin Down.”

    “Yeah, I remember this from sophomore Modern Physics for Engineers.” I interrupted him. “The electron has an equal probability that it is in either an Up or Down state and therefore the wave function must represent that.”

    “That’s right, Steven, but it’s more than just a probability. The electron actually exists in both states until you measure it to see which state it is in. The interaction of your measuring device causes one of the probability functions to collapse leaving just either a spin Up or spin Down electron. You follow?”

    “This is Schroedinger’s Cat right? You put the cat in a box and until you peek in the box you don’t know if it’s dead or alive, so quantum theory states it must be in both.”

    “Yep. And it is the act of making the measurement that causes the wave function to collapse into either the dead or alive state.” Larry finished for me.

    “So what does this have to do with teleportation and this quantum connection?”

    “I’m not done yet,” he said. “Now assume that you look at a pion decay. When a pion, this subatomic particle, decays it becomes an electron and a positron, and they must be in antiparallel spin states so as not to violate conservation of spin angular momentum. In other words, if the electron has a spin Up then the positron must have a spin Down and vice versa. Now, if we have not measured which particle is in which state then there is an equal probability that the electron be in either state and the same for the positron. Therefore, you have an electron traveling along with a wave function for Up and Down spins and a positron doing the same. If we measure the electron to see which state it is in, and we find that it is in the spin Up state, then instantly, even if the positron is on the other side of the universe, the positron wave function will collapse to the spin Down state. The reason why is because the two particles came from the same quantum event and their wave functions get tangled up with each other. It is this wave function entanglement that is called the quantum connection.”

    “Okay my brain hurts,” I rolled my neck to the right then left and scratched my head. “I think I understand this, but you said Einstein had something to do with this?”

    “Oh, I forgot to mention, this thought experiment is called the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Experiment, or most commonly the EPR experiment, because they came up with it. Einstein didn’t like this instantaneous ‘spooky’ action and suggested this is a problem with quantum mechanics. Well, like it or not, EPR is real. It has been verified many times over. But to Einstein’s credit, the reason he didn’t like it was because the instantaneous events could enable signals to be sent back in time. Let’s not get into that, but it turns out that statistics won’t allow that to happen. You can go read about that yourself in a quantum book somewhere.”

    “Well, if you can’t send data with it, what use is it?” I was getting more and more confused. “How deep does the rabbit hole go, Alice?” I asked.

    “Curiouser and curiouser,” Larry smiled. “Back in the early part of the first decade of this millennium, several experiments were conducted that enabled data transmission via EPR. An optical set-up was rigged so that the photons from a laser beam were quantum connected in a special cube of a material called KD-star-P, and then split into two separate paths. The experiment was actually called “Parametric Downconversion of Entangled Coherent Photon Beams in Nonlinear Materials.” Go look it up if you want. The reference beam was then encoded by polarizing the photons to a spin Up or vertical up polarization. The other beam shifted instantaneously to a spin Down or vertical down polarization.

    Following that effort several different labs even used EPR to teleport at the speed of light an information-encoded bunch of photons from ten or so meters across a lab. A couple experiments around 2013 even showed that atoms could be teleported across a great distance at the speed of light. Here is how it worked.” Larry scrolled through the slides until he found the right one again. “Uh...let’s see. This is the one…a beam of photons are entangled or ‘connected’ inside a laser and then split and sent down separate paths.” He pointed out the red laser beams with the little hand held pointer connected to the mouse. The mouse pointer on the screen would move wherever he pointed the hand wand. My guess was that it was like a light gun for a video game; a thought which distracted me for just a moment. He continued, “Now each of these photons in the beams are quantum connected to each of the photons in the other path. The left beam here is interfered with another optical beam that is encoded with data. Now the data contains much more information than say a single RAM chip might hold, say a terabit of data, and it would require a lot of energy and time to transfer a terabit of data. But the interference beam it makes when imposed on the quantum connected beam is just a few kilobits. We pump that low bandwidth interfered beam over to the other connected beam here on the right. When the two beams are interfered together in the right way, BANG! The encoded photons disappear on the left side and appear on the right side! This allows us to send huge amounts of data from one storage device or memory chip to another through a puny low bandwidth optical fiber. Cool huh!”

    “You mean that really works? Sounds too good to be true, man we could make a computer without low bandwidth wire or optical connections that could operate at like a terahertz or much faster than that!” This stuff was exciting.

    “Now you understand, Steve ol’ boy. The problem is that we haven’t figured out how to make good use of it just yet. In order for this to be useful, you have to be able to do calculations and instructions on the data right there in the memory location. It would slow the machine way down if you had to pump the bits to be operated on from the memory to the processor and back and forth through wires. Since the CPUs can only use a few kilobits per register it would be like filling up a five gallon bucket with a cup. It would just take too long.” I laughed that he just used the same analogy that I had used for my final exam and told him as much.

    “Let me get this straight,” I said. “The bottleneck here is actually being able to manipulate a lot of data in parallel. One CPU can’t work on a terabyte of data all at once. Is that the problem?” I was beginning to understand why this was too good to be true.

    Larry was smiling again. “You catch on quick, Stevie. Yep, that’s the problem in a nutshell. If all we had to do was move data around this would be awesome fast. But we might want to add or multiply or something to that data sometimes. We need to be able to work on all the data at once in parallel.”

    We continued to bat around these ideas for a couple hours, occasionally taking bathroom and coke or coffee breaks. We finally finished up around five thirty or so and decided to give it a rest. We packed up the classified room and put the disk back in the safe. Larry showed me how to get in and out of the safe. Then I grabbed my stuff from my desk. I had paperwork for my new pay grade and new insurance and benefits packages. I also took home a handful of technical journal papers that Larry gave me on EPR. One paper particularly caught my eye. It was entitled Experimental Detection of Entanglement with Polarized Photons which had been written by a bunch of Italian people. I planned to read it later that evening after walking Lazarus.

    That day was a lot to absorb. I wasn’t quite sure why the effort was TOP SECRET, but it was. When I had asked about that, Larry just shrugged and told me that I didn’t have a need to know that yet. But he did tell me that my job was to make the technology useful. Cool job, I thought. I could be instrumental in the development of the fastest most powerful computer ever built. Wow!

    Then my stomach growled and I remembered that the fridge at home was empty. So, I stopped and grabbed some burgers for Laz and me on the way home. Laz, as always, was happy to see me. I sat the burgers on the counter and patted him on the head. Then I debated on a beer or a pill. I went with the beer. The next thing I knew it was seven forty-six and Laz was licking me on the face and my beer was still in my hand.

    “Damn, I must’ve dozed off. I guess I should take those pills a little more regularly, huh buddy.” I scratched his white belly and he whined at me and kicked his hind legs like dogs do.

    I got up and heated us up a couple hamburgers. We ate dinner and then went for a walk, happier than I had felt in a long while.

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