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Entangled (by Paul W. Smith)

If you’re a Network Data Professional and you walk into the server room to find this, you know it will not be a good day. It’s as though the word “entangle” (verb – “to twist together or entwine into a confusing mass”) was coined just for this. Another word commonly used for this situation cannot be printed here (hint: rhymes with bluster-duck). There are all sorts of entanglements in our lives, and very few of them are good.

Psychologists talk about entanglement in the context of relationships, highlighting it as a wellness threat that needs to be treated. Entanglement often masquerades as a healthy connection, but it is far from it. Human entanglements exhibit communications breakdowns, a prevailing sense of unsafety, frequent conflict and power struggles. Relationships feature good communication along with predominantly positive rather than negative feelings. The similarities to networks are hard to miss.

Physicists are also entwined with entanglement. Keep in mind that this is the same group that routinely works with charm, strangeness and flavor, which should tell you something about how they name things. For these folks, entanglement is just, to quote Albert Einstein, “spooky action at a distance.” Like anything that involves quantum physics, a little explanation is in order.

Most of us are firmly grounded in the real world – time passes, gravity tugs on things and stuff stays the same unless something comes along to change it. In the small scale of the quantum world however, weirdness reigns. Particles are always particles, unless they are a wave, and sometimes they can be in two different conditions at the same time. Only a physicist could read that last sentence and see nothing peculiar with it.

At the heart of entanglement - be it networks, relationships, or physics - is connection. Networks must connect properly to function and relationships without connection are meaningless.

Physicists at the University of Glasgow have recently captured the first photo documenting their version of entanglement, and it is predictably strange. The Glasgow picture proves that once entangled, particles can be moved far away from each other, and changing one will still change the other entangled twin. Albert Einstein felt this was proof that there were gaping holes in quantum mechanical theory.

The weirdness factor hasn’t deterred scientists from thinking about applications for their version of entanglement. Ideas like teleportation have been floated, because once you’re operating in the realm of the weird, you might as well go all in. A slightly more practical possibility that is getting some journal ink is data transmission. The idea of connection without connection has a lot going for it.

On the one hand, NASA’s exploration of Mars, which is around 150 million miles away, has always dealt with connection challenges. It’s a bit like having to call your ISP and being put on hold every time you want to use the Internet – signals sent to Mars have a one-way wait time of 13-minutes. Scientists estimate that entanglement could reduce that to less than a millisecond.

Closer to home, the prospect of instant worldwide communication with infinitely scalable Internet bandwidth is even more appealing and quite realistic – scientists have already achieved a 10-foot range with a 100% success rate. The data apparently doesn’t actually travel through physical media, and therefore the chances of something messing up the transmission are non-existent.

Professor Ronald Hanson at the Delft University of Technology is preparing a trial for a distance of 0.8 mi, which will certainly add credibility to the idea. As if revolutionizing communications wasn’t incentive enough, there is the added plus of being able to prove Albert Einstein wrong, something that every physicist dreams of. Einstein himself once modestly told one of his collaborators, ““You don’t need to be so careful … there are incorrect papers under my name too.” Regardless of the motive, communication without physical connection may someday be real.

Just imagine entering a future server room and finding no cables at all – a whole new kind of entanglement. Spooky indeed.

Author Profile - Paul W. Smith - leader, educator, technologist, writer - has a lifelong interest in the countless ways that technology changes the course of our journey through life. In addition to being a regular contributor to NetworkDataPedia, he maintains the website Technology for the Journey and occasionally writes for Blogcritics. Paul has over 40

years of experience in research and advanced development for companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders. His other passion is teaching - he is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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