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A physicist has proposed a mind-blowing experiment that could potentially create the first-ever traversable wormhole, meaning a real bridge across spacetime, reports a new study.
In addition to demonstrating that wormholes can exist, the speculative technique could open up entirely new windows into the nature of reality by offering a glimpse inside these bizarre spacetime tunnels, and enable a form of teleportation that researchers call “counterportation.”
Wormholes are hypothetical structures that can connect two points in spacetime, a feature that makes them especially popular in science fiction stories that include faster-than-light travel. But wormholes have also been a topic of serious scientific research for a century, as they appear to be consistent with Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
While researchers have made recent breakthroughs with simulated (or “holographic”) wormholes, nobody has ever generated a real one in the laboratory, or identified one in the cosmos.
Now, Hatim Salih, a quantum physicist and honorary research fellow at the University of Bristol’s Quantum Engineering Technology Labs, has presented a potential roadmap toward achieving this long-sought goal.
“Imagine if someone’s consciousness, like a strong AI, is copied into a quantum object,” Salih told Motherboard in a call, describing a speculative future application of this technology. “If you counterport each one the qubits, transport them from one place to another—and if this thing has a subjective experience—then it possibly could tell you what it feels like to go through a wormhole.”
Salih, who is also co-founder of the startup DotQuantum, envisions making a traversable wormhole with a special kind of quantum computer that could provide “smoking gun for the existence of an underlying physical reality,” according to his new study in Quantum Science and Technology.
“The key thing is it uses current technology and currently available components,” said Salih, referring to his proposed experiment. “The hope is that within the next three to four years, we will have built this thing.
The fundamental concept behind the new study is “counterportation,” which is a portmanteau that Salih coined from the words “counterfactual” and “transportation.” While the transportation part is fairly straightforward, the counterfactual component is derived from a concept called counterfactual communication, which is a way to send messages between two points without exchanging any particles. By way of a simple real-world example, consider a dormant car engine light. It’s not emitting anything, but it still signals information: that your engine is fine. That’s counterfactual communication.
Counterportation is somewhat similar to quantum teleportation, which occurs on the tiny scales of atoms. In the quantum world, a particle can become oddly entangled with other particles at vast distances, allowing it to transfer, or teleport, its information to other particles, essentially copying itself somewhere else before disintegrating at its original location. In order to demonstrate quantum teleportation in the lab, scientists have to entangle quantum objects (such as photons) and then distribute them to different points, a process that involves the movement of particles across space.
Counterportation, in contrast, achieves the same disembodied transport across space, without the pre-entanglement setup. In essence, scientists send light (which is a wave in the quantum realm) through a quantum system that’s been frozen in an “off” state by constant observation, where it hits detectors in a predictable manner, standing in for bits. This lets scientists reconstruct information on the other end without it even being on, or any electricity or particles being sent. In other words, it’s more like the kind of teleportation we are familiar with in science fiction, in which objects appear to vanish in one place and reappear in another, with no sign of any exchanged particles at all.
“Counterportation gives you the end goal of the object being reconstituted across space, but we can verify that nothing has passed,” Salih explained. “This is key for other important considerations or consequences, because if we can strictly say nothing has passed, then we can examine some questions in physics, for example, afresh in a different light.”
Salih first started developing his concept of particle-free communication a decade ago, and it has since been demonstrated in laboratory conditions. This experimental breakthrough was achieved by a team of scientists in China who were able to send a bitmap image from one location to another without any meaningful exchange particles.
In the wake of this success, Salih has been working on applying the framework to one of the most anticipated technologies currently in development: quantum computing.
In theory, quantum computers can use the principles of quantum mechanics to surpass the processing speeds of current computers by many millions of times, enabling them to solve a range of problems that are currently impossible.
These next-generation computers are built around qubits, which are quantum bits of information that are analogous to the binary bits used in existing computers. Whereas most scientists are developing quantum computers that exchange particles in their computation, Salih envisions an exchange-free computer that can achieve counterportation, putting it in a different class of processors.
“Quantum computing has one main goal: faster. That’s it,” Salih said. “This is not faster. In fact, it’s considerably slower—this exchange-free quantum computation. We’re not in that game. What it does is this thing where the inputs don’t talk to each other, and then you can see effects that regular quantum computing doesn’t show.”
The exchange-free computer could potentially harness the power of counterportation to produce a traversable wormhole, though this bridge would operate on a strictly local level. Unlike fictional wormholes, the experimental version would not allow for instantaneously faster-than-light travel to distant locations, because counterportation crawls along much more slowly than the speed of light.
However, assuming the wormhole could be created, it could provide an opportunity to send signals, or objects, through a real bridge across spacetime. Such a setup would enable scientists to probe our fundamental reality—and might even offer a kind of first-person account of the view from inside a real wormhole.
“You can send a quantum object imprinted on an atom” that is “reconstituted across” the wormhole, Salih said. “This can be generalized because if you have an object made of a network of these [objects], and you counterport each one of them, you would have counterported in the whole thing. You can scale it up that way.”
Sending objects, or even AI consciousnesses, through a wormhole are obviously wild possibilities that would basically blow the entire genre of travel writing into a new dimension. However, it will take more research and experimentation to see if this vision of a real wormhole can become a reality. To that end, Salih hopes that the project could one day unveil a dazzling new form of quantum computing with a wide range of scientific applications.
“This exchange-free quantum computer is different in a major way,” he concluded. We can use it to build this wormhole and use it to examine fields of physics, so this potentially could be one of the first practical uses of quantum computing.”