Scientists have been using quantum internet for years

May 07, 2013
Where the future is being made.

FORTUNE -- Scientists at Los Alamos National Labs say they have been quietly operating a quantum internet for the past two years.

What is a quantum internet? It is a network that employs the laws of quantum mechanics to make perfectly secure online communication possible. Because the act of measuring a quantum object necessarily changes it, any attempt to snoop on a quantum message leaves indications of tampering a would-be receiver can detect. A quantum internet would potentially allow users to send messages over a network which could then be used for absolutely secure communication. (Making SnapChat look like child's play by comparison.)

The concept has fascinated security experts, but there are thorny technical problems. For example, messages can only be sent between locations, not routed as regular Internet traffic. Deciding where a communication is headed changes its state, effectively marking it.

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Now, a team from Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico has revealed that it has managed to work around some of these limitations. As the MIT Technology Review puts it:

Richard Hughes and pals at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico reveal an alternative quantum internet, which they say they’ve been running for two and a half years. Their approach is to create a quantum network based around a hub and spoke-type network. All messages get routed from any point in the network to another via this central hub. This is not the first time this kind of approach has been tried. The idea is that messages to the hub rely on the usual level of quantum security. However, once at the hub, they are converted to conventional classical bits and then reconverted into quantum bits to be sent on the second leg of their journey.

When this innovation will be in wide use is anybody's guess. It likely won't be anytime soon. For more, check out this blog post revealing the announcement.

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