In January 2022, a small team of physicists watched breathlessly as data streamed out of Google’s quantum computer, Sycamore. A sharp peak indicated that their experiment had succeeded. They had mixed one unit of quantum information into what amounted to a wispy cloud of particles and watched it emerge from a linked cloud. It was like seeing an egg scramble itself in one bowl and unscramble itself in another.
In several key ways, the event closely resembled a familiar movie scenario: a spacecraft enters one black hole — apparently going to its doom — only to pop out of another black hole somewhere else entirely. Wormholes, as these theoretical pathways are called, are a quintessentially gravitational phenomenon. There were theoretical reasons to believe that the qubit had traveled through a quantum system behaving exactly like a wormhole — a so-called holographic wormhole — and that’s what the researchers concluded. When it was published in November, the experiment graced the cover of Nature and was widely covered in the media, including in this magazine.
Now another group of physicists has analyzed the result and determined that, while the experiment may have produced something vaguely wormhole-like, it wasn’t really a holographic wormhole in any meaningful sense. In light of the new analysis, independent researchers are coming to doubt that the teleportation experiment has anything to do with gravity after all.
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