Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ansible

I hate sensationalist newspeddling, especially when it's scientific news. Reporters say the silliest things. No, Doc won't be able to get that flux capacitor working in his De Lorain, but that doesn't mean that the experiment described in this article is any less cool.

It all has to do with the speed of light. Nothing, incuding information, can travel faster than the speed of light, but apparently, some scientists are going to try to get information to travel backwards in time along a beam of light.

The reason this might work is that according to Einstein's Relativity, from the perspective of a photon, no time ever passes. Photons don't experience time, because they are travelling at the absolute speed limit of the universe. Absolute speed means infinite time dilation. From the perspective of a photon, zero time passes between the time it is emitted and absorbed. In fact, from the perspective of a photon, the photon doesn't travel any distance either: it's just a bit of energy that doesn't happen to be matter. It hops from its emitter to its final destination in a single moment. If its destination forces its spin to be a certain direction in order to be absorbed, then that's what the spin will be throughout its entire existence: no matter how far or long from our inertial reference frame we think that photon travels.

So, if we can affect the properties of the entire existence of the photon at the absorption point, and if we can entangle a pair of photons so that they share properties, then it is possible to construct an experiment where we cause entangled photons to follow different paths. If the path from which we cause the property to be fixed is longer than the path from which we observe the effects of the property, then it is possible for an event to be caused by an event in its objective future, at least, from our reference frame. (From the reference frame of the pair of photons, everything will be happening simultaniously.)

So, what's it good for?

One thing it's not good for is changing events in the past. At best, what you would get is a way for information to be passed instantaniously over great distances, or to place-times in the past that couldn't have affected you with the information yet. It takes several seconds for light to travel the distance between Earth and Mars. Imagine being able to control and monitor a Mars Rover in real time from Earth. Imagine being able to teleconference with your friend on a planet orbiting a star dozens of light-years away. What you'll be doing is monitoring the state of photons that were emitted decades ago by a waystation roughly half way between the two of you, but the state of which was fixed moments ago on the other end. The beam would have had to have started transmitting decades before it reached you, but you would be able to effect the states of the photons received on the other end in the present.

Imagine getting WoW ping times in the 100 millisecond range on an overseas server. Oh, so now I have your attention!