What happens at a quantum internet hackathon?

8 Nov 2019

Quantum Internet Hackathon T-shirts. Image: Connect

After researchers in Dublin joined forces with teams in five other cities for a pan-European Quantum Internet Hackathon, Dr Harun Šiljak describes the experience.

You’re going to hear a lot more about the quantum internet over the next few years. Google’s recent announcement that it has achieved quantum supremacy was a reminder that this is a major area of research with potentially massive ramifications for how we use the internet.

At Connect [the SFI research centre for future networks and communications, based at Trinity College Dublin], we’ve certainly been hearing plenty about it over the past 48 hours as we participated in the Quantum Internet Hackathon with dozens of researchers across Europe.

Our team – consisting of network engineers, mathematicians and telecommunications researchers from Trinity College Dublin, Maynooth University and Waterford Institute of Technology – worked with researchers in Paris, Sarajevo, Padua, Delft and Geneva (at CERN) to tackle some of the challenges posed by this emerging technology.

Quantum coin

The Dublin team focused, in particular, on solving the challenge of making a quantum coin. The coin is a quantum communication-supported currency with all the advantages of quantum security.

Implementing the algorithm for both the operation of the quantum coin mint and the future users of the coin proved to be a task with many subtle details, but the team rose to the challenge.

They worked out all the little details of the quantum gate circuits that the coin mints will use, wrote a simulated implementation of it, and proceeded with establishing a verification protocol for the authenticity check that future users of the coin will require.

This implementation has shown that it is easy to verify that a quantum coin is authentic and practically impossible to pass the verification with a forgery.

Two men and one woman are working at laptops while a man in a yellow T-shirt provides assistance and guidance.

Participants at the Dublin hackathon. Image: Connect

Quantum security

Development of the ‘mint hardware’ was a way for the group to learn more about quantum computation, the other big quantum revolution in ICT.

Applying quantum mechanics to the area of secure communications is a new research field, and security and privacy could benefit significantly from the application of quantum methods. Everyday internet uses such as email, chat and browsing stand to benefit from this.

The quantum internet will not replace the existing telecoms network infrastructure. Instead, it will enhance it with the advantages offered by quantum mechanics. Synchronisation, consensus, security – all of these critical features of networks can be enormously improved using the most famous of quantum properties: entanglement.

A glimpse of the future

A large number of quantum protocols have been developed by researchers and professionals worldwide, and this hackathon was a chance to implement them, suggest improvements and examine their performance.

Because there is no quantum network in existence between the European nodes of this hackathon, we used a simulated version to run our code. This provided us with a glimpse of the software underlying the first quantum network demo in the Netherlands, which is set to take place in the near future.

Hackathons can have an enduring value. This particular hackathon was not a competition – the aim was to share ideas, develop skills and hopefully be inspired. Hackathons also generate conversations and are good networking opportunities.

This area of research needs more creative minds, and that is one of the reasons we held the event this week here in Connect. We want to raise the profile of research opportunities here in Ireland. Indeed, if anyone is interested in talking to us, they can contact us via the classical internet and, together, we can help develop the quantum internet.

By Dr Harun Šiljak

Dr Harun Šiljak is a research fellow at Connect, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for future networks and communications hosted at Trinity College Dublin. He was also the chief organiser of the Quantum Internet Hackathon in Dublin.