Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna recently used quantum teleportation to transfer information between two islands more than 87 miles apart, breaking the previous record of a just half a yard. But what exactly does this mean? And when will be able to teleport ourselves to tropical islands? Let us use a little story to illustrate the amazing—though sadly limited—power of entanglement-powered teleportation:
Thirsty for some electron lemonade, particle A heads to the town pub. There, particle A bumps into particle B, who is sitting at the bar. Soon they become attached at the hip—bound by the freaky laws of quantum physics, they share identical particle states (for example, the direction their electrons spin). But particle C jealously eyes particle B from a dark corner of the establishment. When particle A heads to the restroom, particle C jumps at its chance to steal particle B’s attention.
At this point, the quantum love triangle starts getting weird: Everything particle C does to particle B particle A experiences at exactly the same time in the restroom—as if particle B were a voodoo doll. And that’s what physicists call entanglement, which allows for “quantum teleportation”: the near-instantaneous transfer of information across a considerable distance.
Though this may seem like a joke, the idea has captured the minds of physicists since Einstein first theorized about the “spooky” property in 1935. Theoretically, quantum computers could use entanglement to beef up computer security and store far more data than today’s computers, but the technology is still far off.