Cee? a Friday pop quiz!

SOund pulses traveling faster than light - and other delights influencing future networking technologies.

Here's a challenge: which, if any, of the following five headline summaries taken from recent research reports is legitimate? and what do they have in common?


  1. From Physics.org:


    For the first time, scientists have experimentally demonstrated that sound pulses can travel at velocities faster than the speed of light, c. William Robertson's team from Middle Tennessee State University also showed that the group velocity of sound waves can become infinite, and even negative.


  2. And another, from the same source:


    Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image's worth of data into a photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact.


  3. This one's from physicsweb


    Physicists have for the first time entangled two atomic quantum bits, or "qubits", that are separated by long distances. Alex Kuzmich, Brian Kennedy and colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US did this by entangling an atomic qubit with a photon, sending the photon down an optical fibre to a neighbouring lab, and then converting the photon into another atomic qubit. Meanwhile, Harald Weinfurter and co-workers at the Max-Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching and the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich have entangled an atom with a photon at a wavelength suitable for low-loss communication over long distances.


  4. and, finally, again from physorg.com:


    It's been more than 20 years since quantum cryptography systems have been developed, taking over communication security from classical cryptography systems--the kind that used extremely difficult mathematical equations. Now, however, scientists Jacob Scheuer and Amnon Yariv have designed a new kind of classical key distribution system using ultra-long lasers that overcomes the practical challenges faced by quantum systems with its realistic simplicity and symmetry.

The obvious answer about what they have in common is that I don't understand the physics involved, but there are two less obvious commonalities. First, that they're all legitimate, and more importantly that all of the research reported is tied to the same subject: future communications technologies.

Most people don't know the difference between ethernet and TCP/IP, but even those who do don't typically spend a lot of time and effort worrying about the limits to which this class of technologies can be pushed.

Now one of the lessons of what we're doing today, is that virtually everything we do in practice is based on theoretical work predating, for most of us, our births. The best enterprise scale ERP/SCM solutions, for example, implement subsets of game theory ideas developed in the 1920s by Morgenstern and van Neumann. Similarly most of the physics of today's computers and network electronics was discovered prior to the 1940s and became widely understood during the 1950s and early sixties.

So if you want to guess what our successors will be working with in twenty or thirty years, look at what today's theoreticians are working on - and if far future stuff most of us don't understand didn't scare you, consider what this last sample from physorg; could imply for your future:


By using electromagnetic waves instead of electrical current for switching, researchers have operated an optical modulator at terahertz frequencies - an accomplishment that could one day facilitate data transmission rates in the trillions of bits per second.

That's "trillions" - and it's already down to engineering.