Energy Department Plans to Build a Secure Quantum Internet

The U.S. has unveiled a national project to build a quantum Internet, which would function alongside existing Internet networks. A quantum Internet is based on photons exhibiting a quantum state known as entanglement that allows it to share information over long distances without a physical connection. One goal of the project is to build a network that would be more secure and nearly unhackable. The Department of Energy created a strategy by which its 17 national labs would serve as a backbone for a prototype national quantum Internet to launch in 10 years.

The Washington Post reports that, at University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, professor David Awschalom stated that, “it’s becoming a global competition.” “Every major country on earth has launched a quantum program … because it is becoming clearer and clearer there will be big impacts,” he said.

The Department of Energy’s “blueprint strategy,” a 38-page document, “lays out research priorities and milestones to aim for, but it doesn’t assign detailed tasks to particular parties.” At the Chicago-area Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), head of quantum science Panagiotis Spentzouris said that, “more resources, and a clearer project structure, will be needed to carry out the blueprint.”

The nature of qubits (photons and other quantum bits) would make the network more secure, since “any attempt to observe or disrupt these particles would automatically alter their state and destroy the information being transmitted.”

Awschalom said that, “quantum computers are still at an early stage of development and not yet as powerful as classical computers but connecting them via an Internet could help accelerate their use for solving complex problems like finding new pharmaceuticals or new high-tech materials.” Consumers might also eventually tap into the quantum Internet or even “surf seamlessly” between the quantum and regular Internets.

The Argonne National Laboratory, also located in the Chicago area, already has a 52-mile quantum network that “soon will connect to nearby Fermilab, to establish an 80-mile test bed … [and] in New York, Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Lab have built another 80-mile quantum network.” The project still lacks a quantum repeater to “amplify a quantum network’s signal over long distances.”

Engadget reports that, “the funding for the network would come from part of the nearly $1.3 billion budget devoted to the National Quantum Initiative.” According to the Energy Department’s blueprint, the project “would start out small and require reaching four milestones.” First, designers must “verify that secure quantum protocols work properly over current fiber optic networks … [and] networks then have to start sending quantum entangled data … across cities and school campuses.”

The ultimate goal, it added, is to transmit data between states.

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