CHICAGO — The future of the Internet is being designed right here in Chicago, as some of the top scientists in the world unveiled their plans to research and build a “Quantum Internet” at the University of Chicago Thursday.
What is a Quantum Internet? Imagine a world where supercomputers called “quantum computers” can do calculations that take our computers 10,000 years to complete in a matter of minutes.
The Quantum Internet is a way for those computers to talk to each other about things that could revolutionize everything from communications to commerce, medicine to national security, and even help us discover fields we never knew existed.
Quantum physics in many ways is the definition of “weird science.” It is the branch of science concerned with the smallest particles in the universe and how they interact in the realm of atoms and electrons invisible to most of us.
“In this quantum world, particles can exist in multiple states at the same time, like on and off, simultaneously, and they can be entangled – that is they can share information with one another even over very long distances, and even without a physical connection,” said David Awschalom, a senior scientist at the University of Chicago.
The U.S. Department of Energy introduced their blueprint for researching and engineering quantum communications technologies at the U of C Thursday, saying the field could represent, “one of the most important technological frontiers of the 21st century.”
Researchers say a Quantum Internet could deliver “vast amounts of data” and would be “virtually unhackable.” They expect a breakthrough prototype will be within reach within the next decade.
According to the DOE, laboratories, universities and industry leaders put together a blueprint for researching and potentially building quantum communications technologies earlier this year.
The top quantum scientists in the country are working to bring the invisible world into our world by building quantum computers, and connecting them through a quantum internet.
“While the Quantum world is invisible to us, a Quantum Internet is going to harness these strange properties to build new types of devices with powerful applications and communication – national security, finance, and medicine,” Awschalom said.
It’s a complicated topic that’s difficult to explain because so few of us have ever experienced it.
“Quantum Internet is not something that’s on the tip of the tongue of everyone, but I think we all recognize the importance of this moment, and the power it possesses to change everything in the way we process information,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday.
The mayor, governor, and some of the world’s leading quantum scientists were on hand at the University of Chicago as Brouillette announced the “blueprint” for building the Quantum Internet.
“It’s not a stretch to say that when fully built, the Quantum Internet will bring incredible, and yes as Dr. Awschlom pointed out, unexpected benefits, much as today’s Internet has already done,” Brouillette said.
Working with Argonne and Fermi Labs, Chicago’s top universities including the University of Chicago, Northwestern, and University of Illinois have already laid some of the groundwork.
“This brings us an enormous amount of expertise, including 150 quantum scientists to make Illinois one of the leading centers,” Awschalom said. “We’ve laid the foundation for a quantum internet here in Chicago.”
“These discoveries, collaborations, and facilities are only the start of this grand endeavor,” said Argonne National Laboratory Director Paul Kearns.
“This is one of the most important technology innovations of the 21st century. It’ll lead the way to many remarkable benefits for society at large,” Kearns said.
Governor Pritzker noted Chicago is a perfect place to begin the grand experiment, as it has historically been the incubator of great advances from the zipper to the skyscraper, and even the first nuclear reaction.
“Chicago and Illinois are proud to once again play an important role in building a better future,” Pritzker said.