Is The Quantum Entanglement Communication Used In “Mass Effect” Possible?

Quantum Entanglement
By Ishdasrox (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mass Effect and Quantum Entanglement Communication (QEC)

If you’re a fan of the Mass Effect game series, then you’re already familiar with the concept of Quantum Entanglement Communication (QEC)–also known as Faster Than Light (FTL) Communication, or Superluminal Communication. The concept of QEC is shown in a scene from the Mass Effect Game in the video below.

EDI explains quantum entanglement communications

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

QEC in other science fiction stories

The QEC science fiction concept has been around for a while, and mentioned by several science fiction authors. The communication concept known as “Ansible” is based on real life quantum mechanics. Science fiction authors Ursula K. Le Guin coined the word ansible in her 1966 novel Rocannon’s World. Another author, Orson Scott Card also used the same name for a similar device. Le Guin states that she derived the name from the word “answerable”, as the device would allow its users to receive answers to their messages in a reasonable amount of time, even over interstellar distances. Her award-winning 1974 novel The Dispossessed, a book in the Hainish Cycle, tells of the invention of the ansible.

What communication problems could QEC potentially solve?

QEC is an important concept because of the potential interstellar communication problems it could solve such as:

  • Transmission and reception range limitations

  • Interference from all types of issues including electromagnetic interference and obstructions between transmitter and receiver

  • Speed of light limitation causing an associated lag in communication over very long distances

  • Communications being intercepted or possibly hacked into

The Air Force is interested in un-hackable communication like the QEC in Mass Effect

AFOSR funds $8.5M research initiative to study quantum memories.
AFOSR funds $8.5M research initiative to study quantum memories.

An $8.5M research grant was awarded to a consortium of U.S. universities by The U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) to determine the best approach for generating quantum memories based on interaction between light and matter.  The fact that QEC is a point-to-point transmission between entangled particles makes the transmission nearly un-hackable and worthy of military interest.

“We want to develop a set of novel and powerful approaches to quantum networking,” said Alex Kuzmich, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Physics and project’s principal investigator. “The three basic capabilities will be: storing quantum information for longer periods of time, on the order of seconds; converting the information to light; and transmitting the information over long distances. We aim to create large scale systems that use entanglement for quantum communication and potentially also quantum computing.”

The researchers will look at ways to create entangled quantum memories for use in securing long distance transmission of secure information. The research is conducted by Georgia Tech, with researchers from Columbia University, Harvard University, MIT, the University of Michigan, Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin.

What is Quantum Entanglement?

The concept has been around since Albert Einstein, in a joint paper with Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen formulated the EPR Paradox (Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen paradox) in 1935. The concept is known as Quantum Entanglement, or as Albert Einstein mockingly referred to it as “Spooky Action At A Distance”.

The concept of Quantum Entanglement is the basis to potentially solve long distance communication issues in the future. Quantum Entanglement as described by Wikipedia is a physical phenomenon that occurs when pairs or groups of particles are generated or interact in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others. Quantum Entanglement occurs even when the particles are separated by a large distance – instead, a quantum state must be described for the system as a whole.

The following video is a more in-depth explanation of Quantum Entanglement.

What is debated about Quantum Entanglement?

The main reason Einstein didn’t like the concept of Quantum Entanglement is that it allowed for Superluminal Communication (faster than light communication) that violates Einstein’s Theory of Relativity stating that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.  The problem in proving Quantum Entanglement was that the mere act of measuring a particle would force the particle into a measurable state–therefore, not able to be tested.

However, in 1964 John Bell theorized that Quantum Entanglement could be tested with a laboratory experiment. The experiment, now known as the “Bell Test Experiment” would prove either Einstein’s theory that the “spooky action at a distance” was due to embedded, hidden attributes in the paired particles, or what Niels Bohr and other Quantum Physicists believed that the mere act of observation or measurement had on one of the paired particles had an instantaneous effect on the other paired particle.

The video below demonstrates how John Bell’s theoretical experiment proved Quantum Entanglement actually worked as originally conceived and the particles did not have hidden information as Einstein proposed. Recently, physicists at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have further proved Bell’s Experiment by eliminating loopholes such as the Locality and Detection loopholes, finally fully proving the theory.

How can Quantum Computing contribute to future communication utilizing Quantum Entanglement?

My previous article, “Quantum Computing Just Got One Step Closer To Reality” goes into a lot of what quantum computing is. Here’s a brief primer on quantum computing to illustrate how it may play a part along with Quantum Entanglement to solve long distance communication issues.

Dr. Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and cosmologist who is Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University explains quantum computing in the video below.

Quantum computing could possibly be paired with Quantum Entanglement as a communication method such as the transmitter and receiver–much like the FTL Communicator in Mass Effect.  The quantum computer qubits also allow for manipulation of particles (electrons, positrons, photons, etc.) needed for measurement for Quantum Entanglement.  Additionally, quantum computers would already provide an ideal environment where quantum activity would be possible by cooling the particles and qubits to nearly absolute zero and allowing for laser manipulation of the particles to measure spin.

A Few Remaining Issues

Faster Than Light (FTL) communication would allow you to send a message to the past

This is mind blowing. According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the closer you get to the speed of light, the more time slows down. When you get to the actual speed of light, time is standing still. If you were able to travel faster than the speed of light (according to Einstein you can’t) you would be able to travel into the past. So technically, if you sent a message faster than the speed of light it would be received before you actually sent it. Pretty crazy right?

The No-communication Theorem puts the kibosh on the whole thing

The No-communication Theorem is not only hard to understand, but it’s a real downer that throws a bucket of cold water on the whole idea of communication via Quantum Entanglement. So what is the Non-communication Theorem? Basically, it has to do with how Quantum Entanglement works using an observer.

No Communication
Image is available for free use and distribution under Creative Commons – CC0 licensing requiring no attribution.

In a nutshell, the No-communication Theorem is a no-go theorem from quantum information theory that states during measurement of an entangled quantum state, it is not possible for one observer, by making a measurement of a subsystem of the total state, to communicate information to another observer. The theorem is important because, in quantum mechanics, quantum entanglement is an effect by which certain widely separated events can be correlated in ways that suggest the possibility of instantaneous communication. The no-communication theorem gives conditions under which such transfer of information between two observers is impossible. These results can be applied to understand the so-called paradoxes in quantum mechanics, such as the EPR paradox, or violations of local realism obtained in tests of Bell’s theorem.  Got it?

Don’t worry if you don’t get it at first, it’s a difficult concept to wrap your head around.  If you want to learn more about it, please visit the Wikipedia Page on it.  In the meanwhile, the main takeaway from this is that this puts Quantum Entanglement as a communication tool out of the picture for the time being.  But don’t give up all hope yet.  In the next section we discuss possible ways around this.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The video below explains some of the issues with Faster Than Light (FTL) communication.

Glimmers of Hope

Despite the potential issues with faster than light communication, there still are some glimmers of hope. Einstein has been proven wrong before–such as how Quantum Entanglement actually works for example.  Einstein is not wrong often, or by any great stretches, but it is possible.

More importantly, there have been theories that still uphold the Theory of Relativity, but cleverly seem to be able to defy the theory. An example of this is the Alcubierre Warp Drive.

Two-dimensional visualization of an Alcubierre drive, showing the opposing regions of expanding and contracting spacetime that displace the central region. [By AllenMcC. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons]
Two-dimensional visualization of an Alcubierre drive, showing the opposing regions of expanding and contracting spacetime that displace the central region. [By AllenMcC. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons]
Briefly, an Alcubierre Warp Drive is a speculative idea based on a solution of Einstein’s field equations in general relativity as proposed by theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre, by which a spacecraft could achieve apparent faster-than-light travel if a configurable energy-density field lower than that of vacuum (that is, negative mass) could be created.  Again, the takeaway here is that there are potential ways of staying within Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but at the same time seem to defy the theory giving us hope.

Discussion of Quantum Entanglement potentially used for communication

I think one of the problems in the discussion of Quantum Entanglement used for possible communication is that there isn’t a lot of information on how the actual process works in the laboratory.  Naturally, it’s difficult to discuss the subject because no one really understands how it works–just that it does.  However, it would be helpful if there was more information discussing exactly what physicists are actually observing in the laboratory when they see this phenomenon occurring.  This is important–especially in this discussion because if we understood what is actually occurring in the laboratory, we all could understand the limitations and practical applications when we discuss why, or why it couldn’t be used for possible communication.

Where do we go from here regarding QEC?

It’s clear that even though the potential for QEC seems promising as an idea from science fiction, it just won’t work at the moment due to limitations in observing changes in quantum states, transmission of information faster than light and the limitations with the No-Communication Theorem.  There are a lot of things working against the idea of QEC,  so the concept will have to remain in the realm of science fiction and video games like Mass Effect for now.


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