A branch of Physics under the name of Quantum is starting to pay dividends. This mysterious science has often been declared as spooky; the truth is that there are unconventional, abstract applications but the only spooks in the system are likely to be the early adopters – the military, government agencies and those embroiled in experimentation.
A better word to describe this science is marvellous. Unlocking the physics of next generation quantum technologies will create a range of capabilities for which the disbenefits are dwarfed by the step change in progress promised across a range of disciplines. The list is long and we have only just started to define the possibilities. For example: – a non-chemical nose sensor, easier oil and gas exploration, guaranteed secure communications, ultra-accurate (non-GPS) navigation and electronic brain manipulation for next generation of medicines.
Astonishingly some of these Quantum 2.0 products are already being built or trialled. Just look at this box of tricks from Toshiba below, injecting Quantum Key communications into some lucky fibre somewhere.
The problem, it would seem, is that the uneven distribution of this technology is likely to be the real contention for society. There is a new space race to build the ultimate prize – a quantum computer as this will unlock more discoveries but also provide the tools necessary to crack ‘normal’ encryption. How this computer might be regulated, the priority of tasks that it might undertake and who owns the patents on new algorithms developed for it are examples of issues that are yet to be resolved or even considered.
At the other end of the spectrum, privacy could be eroded by future electronic gizmos that can see through walls or pinpoint your location with a device the size of a pinhead. Instant data mining and unbreakable encryption are opening other avenues of mistrust. The jury is open on the ability to read a mind a distance but the science has real potential to make this possible.
Yet we must put new discoveries in perspective. First generation quantum technologies, such as the laser, gave us a wide range of consumer electronics from the CD player to DIY measuring devices. There were a small number of people who got satisfaction from shining lasers at aeroplanes and popping the balloons of children from afar but I can live with that. Besides, I would pay a lot of money to find out what my wife is thinking 😉
Below: Quantum clock in action