International Relations

All, Q3, Uncategorized

Probing the peace and security implications of quantum innovation


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The impact of quantum science on peace and security will be debated by leading practitioners and researchers at the Q3 Symposium and Lecture. 

The University of Sydney’s Centre for International Security Studies (CISS) will host experts from the United States, Japan, Canada and China to address research and policy questions of the quantum age.

Over the past century, quantum mechanics has yielded new understandings of the microphysical world and resulted in a host of technological inventions associated with the modern age – from thermonuclear weapons, to computers, transistors, lasers, LEDs and mobile phones.

“The Q3 Symposium and Lecture come at a crucial moment in the quantum age,” said Professor James Der Derian, CISS Director and Michael Hintze Chair of International Security. “As new applications for quantum science edge closer to reality, we’re gathering to debate the political, ethical and philosophical implications of areas such as quantum computing, communication and consciousness.”

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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.

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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

Saturday Midday: Power and Information


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Allison Bashford’s presentation for the biosecurity panel mentioned a mid-20th century idea of Warren Weaver to develop an independent, solar energy source providing every human being with a personal energy supply. Given humanity’s relative lack of follow through on the idea, coffee would have to suffice for participants still feeling jet lag and residual effects of the morning’s pre-panel activities.

The symposium reconvened after the break for Infosecurity: Cyberworlds, Surveillance, Cyberconflict and Global Media. The panel’s presenters all approached the topic with emphasis on the power inherent in information. Whether making meaning of images, collected and surveyed in of the biometric manifestations of 21st century biopower, structuring and situating potentiality through virtuality or exercising power through demonstrating competence in diplomacy, information is an integral component of power and security.

After an introduction to the panel by moderator Simon Tormey, no stranger to the manifold manifestations of power in his own work, Roland Bleiker began the presentations with his own work on images in international relations. While there were some clear similarities to the nascent research program outlined by Lene Hansen in her Hintze lecture two days earlier, Bleiker presented elements of a broad line of research he has been pursuing for some time.

The impact of images, he explained, is impossible to capture by looking for conventional causality. Images, as representations, do not cause events. They do construct an effect Bleiker called the “seduction of the real”- giving the viewer a sense of being witness to reality rather than viewer of constructed and framed representation. In spite of- or perhaps because of- this, images’ impact on policy is of considerable import- Bleiker is currently conducting research, along with Emma Hutchison and David Campbell, on the role of images in shaping response to humanitarian crises. Speaking to the local context, he spoke of research on the sort of images often selected to accompany articles on immigration to Australia. He highlighted the way these images construct and reinforce certain tropes, reinforcing categories such as “boat” people as somehow distinct and in opposition to those immigrating by air. Photographic content analysis showed that most photographs were group shots, which Bleiker hypothesized reduced the ability of the “viewer” to empathize with the subjectivity of those pictured.

Bleiker closed with his thoughts on the methodological dilemma of studying images, specifically alluding to the quantum problem of observation of wave-particle duality. For him, studying images and their impacts requires a mixed-methods approach emphasizing ethnography and semiology of the images of themselves, discourse analyses of the authority constructed through images, and more quantitative methods, like content and survey analyses, to understand the dispersal and saturation of images and their effects.

Charlotte Epstein (CISS) presents her research as Rebecca Adler-Nissen and Roland Bleiker look on. (Photo credit: Jose Torrealba)
Charlotte Epstein (CISS) presents her research as Rebecca Adler-Nissen and Roland Bleiker look on. (Photo credit: Jose Torrealba)

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All, Q1

Saturday Morning: Biosecurity from Quarantine to Quantum


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After the first day of panels, complex conversations carried over to drinks, dinner and even a pitched game of eight ball in which the billiard ball theory was briefly appropriated for strategic reasons by a motley crew of new materialists, physicists and post-structuralists.

Sunrise Saturday morning saw participants particle-scattered across the inviting scenery of Q Station to indulge in the site’s natural beauty- its tranquil cove and beach, bush trails, and commanding views of the harbor. Many then gathered for an informative tour of Q Station given by Q Symposium presenter Alison Bashford, who leads an interdisciplinary project on historic immigration and quarantine stations at Angel Island (San Francisco) and Grosse Îsle, Québec.

Q Symposium participants take in a tour of Q Station given by Alison Bashford, in white. (Photo: Jose Torrealba)
Q Symposium participants take in a tour of Q Station given by Alison Bashford, in white. (Photo: Jose Torrealba)

After the conclusion of the tour, the Symposium reconvened in the conference room to begin the day’s proceedings with the Biosecurity: Microbes, Food, and Genes panel, moderated by Adam Kamradt-Scott and drawing together a capable contingent of scholars working with the entanglement of global security, health and biopolitics.

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