US Plans Quantum Internet

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The United States government is teaming up with the University of Chicago to develop a nationwide quantum internet.

The network, which would run in parallel with the current internet, could be used to securely send sensitive financial information and data pertaining to matters of national security. If all goes to plan, a functional network could be up and running within ten years.

“What we’re moving forward on is building out quantum networks [to] someday . . . turn into a full second internet, a parallel internet to the digital internet,” said Paul Dabbar, undersecretary for Science at the Department of Energy (DOE).

Unlike today's internet, which transmits information by encoding the data in light particles called photons that are run along fiber-optic cables underground and over wireless communication technologies and satellites, the quantum internet would transmit data using photons that are entangled. 

Entangled photons are linked with one another despite being separated by distance. Any attempts by hackers to intercept data encoded in entangled photons while it is being transmitted would disturb the particle of light and break that link. As a result, the intercepted data, for example an image, would appear scrambled to both the hacker and the recipient. 

Funding for the project will come from the $1.275bn budget allocated as part of President Donald Trump’s National Quantum Initiative. The initiative was established under the National Quantum Initiative Act, passed into law at the end of 2018 as part of America's plan for advancing quantum technology, particularly quantum computing.

A group of around 50 organizations led by the DOE and University of Chicago has been formed to bring the project to life. At a news conference held yesterday, it was announced that the DOE’s 17 National Laboratories will serve as the backbone of the coming quantum internet.

In February of this year, scientists from DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois, and the University of Chicago successfully established one of the longest land-based quantum networks in the nation when they entangled photons across a 52-mile “quantum loop” in the Chicago suburbs. That network will soon be connected to DOE’s Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, to create a three-node, 80-mile testbed.

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