NIST’s Carl Williams and others believe we’re in the midst of a new revolution in quantum physics. The first revolution enabled inventions such as the laser and transistor, the basic building block of computers, when scientists knew the rules of quantum mechanics and built devices that followed those rules.
“Quantum mechanics is there, but we're not actually controlling all of the quantum systems at the individual level,” says NIST’s Ray Simmonds.
“The second quantum revolution is where you're really using the quantum mechanics to do everything for you,” such as entangling individual qubits to transmit information, Simmonds says. “You’re engineering the quantum mechanics itself to do something, not, ‘Oh, I have a widget that has these special properties because of quantum mechanics.’”
The future of quantum information is an open book.
“I would say the last five years are the most exciting it's been. And I think it will even get more exciting five to 10 years in the future,” Monroe says.
It’s still unclear whether it will be possible to build a quantum computer powerful enough to break current encryption protocols. Researchers still aren’t sure what kinds of discoveries they will make with quantum information science or what the most useful applications will be. But the stakes are high—and from nations to corporations, everyone is getting into the game.
“The reality is that the global race is on,” says Williams.