All, Project Q

Carnegie Corporation of New York announces award of major grant to the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney for Project Q

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Who will benefit from and who will be harmed by the advent of quantum computing, communications and artificial intelligence? Are social media, global surveillance, data-mining and other networked technologies already producing quantum effects in world politics? Will a quantum revolution present us with sentient programs, feral algorithms and non-human forms of intelligence? Who will ‘win’ the quantum race? When and how will quantum be ‘weaponised’? What are the implications for peace and security?

These and other pressing questions have been the key issues addressed by the first-ever multidisciplinary project on quantum innovations, ‘Project Q: Peace and Security in a Quantum Age’. Started three years ago by the Centre for International Security Studies (CISS) with funding from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the School of Social and Political Sciences and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Project Q was created to assess the possibility, significance and global impact of new quantum technologies.

In short order, Project Q created an innovative one-stop website, organized four international symposia at Sydney’s historic Q Station and produced over 50 video features and interviews with leading experts. In recognition of its accomplishments, the Carnegie Corporation of New York has awarded a new USD$400,000 grant that will allow CISS to continue its quantum investigations and to share its findings through a broad range of multimedia.

‘Project Q was originally conceived as a thought experiment’, says CISS Director and Michael Hintze Chair of International Security, James Der Derian. ‘With the first atomic revolution in mind, we thought it better to assess the risks and benefits of a potent new technology before rather than after it becomes operational. But news of quantum innovations now appears on almost a daily basis, and, thanks to Carnegie making a long-shot bet, we’re the only multidisciplinary project out there that is ready to move from speculative inquiry to a full-on research program able to make policy recommendations.’

Over the next three years Project Q will continue to gather expert knowledge and stimulate public debate through a series of international symposia, lectures, workshops and video features. The project endeavors to step outside of professional silos, reaching across the natural and social sciences as well as governmental, corporate and university communities. Working with a team of scholars, students and media makers, Project Q will produce a broad spectrum of media – including a special journal issue, collection of essays, digital ‘green paper’ and a documentary film – to inform the public and provoke a policy debate on the implications of quantum innovation for peace and security.

Project Q team (Jack McGrath and James Der Derian in the green room interview with Mark Levinson, Director of “Particle Fever” documentary.

To learn more about Project Q visit the Q website, join the Q Blog, or follow @sydneyciss on Twitter.


Time: Historical, Representational, and Relative

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Saturday morning’s panel on “Time: Historical, Representational, and Relative” continued Q’s experiments with the entanglements of the physical and social sciences with theory and aesthetics. In his introduction of the panel, Jairus Grove (Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawai’i-Mānoa) noted that his charge included Particle Fever director Mark Levinson and University of Florida political science Professor Badredine Arfi, two trained physicists who had moved on to other endeavors but never left the field behind them. The panel’s third presenter, Professor Dean Rickles, specializes in quantum gravity and string theory and is now Professor of History and Philosophy of Modern Physics at the University of Sydney. Simon Reay Atkinson, whose career has taken him from aircraft carrier to college quad as a professor, engineer, and Captain in the Royal Australian Navy, rounded out the panel’s eclectic ensemble in his role as discussant.


All, Q2

Space: States, Subjects, Simulation, and a Screening

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With Friday’s opening panel on The Space-time of War and Diplomacy having established Q2’s overall theme, subsequent panels explored simultaneously the distinctive qualities and complementarity of its components of space, time, war, and diplomacy.

In the opening panel, both Stephen Kern and Arthur I. Miller emphasized the significance of technological, cultural, aesthetic, and scientific innovations to the representations and perceptions of space before and during the First World War. After a brief break, the conversation went deeper in the panel on “Space: Geopolitical, Galactic, and Virtual”. Presentations by Andrea Loehr, Mark Salter, and McKenzie Wark brought insights from astrophysics, history, and critical political theory to bear on perceptions of inhabiting and moving through space(s) at scales galactic, planetary, and subjective.


All, Q2

Q2’s First Morning Touches on Memory, Space-Time, and War


As Q2’s attendees assembled to catch a ferry to Q station on Friday morning, traces of McKenzie Wark’s lecture the night before were manifesting in conversations and the space itself. Near the pier sits a plaque commemorating the spot where the 1st Infantry Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment left to fight in Korea in 1952. This plaque mentions another 1st Battalion, one inaugurated in Sydney on August 17, 1914, that also left from Circular Quay on a tour of duty that would take it to Cairo, Gallipoli, and the Western Front. It later became a garrison reserve unit during the Second World War, and came briefly under the command of Blair Anderson Wark (McKenzie’s great-uncle, introduced in his lecture the night prior) before his untimely death in 1940.

Plaque commemorating Australia's 1st Battalion in Circular Quay. (Photo: Register of Australian War Memorials)
Plaque commemorating Australia’s 1st Battalion in Circular Quay. (Photo: Register of Australian War Memorials)

Like the stone in which the plaque is embedded, the space and time of the First World War remains somewhat of a bedrock for so many aspects of security and geopolitics of today. The war’s impacts persist in time and space through emerging states and nationalisms, the rise of the modern international organizations and endeavors of “collective security”, and physical reminders both intentional and not (the annual “Iron Harvest”, for example, when farmers across Western Europe uncover hundreds of tons of unexploded ordinance in their fields). For a conference interrogating these impacts and parsing their contemporary relevance, Circular Quay was a fitting point of departure.

As the ferry pulled into Q Station’s small wharf after a quick trip across the harbor, a buzzing comes across the sky. A new buzzing began among the participants, realizing their welcome to Q Station by a quadrocopter making passes over the pier. With this bit of drone détournement provoking everything from bemusement to mild dismay among the passengers, the observation apparatus had already begun disturbing the behavior of the system.


All, Q2

McKenzie Wark Opens Q2 with Lecture on the Labor Behind Climate Change Science


If one were asked to choose one word to describe this year’s Q Symposium- an event that defies easy categorization regardless of word count- they could do a lot worse than “big”.

The quantum revolution of the early 20th century came from big changes to the way people thought about the small, which in turn led to new ways of thinking about matters as big as the universe. Now, on a big anniversary of a big war, “Q2: The Space-Time of War and Diplomacy” interrogates the relationship between the development of quantum mechanics and other innovations brought about by the First World War and these big effects. Big concentrations of capital deepened nascent networks of big science, which in turn produced increasing amounts of data novel in both quantity and kind.

This coincided with a pervasive push towards new means of representation across all types of fields. The artistic avant-garde was developing new methods of abstraction just as physicists began using the abstraction of probabilistic mathematics and wave functions to allow for representation of aspects of the universe unable to be observed or even definitively described.

Politics also confronted new issues of representation, with the war and its aftermath bringing new notions of nation, class, and gender to the fore as political identities. In the post-war system of states, bureaucrats and statesmen (at that point still an entirely male labor force) developed practices of permanent representation to embody the state in newly formed international organizations and the practice of issuing passports to represent the state’s subjects.

As per tradition, the Q Symposium opened in the University of Sydney’s famous quad with a public lecture. With this year’s iteration a co-presentation of University of Sydney’s Centre for International Security Studies (CISS) and Sydney Ideas public lecture series, the lecture drew a diverse audience of artists, students, researchers, and intellectuals from across Sydney supplemented by the Q Symposium attendees coming from around the continent and beyond.


All, Q2

100 Years Later, Q2 Looks to WWI and Quantum Turn

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Wars and atoms have, as it were, a conjugated history.

On the eve of the Second World War, physicists Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd wrote a letter to President Franklin D Roosevelt to inform him of the destructive potential of nuclear fission.

The letter would trigger a chain-reaction, as it were, beginning with the Manhattan Project and leading to the first use of nuclear weapons, continuing through to an arms race without end. Einstein later offered a baleful post-mortem: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

One hundred years ago, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg predicted on the eve of the First World War that the coming violence would “overthrow all that exists.” He could not possibly have known how right he was, as his prediction would be borne out by revolutions political, intellectual, and scientific. The war emerged from a Newtonian logic; one which ensured that trains set in motion would stay in motion, carrying unprecedented assemblages of violence across vast distances until they met equal and opposite forces and settled into the stagnant equilibrium of trench warfare. But these events would also enable a series of revolutions that made possible a paradigmatic shift to a new, post-Newtonian logic that led to the later discoveries in atomic physics.

These global events and their intellectual products changed the way we think about space and time, war and peace. But should we not also address Einstein’s lament and change the way we think about these events? When we keep notions of probability, entanglement and complementarity in mind, we must treat the relationship of their coterminous developments as more than coincidence and less than causal. The manners in which we conduct war and wage science are always entangled, so as science changes the ways we conceive of our world, so too must we reconsider the ways we perceive and commemorate our world wars.


All, Q1

The Final Table


Those at the Q Symposium would be forgiven, given the breadth and depth of research presented over the day and a half prior, for wondering how so much could be packed into such a short time as Saturday slunk softly towards sundown. Panels had touched on so many facets of security studies, natural and social science, ethics, epistemology, and security aesthetics that a single closing panel would have to serve more as a pledge for future research than a summation of conclusions.

CISS Director and Q Symposium organizer James Der Derian opened the closing with a series of questions. Do quantum considerations prompt new considerations of agency and accountability? Is the quantum turn an epistemic breach or an epochal evolution? Is quantum just a new metaphorical heuristic in a field long renowned for using the language of the natural to describe the social? Perhaps consideration of a quantum age or turn misses an epistemic shift from the age of longue durées to a world of simultaneity and entanglement in which the actualization of Virilian acceleration towards the global event has made local global and here indistinguishable from there.