Shades of Star Trek--instant communication across the galaxy. Of course, this dream is no more than that--a dream, right? After all, although we've become accustomed to instant communications around the world, in fact our radio signals travel only as fast as light; and while that may be fast enough for immediate contact around the earth, once we started traveling to other worlds even as close as the moon, it became painfully apparent that light was not fast enough for future interplanetary and perhaps interstellar phone calls. Thus our science fiction authors began to invent ideas for such real-time communication across light years--subspace communications generally on the top of the list. But isn't it all just pipe dreams--just our projections of our present technology into a future version without any foundation? Perhaps not. It is possible that there might be a technology on the horizon which will make such interstellar transmitters and receivers a reality--and a more practical reality than the one proposed in subspace. It's based on a principle called Quantum Non-Locality.
keeps this site and its author alive.
I should immediately state that I know very little about this principle; I am not a physicist, and have no formal training beyond a few basic classes in the field. Someone will exploit this technology, but it will not be me. I read a brief article in which this concept was briefly mentioned, and perceived its potential; but if you want detailed information about the principle, you'll have to look elsewhere. Still I have some understanding of it, and how it could be used in a very practical way, possibly much sooner than those in the field would predict.
The concept of quantum non-locality is, in essence, that the same atom can exist in two locations at the same moment; that when it does so duplicate its own existence, everything which defines one localized manifestation defines the other. It sounds a bit absurd to me; however, the article which I read indicated that the principle had been demonstrated in the lab--and I can't imagine any way that one could demonstrate such a principle without for at least a moment having one atom exist in two places. Thus I would have to assume that, for at least a fraction of a second, that happened.
The article I read had a collection of principles which it was predicting would become part of the useful technology of the future; it suggested that this particular principle would become useful sometime in the 22nd or 23rd centuries. I don't know the reason for this extended time frame; but I think that there is a practical application of this technology which could be developed in my rather limited life time, or at least the lives of my children--one which NASA would find very useful, would have found very useful already, had it been available: the quantum non-locality communicator.
To understand this concept, you need to have a bit of an understanding of electricity. Electricity moves at the speed of light; but electrons do not. The energy moves something like water in a pipe: as the pipe is always full of water, the wire is always filled with electrons; electrical potential is fed into one end of the wire, as water pressure in a pipe, and the electrons move from atom to atom, pushing one off the other end. During this process, the atoms along the way become ionized--positively, negatively, and neutrally charged, as the electrons are pushed into the outer shell and moved on to the next atom.
But the charge of the atom is one of its real properties. Theoretically, if an atom is in a wire with an alternating electric current passing through it, its charge will move positive and negative as the current alternates. But if the charge of an atom moves positive and negative in a wire, it will induce current in that wire.
Now I will describe a very simple but functional circuit which will accomplish the task at hand.
Every student of basic electronics will understand that if I attach a speaker to a microphone in a complete circuit, any sound made in the microphone will be reproduced in the speaker. I can make a simple headset which had a microphone and a speaker, and whatever I say into the microphone will be repeated in the headset. It's so simple--but what use is it? I can add a small amplifier before the speaker, which will increase the volume and make it easier for me to hear myself--that has no real affect on the principle, but it could help once I put in the next step.
I'm going to run the signal from the microphone into a circuit board, into a chip, into an etching--probably a fine platinum wire, third best electrical conductor (gold first, copper second, if memory serves), and can be drawn finer than any other metal; but it may be that there's a better way to do it. We will be bringing the wire down to something a very few atoms wide, so that the electricity will have to pass through all of those atoms. Since we have the amplifier on the other side of the circuit, the current here can be very low, and there's little fear of burning out the wire.
Now we make another, exactly the same in every detail. Two distinct but identical microphone/amplifier/speaker headsets. There's just one detail: in that narrow point in the wire, there are a couple of atoms which exist in both of the headsets, by quantum non-locality. Thus, as words are spoken into either microphone, the current passing through the wire creates an ionized state in the atoms in the narrow point in that head set, duplicated in the non-local atoms in the other head set. This sets up an identical (probably weaker) current in the other head set, which reaches the amplifier. Thus, anything which goes into either microphone will come out both headsets.
The simplicity of this system demonstrates its flexibilty; the headset system which I just described could be used between any two points in the universe for instant verbal communication--but the same concept can be used for any communication between two points. When the last probes reached Jupiter, there was a forty minute turn-around time on instructions to the cameras; but with this system, camera images would return to earth instantly--it would take longer for the image to get from the receiver to the screen than from the probe to the receiver--and just as fast as the instructions can be given to the earth-based computer, they can be executed across the solar system.
It should be apparent that this system will allow us to communicate with starships--even Captains Kirk and Picard had time delay problems worse than these, and the Starship Voyager's messages would be carried across the galaxy in seconds.
But perhaps you've seen the flaw in this inter-galactic comm link: each pair of communicators is uniquely matched; none can contact any other. If one of a pair is destroyed, the other is useless (unless by some means the duplicated atoms can be identified and used to rebuild another). If a starship is part of a fleet, wouldn't it need dozens of these communicators, one for each other ship in the fleet? Wouldn't new communicators need to be added to every ship with each new ship launched? And if we want to use the system for crew-to-crew communications, don't we need...well, you get the idea. But the answer is no--that problem is solved very simply.
We've got a secure channel communications device--if the atoms exist in only two locations, no one can "tap in" or otherwise intercept the transmission. But we can use these devices exactly as a phone system. One of the two radios isn't an identical radio at all--it just needs the basic communications circuit with the non-localized atoms. Put one of these in the mobile transceiver, and the other in a switching system filled with such circuits. Now any two transceivers anywhere in the universe can be connected with less lag time than a transatlantic phone call--and given the simple sophistication we can build into what is an extremely low-tech switching system, we can connect in any combination of conference calls we like. That part of the technology is well developed--it just requires the forethought to realize that we will want it to work that way.
I would also suggest that, at least for the next century, any deep space probe have a second such transceiver in case something happens to the first--but with NASA's very wise tendency toward redundancy in critical systems, that hardly seems worth mentioning. When we have starships traveling the galaxy, I'm sure they will have banks of quantum non-locality transceiver circuits to handle all necessary and desired communications, so that won't be a problem.
And if anyone with a bit more knowledge of the quantum physics field knows why this isn't practical, let me know. Thanks.
M. J. Young Net
Your opportunity to reply to my thoughts
Write to me.