Forget the Verizon iPhone, the rumored iPad 2, or even my beloved annual Winter NAMM Show 2011, this is clearly the discovery of the year. You might want to be sitting down for this one.
Jay Olson and Timothy Ralph at the Department of Physics over at the University of Queensland in Australia recently published a paper entitled: "Extraction of timelike entanglement from the quantum vacuum". In the roughly seven- to eight-page document filled with equations I will probably never understand, the two discuss and conclude on what appears to be the discovery of "teleportation in time" (aka. Time Travel).
So apparently the hot word of the day is: Entanglement. Now what exactly is it?
I'm still trying to grasp what this all means, in order to fully understand it, you'd have to have at least some kind of background in quantum physics (so apologies in advance if I'm off the mark on anything here) but essentially it's about the idea of nonlocality (otherwise known as what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance", seriously, go Google it), where two or more objects existing in a system are have instantaneous, direct influence on each other regardless of distance.
The type of quantum entanglement that Jay Olson and Timothy Ralph are talking about in their paper discusses nonlocality not in terms of physical space (distance), but rather in terms of time, thus "timelike entanglement."
So in other words, rather than "normal" teleportation that we think of from location to location (a la Portal ), we're talking about good 'ol Back to the Future-style time travel with Marty and the Doc. However, don't jump for joy or run around in paranoia just yet, as there are definitely limitations other than the fact the technology doesn't exist (...yet).
Take the pictured graph.
Now, look at how the two sides mirror each other from the "X" point. Think about it as if one side represents the past and one side represents the future. The limitation that I mentioned above speaks to the fact that there must be sufficient symmetry in the events occurring at a point in the past and its relative ("mirror") point in the future. As the scientists explain it in their paper:
"In fact, the entanglement can be completely destroyed by shifting one of the window functions sufficiently far away from its symmetrical location in time..."
"...Clearly, entanglement is maximized around the symmetrical point in time (corresponding to x = 0), while a sufficiently non-symmetrical choice for x can kill the extraction of timelike entanglement entirely."
Thus, while time travel would theoretically be possible under this scenario, there has to be a precise, symmetric interaction along that graph between the relevant "qubits" (points) existing in both the past (P) and relative its future (F).
Now, it's pretty obvious that something you do now will affect the future. But as I understand this, the "interaction" between the past and the future in the scenario above is an instant change, basically like a shortcut into the future. Think of it not as a punch in the arm that becomes a bruise the next day, but rather something like where the "present you" gets cut by a knife and the "future you" instantly has that same cut. I'm sure that you can think of any sci-fi movie where that has happened.
In the paper the scientists make no reference to an actual, tangible use of their discovery, but I'm pretty sure that people will get to work on that soon (and DeLorean prices will skyrocket).
That was probably a lot to take in, but if you're dying to know more feel free to read the original text of Jay Olson and Timothy Ralph's paper.
Congratulations on the discovery! Now if only I could get back the time I spent trying to figure out what was going on in that paper...
[Source and Photo: Extraction of timelike entanglement from the quantum vacuum / via MIT Technology Review and Gizmodo]