A Nightcap And Secrets

“A coffee nightcap, Sy? It’s decaf so Teena can have some.”

“Sounds good, Sis.”

“Why didn’t Mr Einstein like entanglement, Uncle Sy? Thanks, Mom. A little more cream in it, please.”

“I’ll bet it has to do with the instant-effect aspect, right, Sy?”

“Thanks, Sis, and you’re right as usual. All of Relativity theory rests on the claim that nothing, not light or gravity or causality itself, can travel faster than light in a vacuum. There’s good strong arguments and evidence to support that, but Einstein himself proved that entanglement effects aren’t constrained to lightspeed. Annoyed him no end.”

“Well, your coin story‘s very nice, but it’s just a story. Is there evidence for entanglement?”

“Oh, yes, though it was fifty years after Einstein’s entanglement paper before our technology got good enough to do the experiments. Since then a whole industry of academics and entrepreneurs has grown up to build and apply devices that generate entangled systems.”

“Systems?”

“Mm-hm. Most of the work has been done with pairs of photons, but people have entangled pairs of everything from swarms of ultra‑cold atoms to electrons trapped in small imperfect diamonds. It’s always a matter of linking the pair members through some shared binary property.”

“Binary! I know what that is. Brian has a computer toy he lets me play with. You tell it where to drive this little car and it asks for decisions like left‑right or go‑stop and they’re all yes or no and the screen shows your answer as ‘0’or ‘1’ and that’s binary, right?”

“Absolutely, Teena. The entangled thingies are always created in pairs, remember? Everything about each twin is identical except for that one property, like the two coin metals, so it’s yes, no, or some mixture. Cars can’t do mixtures because they’re too big for quantum.”

“What kinds of properties are we talking about? It’s not really gold and silver, is it?”

“No, you’re right about that, Sis. Transmutation takes way too much power. Entangled quantum states have little or no energy separation which is one reason the experiments are so hard. Photons are the easiest to work with so that’s where most of the entanglement work has been done. Typically the process splits a laser beam into two rays that have contrasting polarizations, say vertical and horizontal. Or the researchers might work with particles like electrons that you can split into right‑ and left‑handed spin. Whatever, call ’em ones and zeroes, you’ve got a bridge between quantum and computing.”

“Brian says binary can do secret codes.”

“He’s right about that. Codes are about hiding information. Entanglement is real good at hiding quantum information behind some strict rules. Rule one is, if you inspect an entangled particle, you break the entanglement.”

“Sounds reasonable. When you measure it you make it part of a big system and it’s not quantum any more.”

“Right, Sis. Rule two, an entanglement only links pairs. No triples or broadcasts. Rule three is for photons — you can have two independent ways to inspect a property, but you need to use the same way for both photons or you’ve got a 50% chance of getting a mismatch.”

“Oho! I see where the hiding comes in. Hmm… From what I’ve read, encryption’s big problem is guarding the key. I think those three rules make a good way to do that. Suppose Rocky and Bullwinkle want to protect their coded messages from Boris Badinoff. They share a series of entangled photon pairs. and they agree to a measurement protocol based on the published daily prices for a series of stocks — for each photon in a series, measure it with Method 1 if the corresponding price is an odd number, Method 2 if it’s even. Rocky measures his photon. If he measures a ‘1’ then Bullwinkle sees a ‘0’ for that photon and he knows Rocky saw a ‘1.’ Rocky encrypts his message using his measured bit string. Bullwinkle flips his bit string and decrypts.”

“Brilliant. Even if Boris knows the proper sequence of measurements, if he peeks at an entangled photon that breaks the entanglement. When Bullwinkle decodes gibberish Rocky has to build another key. Your Mom’s a very smart person, Teena.”

~ Rich Olcott

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