Insights · October 7th, 2006
A few years ago when I was invited to speak to a Microsoft customer event, one of the speakers was from Microsoft Research. He previewed a number of research initiatives. In doing so he had fun with a slide in which he listed major Star Trek technologies and then suggested their corollaries in real-life research:
- The Holodeck was emerging in realistic computer games and Internet 2.
- The Universal Translator was not that far away.
- The All-Knowing Computer was the subject of AI research.
- The Communicator was appearing as hand-held, wireless, location-based communication.
- Big Screens were appearing everywhere.
- The Replicator was being hinted at in Nanotech research.
- Computers that speak, learn, adapt were in development.
- The Star Trek world was clearly beyond fossil fuels, with Anti-matter drive and other uses of the quantum state of matter, and some day, he said, we?d be there too.
The one technology he did not mention was Teleportation.
It may be on the list in the future because now comes word from physicists in Denmark that one of the seemingly most unlikely of all the Star Trek techs, teleportation, may not be impossible.
Particles which make up matter exhibit a set of ?quantum states,? including energy, motion, or spin. Based on this understanding it has been discovered that the properties of two particles can be ?entangled? so that by knowing the quantum state of one particle, it is possible to know the state of the other, distant particle.
In 2004, scientists demonstrated the principle of entanglement between two atoms. H.J. Kimble of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and S.J. van Enk of Bell Labs in Murray Hill, N.J. conducted research which proved that if one particle is set to one set of quantum properties, the other, entangled particle, immediately takes on opposite, or identical properties, not matter how far apart they may be physically. In this sense the experiments were seen as a kind of teleportation of quantum states, and hailed as important to the eventual development of more powerful computers. This research also suggested the possibility of some kind of faster than light communication channel.
Now, as is being reported in the Journal, Nature, and elsewhere, Professor Eugene Polzik and his team at the Niels Bohr Institute at Copenhagen University in Denmark have accomplished two breakthroughs. First, they succeeded in teleporting the quantum information in a cloud of about a trillion atoms over a distance of half a meter. Second, their experiment involved both atoms and photons, and by combining these two different ?objects? they demonstrated the feasibility of quantum communication and information storage, a step on the way to super small, lightening fast computers. The distance at which the effect can be produced will be extended, they believe.
Everything possible today was at one time impossible. Perhaps it will turn out that things which are impossible today will one day be possible.