Global Security

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.

All, Q Research

NSA on Quantum Cryptography: Sooner Rather than Later?


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Neal Koblitz and Alfred J. Menezes have just released an update to their paper reading into the NSA’s public anticipation of quantum cryptography.

In August, the NSA released a major policy statement on the need for a post-quantum cryptography. Careful readers noticed this paragraph:

For those partners and vendors that have not yet made the transition to Suite B algorithms [41], we recommend not making a significant expenditure to do so at this point but instead to prepare for the upcoming quantum resistant algorithm transition…. Unfortunately, the growth of elliptic curve use has bumped up against the fact of continued progress in the research on quantum computing, necessitating a re-evaluation of our cryptographic strategy.

Koblitz and Menezes’ highly readable open source article uses this announcement as a jumping off point for an interesting and insightful look into the NSA’s evaluation of contemporary cryptography. Along the way, they detail the NSA’s history with contemporary elliptical curve cryptography (ECC)  and propose a number of theories of what the NSA might be anticipating.

Image: NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland. 

All, Q2

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


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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.

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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.

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All, Q1

The Final Table


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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.

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All, Q1

Global Security: Challenge and Opportunity in Change


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Each of the Q Symposium’s Global Security panel on Saturday afternoon served to show that discussing elements of the global now necessitates consideration of the complex, the entangled, and the unpredictable. With a subtitle of “Crisis, Stasis, or Opportunity?” the panel’s presentations on East Asian nuclear security, the “cohesion” of the American military, maritime piracy in the Indo-Pacific, and global climate change all explored long-entrenched orders increasingly under challenge by changing parameters. But while each presentation stressed the challenges posed by changes to these institutions, they were careful to show the opportunities inherent in the change as well.

Moderator Roy MacLeod, of USydney’s Centre for International Security Studies, introduced the panel’s participants to kick things off. The trans-Pacific panel’s roster boasted three North American transplants to Australia and one San Francisco-based Australian, lending credence to the theory of the quantum citizenry of expatriates that had been brought up in Parag Khanna’s presentation the day prior.

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All, Q1

Q Effect Panel: Towards Complementarity


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After welcomes and opening remarks set the tone, Friday’s first panel took the baton from the groundbreaking research presented in Lene Hansen’s Hintze lecture on images and security the day prior and continued the discussion of new frontiers in IR. Entitled “The Q Effect: Micro-, Macro- and Metaphysical,” the panel sought to draw together different commentaries on considering a quantum turn in international security from both sides of the ontology/epistemology divide. Presentations ran from the non-metaphorical advances of quantum computing to epistemic and ethical considerations, as again a notion of complementarity took a central, if unspoken, role as a guiding principle of the conference.

Leading things off was Professor David Reilly, who oversees the wealth of Australia’s research into quantum computing in his capacity as director of the University of Sydney’s Quantum Nanoscience Institute. His relatively plainspoken explanations of highly complex research couldn’t belie Reilly’s unrivalled authority on this kind of research. Catering to his audience, he spoke less to the sense of technical details and experimental design of quantum computing but rather potential applications.

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All, Q1

Friday Morning: A Ferry Ride, A Welcome and the Q Vision


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Friday morning saw of the best minds of a generation or two of IR scholarship, smartly dressed but nonetheless jetlagged, dragging themselves to Sydney’s Wharf 6 to catch a ferry across the magnificent harbor to Q Station in Manly. Scholars from across the world and the field sat top deck alongside tourists and commuters, familiarizing themselves with both each other and some of the world’s best manmade and natural scenery.

The view from the ferry. (Photograph: Ben Foldy)
The view from the ferry. (Photograph: Ben Foldy)

Pulling into the small dock at Q Station, participants made their way uphill, past impressive etchings left in the sandstone bluff by some of the facility’s former guests. Upon reaching the top, the group was welcomed to the quarantine ward’s hospital, since re-purposed as a conference venue, by a fantastic view of the harbor and some much-needed coffee.

An etching left by the crew of the RMS Lusitania during their quarantine stay in 1895. (Photograph: Ben Foldy)
An etching left by the crew of the RMS Lusitania during their quarantine stay in 1895. (Photograph: Ben Foldy)

The conference’s participants assembled, it was time for the first panel of the conference and the day. But first, Gadigal Elder Uncle Chicka Madden, in his capacity as Secretary of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, welcomed the participants onto the Eori land that Sydney and its surroundings were built on. He explained some of the history of the land and its people, but spoke as well of the present he is privy to in his work with the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence and the Aboriginal Medical Service.

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All, Q1

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