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Q Symposium Kicks Off with 7th Annual Michael Hintze Lecture in International Security


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After flights spanning continents and oceans and the International Date Line providing an element of quantum tunneling to their adventures, arrivals to the Q Symposium were met by the manicured greens of the University of Sydney’s Quadrangle. A Victorian outpost perched on a hill above the sleek architecture of the city and campus, the environs were an apt place to launch a project seeking complementarity between the old and the new of security studies.

The University of Sydney Quadrangle, site of the 7th Annual Michael Hintze Lecture in International Security (Photo: Ben Foldy)
The University of Sydney Quadrangle, site of the 7th Annual Michael Hintze Lecture in International Security (Photo: Ben Foldy)

Opening the proceedings was Professor Duncan Ivison, Dean of the Arts and Social Science faculty at the University of Sydney, who highlighted the work being done at the University’s Centre for International Security Studies to make USyd a nexus point of cutting edge security research and introducing the Centre’s recently appointed director, Michael Hintze Chair of International Security Studies, and organizer of the Q Symposium, James Der Derian.

Professor Duncan Iveson, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at University of Sydney, introduces CISS Director James Der Derian (Photo: Jose Torrealba)
Professor Duncan Ivison, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at University of Sydney, introduces CISS Director James Der Derian (Photo: Jose Torrealba)

In his remarks, Der Derian spoke to a vision that the Q Symposium would signal a new era for CISS, reorienting the Centre towards breaking global events on the horizon. The Centre will be seeking to lead cutting edge research in biosecurity, infosecurity, geosecurity, and global security in preparing global responses and research to emergent global threats. The Q Symposium, uniting practitioners, theoreticians and observers from across the social and physical sciences and beyond, is one of the first manifestations of steps in this new direction.

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IR Enters a Quantum World at the Q Symposium


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From the discovery of fission in 1939 to the detonation of Fat Man over Nagasaki a few days before V-J day, the Second World War was bookended by advances in atomic physics. Our historical epochs are named for the military metallurgy of the day, and recent work highlights the role of science in making weapons into not just “platforms” as used in the lexicon of military industrialists but those upon which societies are built and ordered.

Quantum mechanics are no exception. Among the information leaked by Edward Snowden was evidence of an NSA project called “Penetrating Hard Targets,” an $80 million dollar appropriation for the development of a “cryptologically useful quantum computer” that seeks to demonstrate the possibility of “complete quantum control” of a basic quantum computer that could be used for applications in the NSA’s “Owning the Net” program. In contrast to binary computers, the semiconductor qubits of a quantum computer could superimpose as values of one, zero, or both, quite literally expanding the universe of computing possibilities.

Much like the prophecies around nuclear physics in its nascent days, the “quantum leap” splashed on the cover of Time Magazine promises potentialities both destructive and benign. But whether ultimately used to crack the codes of genetic diseases or command and control infrastructure, the understanding of a quantum universe is no longer pure abstraction but brings the potentials of probability at the subatomic level to the macrophysical of world politics.

Against this backdrop, and with generous support from the University of Sydney and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney has commissioned the Q Symposium. Bringing together peace and security scholars alongside practitioners, scientists, filmmakers and journalists from around the world, the conference aims to investigate and theorize the meaning of a quantum world for security scholars.

The Q Symposium seeks to develop better tools for understandings notions of threats that deal less often with the macro-units of states and armies and more often with the micro-units of terror cells, pathogens, and information networks. Like its intellectual predecessors in physics, it also seeks to integrate the impact of observation, documenting its proceedings in a documentary film, in addition to tweets (#quantumIR) and blog posts, both at qsymposium.net and at the Duck of Minerva.

 

James Der Derian, Director of CISS and Michael Hintze Chair of International Security

Ben Foldy, Q Rapporteur