The speed of light is a bitch. In America we like to think there are no limits. That’s what allowed the pioneers to conquer the West. That’s what allowed those with foggy bottoms to split the atom. That’s what allowed financial whiz kids to take the 3rd derivative of the anticipated interest rate trajectories of the 12 least-popular indices, integrate them over those periods during maturation when transaction density was expected to be heaviest, insure them based on the peak harmonic components of the betting fluctuation spectra for the next three superbowls, muddle for three minutes, add a Cointreau float and a splash of EVOO, and offer up an exciting new investment vehicle that just can’t fail.
Yeah, we can do all that, but, so far, the speed of light has proven impenetrable. Which, quite frankly, pisses us off. We really don’t cope well when anything so trivial gets in the way of the immediate desires of anyone with a sizeable birthright and friends in high places. But as far as we can tell, traditional communication can proceed only as fast as the speed of light. And so, given our extensive history in beating the odds, we immediately set off to figure out who we have to pay to get around the limit. So far that hasn’t worked (although we keep trying).
But deep in the details, back in the realm of actual science, there is a loophole that can be exploited: it’s called quantum entanglement. It’s a means by which two particles can enter into a binding relationship such that one knows what the other is doing or needs or wants or whatever without actual traditional communication. It’s a bizarre phenomenon, as are most things quantum, but it has exciting implications if it can be harnessed and put to good use.
Because most research funding in the United States has been funneled towards finding a political solution to the problem in order to guarantee a permanent incumbent majority, it fell upon other countries to come up with a scientific approach. Most activity has been directed at the holy grail of quantum entanglement: quantum computing and encryption; much work remains in this area. But in a quiet corner of southern Germany at the Schwäbische Institut für spukhafte Fernwirkung (SISF), they’ve been exploring the possibility of exploiting quantum entanglement for control instead of data. Based on these efforts, they quietly opened a US branch (SISF-US) to commercialize what they’ve learned.
The idea is to establish affinities between nodes in a “commander/commandee” relationship at various gating points in a control structure, and in a way that allows the entanglement to be reinforced at various times for reasons we’ll see further on. The result is the recently-announced Micro-Relationship Re-entanglement Gate (MRRG) technology, which is realized using a combination of traditional solid-state silicon and nanostructure manufacturing techniques.
I shouldn’t have to tell you
A simplistic way of viewing the establishment of the entanglement of two particles is through the use of a “laser” to “synchronize,” if you will, the quantum states of the two particles. Each particle remains in a “state” that’s really a superposition of all possible states, but if we’re talking about spin, for example, there are really only two spin states. So each particle is sort of in both states until one of the particles is viewed by an intelligent observer*. Then that particle collapses into one of the two allowed states; the state of its entangled partner is also resolved instantaneously into the opposite state.
And here’s the really cool part: if you move the particles farther and farther apart, the delicate entanglement can be maintained – and the “communication” between them remains instantaneous no matter how far apart they are. Weird stuff – and yet convenient, as you can well imagine.
What SISF-US has done is to use nanotechnology and standard silicon processing to integrate the entire affair on a solid-state substrate. The optical elements are built using 3D technology; they can be visualized as towers rising above the rest of the circuitry. The effect is essentially to combine one of the particles – we’ll call it a node here, since that’s how it acts in the circuit – with the entangling laser. This node essentially becomes the “master” or “sender,” and the other “receiver” node gets entangled with the sender node based on this laser entangling their states. The sender then can communicate with the receiver instantaneously. Or, as put more realistically by SISF-US’s Yankin Maiczein, “Once they’re entangled, the sender should no longer have to communicate what it wants: the receiver should just know.” The fact that a binary property like spin can’t be shared by both creates the need for some negative psychology, of course. If the sender wants “down” then it has to indicate “up” so the receiver will do the opposite.
The “communication” here turns out to be asymmetric. The receiver never “talks”; only the sender can talk. Early experiments had receivers try to talk, but the sender appeared to “listen” on a completely different wavelength so that the receiver never could really get its message across. Why this is the case is something of a mystery and is the subject of further study. But, as a result, for practical purposes, the receiver remains silent, and only the sender talks.
Once in full deployment, such control systems can be put to a variety of uses. Future hopes are pinned on such chores as garbage collection and the ability to know when to clean up various data signals that otherwise might remain dirty far beyond what is tolerable for reliable discrimination. Currently, these tasks must be explicitly requested by the system, and they may be interrupted by other activities to the extent that they never seem to get done when needed, and even when they are finally attended to, the system often has had to ask over and over before it actually happens. The hope is placed on this stuff “just getting done” in the future.
Look at me when I’m talking to you
Entanglement is a precarious relationship. In these systems, it’s extremely tight right after the laser has brought the nodes together – to the point where they don’t react much to anything else in the system; it’s as if they lose themselves in each other. In such a state they’re almost impossible to interrupt. But after some time, this “grip” appears to weaken, especially on the part of the receiver, which becomes more easily distracted by other signals.
One of the two primary sources of interference is from other senders. The early tight entanglement appears to filter out the existence of other senders very effectively, but as that diminishes, other senders seem to have an increasing impact on the receiver in a manner that’s not fully explainable by current quantum theory. In extreme cases, the receiver actually achieves a level of entanglement with one or more other senders, and there have even been cases of senders entangling with multiple receivers. This is particularly problematic for theorists, since multiple concurrent entanglements have so far not been predicted as a feature of quantum mechanics.
The other major source of distraction appears to come from a curiously narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum, more or less corresponding to the VHF television band. Broad groups of receivers seem to “tune in” at similar times, almost in synchrony to the same signal. It almost like a kind of “broadcast entanglement.” Oddly enough, there are patterns to the distraction, with some days or even seasons (weekends and fall, in particular) having more impact. Why a fundamental property of nature would bear any relationship to time periods relating to a particular planet of a particular star really has theorists scratching their heads (although in some regard, it’s no stranger than requiring an intelligent observer for physics to work completely).
Some have suggested that, in fact, this isn’t all random, and that there is an element of design at work here, and that in fact this planet and star are not like others. Further investigation into the weaknesses and infidelities of the phenomena, however, have gradually dissuaded such thinking. “Heck, I’m not that intelligent, and even I could design a physical property that worked better than this one!” said SISF-US’s Maiczein. To that point, engineers have managed to work around these threats to entanglement by building in a re-entanglement function when needed. The laser that the sender uses to establish entanglement is re-engaged with extra intensity in order to reset the desired level of entangled focus. “We refer to it as ‘The Look’,” says Maiczein.
Obviously it’s early days with this technology, given that there are phenomena that, while exploited and managed, can’t be explained yet. They’re moving cautiously – they really want to understand what they’re working with before moving it into any critical system upon which life or safety rely. Reliability over time is of particular concern. “In the early days,” says Maiczein, “entanglement was pretty solid. But as time as gone on, it seems that what was once the rare case of complete loss of entanglement – and the resulting chaos affecting all the surrounding circuits – has become more frequent.” There are also apparently nodes that, no matter how much they try, will never become entangled. They’ve even found receivers trying to entangle with receivers, and similarly with senders.
“We’ve clearly got more to learn before this is ready for prime time,” confesses Maiczein. “But we look forward to the hopefully not so distant future, when we actually understand better what’s really happening here. Then we can truly control and apply it without fear of it running amok.” To the extent that anything quantum can ever be truly controlled.
* If the observer isn’t particularly intelligent (or, perhaps, in a temporary state of intoxication), it’s less certain what will happen.