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Decoding the Quantum Mystery

Signals from space to Earth could establish the reality of Einstein's worst fear

By
6:04pm, July 18, 2008

Every true fan of science fiction (and science too, for that matter) should be familiar with Forbidden Planet, the film famous for introducing the world to Robby the Robot.

The story takes place in the 23rd century on Altair-4, where the crew of the cruiser C-57D attempts to devise a contraption to communicate with Earth. “I’ll bet any quantum mechanic in the service would give the rest of his life for a chance to fool around with this gadget,” Chief Engineer Quinn (Richard Anderson) tells Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen).

When the film was new, in 1956, scientists would have chortled. “Quantum mechanics” weren’t repairmen for message-sending machines. It was the math for describing subatomic physics.

But it turns out that Forbidden Planet was prescient about more than just talking robots. No doubt the C-57D crew was trying to send a coded message back to Earth, made safe from eavesdropping by the use of quantum cryptography.

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