The world, say many experts, is on the verge of a second quantum revolution. Energy quantization gave us modern electronics via the transistor and the laser, but humans’ burgeoning ability to manipulate individual atoms and electrons could potentially transform industries ranging from communications and energy to medicine and defense. That promise has triggered major funding, with special programs in the United Kingdom and the European Union seeking to commercialize quantum technology, with a National Quantum Initiative (in which OSA is a founding partner) recently enacted in the United States, and with China and other countries poised to spend billions of dollars in the next several years on such research.
The most talked-about of such technologies is the quantum computer, a device in theory so powerful that it could crack the codes underlying internet security in just a few minutes. But full-scale quantum computers are still potentially decades away. In contrast, devices that exploit quantum phenomena to encrypt codes, rather than break them, are starting to appear on the market.