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Quantum Teleportation Just Got Even Faster

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Yes, teleportation is real, and no, you can’t do it yet. But humankind has taken another step toward realizing a future in which teleportation affects our everyday lives, as researchers have recently demonstrated that teleporting information over a long distance is, indeed, possible.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced in a statement that its research team, led by guest researcher Hiroki Takesue, successfully “transferred quantum information carried in light particles over 100 kilometers (km) of optical fiber, four times farther than the previous record”—which is to say, teleported this information from one end of the very long optical fiber to the other. The NIST, a non-regulatory U.S. Department of Commerce agency, explained:

The experiment confirmed that quantum communication is feasible over long distances in fiber. Other research groups have teleported quantum information over longer distances in free space, but the ability to do so over conventional fiber-optic lines offers more flexibility for network design.

The implied impact of the breakthrough may make waves in both the fields of quantum communications and quantum computing, "which offer prospects for novel capabilities such as unbreakable encryption and advanced code-breaking, respectively," the agency reports.

Described in an Optica article, the team's method relied on significantly improved instrumentation, now able to detect single photons (as well as each detected photon's arrival time, down to the nanosecond), and researchers were able to register the presence of individual photons. As the NIST's Marty Stevens pointed out, the team "never could have done this experiment without these new detectors, which can measure [the] incredibly weak signal" of a single photon, because only “about 1 percent of photons make it all the way through 100 km of fiber.”

As to how researchers used individual photons to communicate information (for lack of a better term) through 102 km of dispersion shifted fiber—four times as far as the previous teleportation record—without the photons actually covering that distance themselves, the study's methodology relied on the nature of "quantum states," a.k.a. the assessed qualities and predicted behavior of a bit of matter or energy (in this case, photons). Using their super-sensitive detectors, the team was able to detect the quantum states of photons at either end of the cable, and their detectors were hunting for photons with a very particular signature.

Specifically, the researchers generated a photon that was split by a special crystal into two identical photons. These photons are entangled which means they become a quantum system with each particle’s quantum state henceforth reflecting the other’s, no matter how far apart they are. And if you and I know, for example, that—thanks to this astounding but true physical principle—I can manipulate my quantum tin-can phone on one side of the neighborhood and that yours will mirror the reactions of mine from several backyards away, we effectively no longer need the string.

Feel like a visual aid would make a good digestif? Check out the NIST's helpful infographic below.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology(NIST), U.S. Department of Commerce

[h/t Engadget]

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Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
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language
New 'Eye Language' Lets Paralyzed People Communicate More Easily
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0

The invention of sign language proved you don't need to vocalize to use complex language face to face. Now, a group of designers has shown that you don't even need control of your hands: Their new type of language for paralyzed people relies entirely on the eyes.

As AdAge reports, "Blink to Speak" was created by the design agency TBWA/India for the NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute and the Asha Ek Hope Foundation. The language takes advantage of one of the few motor functions many paralyzed people have at their disposal: eye movement. Designers had a limited number of moves to work with—looking up, down, left, or right; closing one or both eyes—but they figured out how to use these building blocks to create a sophisticated way to get information across. The final product consists of eight alphabets and messages like "get doctor" and "entertainment" meant to facilitate communication between patients and caregivers.

Inside of a language book.
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

This isn't the only tool that allows paralyzed people to "speak" through facial movements, but unlike most other options currently available, Blink to Speak doesn't require any expensive technology. The project's potential impact on the lives of people with paralysis earned it the Health Grand Prix for Good at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity earlier in June.

The groups behind Blink to Speak have produced thousands of print copies of the language guide and have made it available online as an ebook. To learn the language yourself or share it with someone you know, you can download it for free here.

[h/t AdAge]

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Big Questions
What Is Foreign Accent Syndrome?
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One night in 2016, Michelle Myers—an Arizona mom with a history of migraines—went to sleep with a splitting headache. When she awoke, her speech was marked with what sounded like an British accent, despite having never left the U.S. Myers is one of about 100 people worldwide who have been diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), a condition in which people spontaneously speak with a non-native accent.

In most cases, FAS occurs following a head injury or stroke that damages parts of the brain associated with speech. A number of recent incidences of FAS have been well documented: A Tasmanian woman named Leanne Rowe began speaking with a French-sounding accent after recovering from a serious car accident, while Kath Lockett, a British woman, underwent treatment for a brain tumor and ended up speaking with an accent that sounds somewhere between French and Italian.

The first case of the then-unnamed syndrome was reported in 1907 when a Paris-born-and-raised man who suffered a brain hemorrhage woke up speaking with an Alsatian accent. During World War II, neurologist Georg Herman Monrad-Krohn compiled the first comprehensive case study of the syndrome in a Norwegian woman named Astrid L., who had been hit on the head with shrapnel and subsequently spoke with a pronounced German-sounding accent. Monrad-Krohn called her speech disorder dysprosody: her choice of words and sentence construction, and even her singing ability, were all normal, but her intonation, pronunciation, and stress on syllables (known as prosody) had changed.

In a 1982 paper, neurolinguist Harry Whitaker coined the term "foreign accent syndrome" for acquired accent deviation after a brain injury. Based on Monrad-Kohn's and other case studies, Whitaker suggested four criteria for diagnosing FAS [PDF]:

"The accent is considered by the patient, by acquaintances, and by the investigator to sound foreign.
It is unlike the patient’s native dialect before the cerebral insult.
It is clearly related to central nervous system damage (as opposed to a hysteric reaction, if such exist).
There is no evidence in the patient’s background of being a speaker of a foreign language (i.e., this is not like cases of polyglot aphasia)."

Not every person with FAS meets all four criteria. In the last decade, researchers have also found patients with psychogenic FAS, which likely stems from psychological conditions such as schizophrenia rather than a physical brain injury. This form comprises fewer than 10 percent of known FAS cases and is usually temporary, whereas neurogenic FAS is typically permanent.

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING?

While scientists are not sure why certain brain injuries or psychiatric problems give rise to FAS, they believe that people with FAS are not actually speaking in a foreign accent. Instead, their neurological damage impairs their ability to make subtle muscle movements in the jaw, tongue, lips, and larynx, which results in pronunciation that mimics the sound of a recognizable accent.

"Vowels are particularly susceptible: Which vowel you say depends on where your tongue is in your mouth," Lyndsey Nickels, a professor of cognitive science at Australia's Macquarie University, wrote in The Conversation. "There may be too much or too little muscle tension and therefore they may 'undershoot' or 'overshoot' their target. This leads to the vowels sounding different, and sometimes they may sound like a different accent."

In Foreign Accent Syndromes: The Stories People Have to Tell, authors Nick Miller and Jack Ryalls suggest that FAS could be one stage in a multi-phase recovery from a more severe speech disorder, such as aphasia—an inability to speak or understand speech that results from brain damage.

People with FAS also show wide variability in their ability to pronounce sounds, choose words, or stress the right syllables. The accent can be strong or mild. Different listeners may hear different accents from the speaker with FAS (Lockett has said people have asked her if she's Polish, Russian, or French).

According to Miller and Ryalls, few studies have been published about speech therapy for treating FAS, and there's no real evidence that speech therapy makes a difference for people with the syndrome. More research is needed to determine if advanced techniques like electromagnetic articulography—visual feedback showing tiny movements of the tongue—could help those with FAS regain their original speaking manner.

Today, one of the pressing questions for neurologists is understanding how the brain recovers after injury. For that purpose, Miller and Ryalls write that "FAS offers a fascinating and potentially fruitful forum for gaining greater insights into understanding the human brain and the speech processes that define our species."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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