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Making the Leap to Quantum Internet
My bet is that most have never heard of the quantum internet nor that efforts to launch said internet have already taken place, nor that the US Department of Energy (DOE) is a key driving force behind this internet. Who knew, right? So, what is the quantum internet? It is much more theory than reality at this point. But experts are working on it, and in late July 2020, DOE made the launch official in an online post outlining a blueprint for this newfangled internet.
Defining the Quantum Internet
The announcement comes with the lofty goals one would expect from such an endeavor: “The quantum internet will one day connect computers that can solve challenges of incredible complexity, enabling a faster flow of information and opening up entirely new areas of scientific research and economic development,” writes the post’s author, DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar. This sounds good, but we are talking about an estimated 10 more years of development, so it seems wise to be somewhat skeptical, given the challenges involved and the long horizon.
In Dabbar’s post, the DOE’s plan spells out four research priorities in this effort:
- “Providing foundational building blocks for the quantum internet;
- Integrating Quantum networking devices;
- Creating repeating, switching, and routing technologies for quantum entanglement (the notion of an inseparable whole);
- Enabling error correction of quantum networking functions.”
On a more practical level, one of the main goals of this emerging quantum internet is to greatly enhance the secure transmission of important data, which could be useful for national security, financial services, and the electrical grid. The enthusiasm around the potential for high security rests on the belief that (by definition) a quantum network is completely secure. This new type of internet could also become the data backbone for safeguarding vital infrastructure related to water, roads, and air and space transportation.
Around 50 organizations are developing this US-led quantum internet, with leading scientists from the University of Chicago, Fermilab, and Argonne National Laboratory working on the project. They have already set up a 52-mile quantum loop in Illinois as a test bed for their efforts.
It is important to note that the quantum internet is not a replacement of the internet we use today. Instead, it will likely become a complement to the regular internet or a branch of it. Also, creating the quantum internet will not be easy; it will require new types of hardware that have not been developed.
Global Competition Persists for Quantum Research
The US is not alone in its quantum research efforts. China is pushing quantum research with large investments and leveraging its 1,263-mile quantum link between Beijing and Shanghai. European teams are also focused on quantum research, having set up the European Quantum Internet Alliance with numerous industrial partners involved.
It is heartening to know that experts across the globe are working to solve the quantum puzzle and create a network much less vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. We all win in such a scenario. But given all the hurdles ahead, it may take significant breakthroughs to meet the challenge. For a Guidehouse Insights view of the IT and cybersecurity market trends in the energy sector, see the Energy IT and Cybersecurity Overview report.