Can you guess why this image?

An ansible would be an extremely cool thing to have, even if we never develop interstellar travel. Secure and real-time secure quantum communications would also enable true telepresence (probably with remote legal liability, sadly) and more.

European researchers said Tuesday they have proved an effect in quantum physics works over long distances, which means it could one day be used to make electronic communications infallibly secure.

Scientists at the European Space Agency said they found that the properties of quantum entanglement — a state in which two light particles or photons’ states become linked after they interact with each other — is maintained even when the photons are as far as 144 kilometres apart and must travel through the atmosphere, into space and back.

Although the experiement is far from a proof of concept (they can only confirm the effect at line-of-sight distances at this time), it tantalizes us with heady visions of really secure instantaneous communications that would help us corral some of the wildness of this new information society without having to give too much over to outside agencies.

  1. Angel H. Wong says:

    Ha! Subspace communications!

    In your face Star Wars fans!

  2. Perry Noiya says:

    If you can entangle photons over distance, maybe you can entangle them over time. I would like to have an email service that lets me send email to myself from next week. Of course I would want exclusive use of the channel.


  3. James Armstrong says:

    If it pans out it will pretty much terminate NASA’s interest in AI and robotics and probably make them wither on the vine. But on the up side there will be lots of telepresence jobs opening up in Japan for 3rd world workers.

  4. BubbaRay says:

    This tech is way cool. Angel, I’ll contact you via subspace in a few years!

    A device that can hold hundreds of atoms in a 3D array, and image each one individually, has been developed by scientists in the US. The machine is an important stepping stone towards the development of a quantum computer:

  5. BubbaRay says:

    Alix, “The Dispossessed” was an excellent novel also including the ansible (answerable?). Extremely cool tech idea, what a superb author.

  6. Mr. Sardonicus says:

    Isn’t the ansible from Ender’s Game?

  7. bobbo says:

    Well, I’ve read it twice and really don’t understand how this is supposed to work. Seems more like “magic” which is often the case for new technology?

    However, people don’t change.

    Wasn’t there secure encrypt technique 3-4 years ago and the government was requiring that a “back door” access code be included so that Big Brother could monitor communications for National Security??

    Dont know what ever happened to that. Toys change, game remains the same.

  8. Stew says:

    This has nothing to do with instantaneous long distance communication, you still need the third party photon to read the result of any interactions.

    What this will be used for is perfectly secure communications. As any attempt to “read” a entangles photon will change its state. So you will be instantly aware of a eavesdropper. And because the eavesdropper cannot know the original entangles state, he cannot gain any information from an attempted read.

  9. BobH says:

    # 7 Bobbo

    A good place to start for a decently comprehensible grasp of entanglement is Amir D. Aczel’s “Entanglement” released in 2002. From the blurb:

    “Will “beam me up, Scotty” become reality? Quantum mechanics suggests it may… and soon.

    Since cyberspace – a word coined by a science fiction writer – became reality, the lines between “science” and “science fiction” have become increasingly blurred. Now, the young field of quantum mechanics holds out the promise that some of humanity’s wildest dreams may be realized. Serious scientists, working off of theories first developed by Einstein and his colleagues 70 years ago, have been investigating the phenomenon known as “entanglement,” one of the strangest aspects of the strange universe of quantum mechanics.

    According to Einstein, quantum mechanics required entanglement – the idea that subatomic particles could become inextricably linked, and that a change to one such particle would instantly be reflected in its counterpart, even if a universe separated them. Einstein felt that if the quantum theory could produce such incredibly bizarre effects, then it had to be invalid. But new experiments both in the United States and Europe show not only that it does happen, but that it may lead to unbreakable codes, and even teleportation…”
    As is noted in the article, entanglement experiments continue and are even now beginning to reveal startling evidence the phenomenon is very real. That said, entanglement -like 99.9% of all quantum physics- is a vastly greater mental leap than the concept the Earth revolves around the sun or the world isn’t flat. I make no pretense to even a smidgen of comprehension of quantum physics; although it’s a refreshing brain exercise to try to learn about the subject. I don’t feel bad because no less a light than Richard Feynman said, “nobody understands quantum mechanics” (The Character of Physical Law, BBC Publications, 1965).

    Of course, religious fanatics will deny entanglement… right up to the nanosecond their deluded selves realize they’re not in Kansas anymore.

  10. bobbo says:

    9—Thanks, ((you make me laugh!))

    What is worse, to be told you are stupid or to have it explained and you still don’t understand???

    Sometimes I think I glimpse parts of Einsteins theories, and then I lose it. Heisenberg Uncertainty Theory—cant even start to get close.

    Entanglement?????? Whaaaaa??? Huh?????

    I’m no dummy, but I have often thought certain parts of science ((eg quantum mechanics)) required a “type” of intelligence. Just as music does, and I’m tone deaf in that interesting area of life too.

    Thank goodness there is a universe of other subjects within my ken I enjoy learning more about.

  11. RTaylor says:

    “If anybody says he can think about quantum physics without getting giddy, that only shows he has not understood the first thing about them.”
    Niels Bohr

  12. smartalix says:


    “The Dispossesed” was the first use of the term. LeGuin coined it andd others have used it. It’s a great word.


    True, this is not directly about instantaneous comms, but any action related to quantum entanglement is. If they do perfect an entangled comm system a side effect is that it should be instant.

  13. venom monger says:

    Action over a distance isn’t anything like communication over a distance.

    There’s still no reason to think that the transfer of INFORMATION is not limited by the speed of light. My personal theory is that the speed of light will turn out to be a side effect of some more basic underlying physical constant.

    As another poster noted, the real application for this is secure communications, not “instant” communications.

  14. Li says:

    Schrodinger’s cat, won’t you fly a way home,
    And carry a message for me?

  15. Dembo says:

    As others pointed out this does not imply instantaneous communications over long distances:

    You create your entangled photons at point (b) if you want to communicate something from, e.g. point (a) to point (c) you need to move one photon to (a), the other to (c) and then do something to one of the entangled photons that influences the other. They can only move at the speed of light.

    In fact getting “stuff” from (b) to (c) faster than the speed of light is possible – you just cannot transmit information (think a wave’s group speed vs. phase speed). An easy example would be you pointing a laser on the left side of the full moon: If you flick your hand the laser spot on the moon surface will move faster than the speed of light (gotta be a fast flicker though…) but you cannot use this to transmit information from the left to the right side of the moon. The information would’ve to pass through you standing on the earth.

  16. Lauren the Ghoti says:

    #13 – venom monger

    “As another poster noted, the real application for this is secure communications, not “instant” communications.”

    Ya, but secure is trivial, or soon will be. Instantaneous is mos’ def’ not.

    I can’t wait for the day when I’ll be able to get the latest Paris Hilton update while vacationing in the Small Magellanic Cloud.

  17. Misanthropic Scott says:

    “Spooky action at a distance” has been known for a long time. It still seems a long way off before we will be able to deliberately cause quantum entanglements of enough particles, put them in some form of container, and be sensitive to each and every message bit. I’m betting that while this has been known for a long time, it will continue to be a nice theoretical solution for quite some time. Making it practical will require some really interesting engineering.

  18. Dembo says:

    @venom monger:

    “Instantaneous is mos’ def’ not.” – agreed, but: quantum entaglement won’t be able to help us here: We need two quantum objects, meaning they need to follow the laws of quantum physics which are complient to the theory of relativity. Sum: No go in that direction…

  19. Lauren the Ghoti says:

    #18 – dembo

    If the history of science has taught us anything, it’s to beware the utterance of Famous Last Words like ‘impossible’ and ‘no way, José’.

    It’s too easy to lose sight of the fact that science fiction has already become reality too many times to count – and almost always far sooner than anyone predicted or expected.

  20. BobH says:

    By the by, Bobbo…

    Entanglement is a bit much for most brains, but playing in the 10th dimension can be a trip too. Try this web site for a glimpse:

  21. hhopper says:

    Really fascinating video over there BobH.

  22. John D says:

    There’s still no reason to think that the transfer of INFORMATION is not limited by the speed of light. My personal theory is that the speed of light will turn out to be a side effect of some more basic underlying physical constant.


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