The "Quantum Internet" Explained...In Amateur Illustrations

May 10, 2013

A government lab announced earlier this month that it’s been operating a quantum internet at Los Alamos for the past two years. Which led us to wonder, um, WHAT IS A QUANTUM INTERNET???

We may not be super smart, but uber-genius computer scientist Rob Fleischman is. He came on the show this week to explain the "quantum internet," and did such a good job that even I understood what he was talking about. I think.

What Rob made me realize is that to truly understand something, I need to SEE it. So I thought I would draw my interpretation of what Rob described to see if it helps you grasp the concept just a little better, too.

So without further ado I present: "Two-Second Physics With Rob Fleischman, Illustrations By Logan Shannon." Just click each drawing along the way. If you dare.

Rob's lesson began with a very basic description of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for novices:

Drawing molecules is very fun. Or in my case, drawing little circles that I then refer to as molecules is fun. Science is fun.
Credit Logan Shannon via Rob Fleischman's Brain

So, the "observer effect" says that if you measure something or even look at something, you change it. That's a trippy and complicated concept. So in true uber-genius fashion, Rob provided the perfect analogy: the humble tire gauge.

Ok, FINE, I traced this one. I think it was worth it.
Credit Logan Shannon via Rob Fleischman's Brain

When we check the air pressure in a tire, we release air. The very act of measuring the tire's air pressure changes the pressure of the tire. That makes sense, you're thinking, but how does all of this apply to the internet?

Man, who knew the internet was so simple!
Credit Logan Shannon via Rob Fleischman's Brain

All right, so I send my buddy Rob a pretty ducky, and a bunch of looky-loos spy on my duck email, but I can't tell, and neither can Rob. Now imagine if I were sending Rob classified documents, or financial information. I would definitely want to know if someone were looking at those emails, but the observer effect just doesn't work on electricity or the internet.

Even MORE fun than drawing little circles...drawing fake photons!
Credit Logan Shannon via Rob Fleischman's Brain

So if the internet was made with photons, the observer effect would work: if someone were to intercept my duck email, the email itself would change...and we would know our security had been breached!

Rob says the quantum internet could change the future of cyber-security. He says it will likely be used by the military and financial institutions, and could go a long way in ensuring that things that need to be kept secret, stay secret.

CRITICAL NOTE: Many fake photons were modified in the making of these drawings. My apologies to any physicists who are apoplectic over this post.