In “Science, Spirituality, and Some Mismatched Socks” (Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2009)”, Gautam Naik explains how “researchers turn up evidence of ‘spooky’ quantum behavior and put it to work in encryption and philosophy.”:
Last year, Dr. Gisin and colleagues at Geneva University described how they had entangled a pair of photons in their lab. They then fired them, along fiber-optic cables of exactly equal length, to two Swiss villages some 11 miles apart. During the journey, when one photon switched to a slightly higher energy level, its twin instantly switched to a slightly lower one. But the sum of the energies stayed constant, proving that the photons remained entangled. More important, the team couldn’t detect any time difference in the changes. “If there was any communication, it would have to have been at least 10,000 times the speed of light,” says Dr. Gisin. “Because this is such an unlikely speed, the conclusion is there couldn’t have been communication and so there is non-locality.”
Right, so there is no common-sense explanation of quantum mechanics. About the encryption?
Some researchers are using the uncertain state of photons to solve real-world problems. When encrypting sensitive data such as a bank transfer, both the sending party and the receiving party must have the same key. The sender needs the key to hide the message and the receiver to reveal it. Since it isn’t always practical to exchange keys in person, the key must be sent electronically, too. This means the key (and the messages) may be intercepted and read by an eavesdropper. An electronic key is usually written in the computer binary code of “ones” and “zeros.” Quantum physics permits a more sophisticated approach. The same “ones” and “zeros” can now be encoded by using the properties of photons, like spin. If someone intercepts a photon-based message, the spins change. The receiver then knows the key has been compromised. MagiQ Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., refreshes its quantum keys as often as 100 times a second during a transmission, making it extremely hard to break. It sells its technology to banks and companies. Dr. Gisin is a founder of ID Quantique SA in Switzerland. The company’s similar encryption tool is used by online lottery and poker firms to safely communicate winning numbers and winning hands. Votes cast in a recent Swiss federal election were sent in a similar way.
We live in a mysterious world, where uncertainty is better for security than certainty – but at the quantum level only. The person who left his keys stuck in the front door all night is one dumb bunny and can be grateful that most thieves wouldn’t expect to get so lucky, which is why he was the first person to discover the problem in the morning.
One thing that is not particularly useful just now is blind, dogmatic certainty, and I have heard that from too many scientists on panels and podiums recently.