The video seems to be part of a series in which he answers questions from his fans. Here we have a young man by name Tom from Western Australia calling in. The transcript starts as follows:
Tom: Hi, Bill. Tom, from Western Australia. If quantum entanglement or quantum spookiness can allow us to transmit information instantaneously, that is faster than the speed of light, how do you think this could, dare I say it, change the world?I thought I must have slept through Easter and it’s already April 1st. I replayed this like 5 times. But it didn’t get any better. So what else can I do but take to my blog in the futile attempt to bring sanity back to earth?
Bill Nye: Tom, I love you man. Thanks for the tip of the hat there, the turn of phrase. Will quantum entanglement change the world? If this turns out to be a real thing, well, or if we can take advantage of it, it seems to me the first thing that will change is computing. We’ll be able to make computers that work extraordinarily fast. But it carries with it, for me, this belief that we’ll be able to go back in time; that we’ll be able to harness energy somehow from black holes and other astrophysical phenomenon that we observe in the cosmos but not so readily here on earth. We’ll see. Tom, in Western Australia, maybe you’ll be the physicist that figures quantum entanglement out at its next level and create practical applications. But for now, I’m not counting on it to change the world.
This is an interesting question which allows one to engage in some lovely science fiction speculation, but first let us be clear that quantum entanglement does not allow to transmit information faster than the speed of light. Entanglement is a non-local correlation that enforces particles to share properties, potentially over long distances. But there is no way to send information through this link because the particles are quantum mechanical and their properties are randomly distributed.Quantum entanglement is a real thing, we know this already. This has been demonstrated in countless experiments, and while multi-particle correlations are an active research area, the basic phenomenon is well-understood. But entanglement does not imply a spooky “action” at a distance – this is a misleading historical phrase which lives on in science communication just because it has a nice ring to it. Nothing ever acts between the entangled particles – they are merely correlated. That entanglement might allow faster-than-light communication was a confusion in the 1950s, but it’s long been understood that quantum mechanics is perfectly compatible with Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity in which information cannot be transmitted faster than the speed of light.
No, it really can’t. Sorry about that. Yes, I too would love to send messages to the other side of the universe without having to wait some billion years for a reply. But for all we presently know about the laws of nature, it’s not possible.
Entanglement is the relevant ingredient in building quantum computers, and these could indeed dramatically speed up information processing and storage capacities, hence the effort that is being made to build one. But this has nothing to do with exchanging information faster than light, it merely relies on the number of different states that quantum particles can be brought into, which is huge compared to those of normal computers. (Which also work only thanks to quantum mechanics, but normal computers don’t use quantum states for information processing.)
Now let us forget about the real world for a moment, and imagine what we could do if it was possible to send information faster than the speed of light, even though this is to our best present knowledge not possible. Maybe this is what your question really was?
The short answer is that you are likely to screw up reality altogether. Once you can send information faster than the speed of light, you can also send it back in time. If you can send information back in time, you can create inconsistent histories, that is, you can create various different pasts, a problem commonly known as “grandfather paradox:” What happens if you travel back in time and kill your grandpa? Will Marty McFly be born if he doesn’t get his mom to dance with his dad? Exactly this problem.
Multiple histories, or quantum mechanical parallel worlds, are a commonly used scenario in the science fiction literature and movie industry, and they make for some mind-bending fun. For a critical take on how these ideas hold up to real science, I can recommend Xaq Rzetelny’s awesome article “Trek at 50: The quest for a unifying theory of time travel in Star Trek.”
I have no fucking clue what Bill thinks this has to do with harnessing energy from black holes, but I hope this won’t discourage you from signing up for a physics degree.
Every day I get emails from people who want to convince me that they have found a way to create a wormhole, harness vacuum energy, travel back in time, or that they know how to connect the conscious mind with the quantum, whatever that means. They often argue with quotes from papers or textbooks which they have badly misunderstood. But they no longer have to do this. Now they can quote Bill The Science Guy who said that quantum entanglement would allow us to harness energy from black holes and to travel back in time.
Maybe you were joking and I didn’t get it. But if it’s a joke, let me tell you that nobody in my newsfeed seems to have found it funny.
Seriously, man, fix that. Sincerely,