Q Symposium


Prelude to Q3CI

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As a primer for Q3CI – 2018’s Q symposium – panelists from Our public forum were invited to appear on Australia’s public broadcaster, the ABC.

  • Firstly, two of our panelists, Sydney University Scientist Michael Biercuk & George Washington University and Obama advisor Alison MacFarlane joined Q’s director James Der Derian on A Matter of Facton the eve of our public forum to discuss drones, AI and the future of Quantum. Points were raise about the democratisation of quantum computing, and how open and collaborative public research would be if there was a breakthrough in terms of a military or security application of the technology. A recording of the broadcast is available here.
  • Q director James Der Derian also appeared on ABC Radio’s Breakfast program, discussing quantum supremacy, and what that means for the future of artificial intelligence, science, war and peace. We shall post a link here when available.
  • Will Quantum even happen? There is debate within the scientific community about the ability for quantum computing to ever be practically implemented beyond tech-demos. While we’ve seen in the flesh functioning 50-qubit chips perform in environments built for demonstration, their usage in practical terms outside heavily controlled conditions of these spaces, applied to real-world tasks is exposed to significant hurdles. Israeli mathematician Gil Kalai argues while we will never see a true quantum computer in this article hosted by Quanta Magazine here. A
  • Lastly, our public forum “STRANGE PHYSICS: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB, DRONES, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND QUANTUM COMPUTERS” is being held tonight at the University of Sydney which we will be live tweeting under the hashtag #q3ci. Tickets for those in Sydney will be available here – https://t.co/Batb0vPGl4
  • A last minute update: an article on ‘Nature’ About efforts to build a quantum internet driven by Stephanie Werner similar to the classical internet precursor. The project, to be installed in four Dutch cities should be completed in 2020.
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.

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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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Promising research in quantum gravity

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Yesterday, international science journal Nature published a fascinating overview of recent research in quantum gravity penned by Ron Cowen.

The piece surveys a number of findings hinting that quantum entanglement can correlate with space-time geometry. A “small industry” of scientists drawing on an eclectic mix of research are showing that the long-entrenched question of quantum gravity may soon get some answers.

Photo: A Belfast mural by English artist Liam Gillick (Wikipedia Commons)

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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.


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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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Saturday Midday: Power and Information


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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Saturday Morning: Biosecurity from Quarantine to Quantum


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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Geo-Security Panel: Maritime Power, Non-State Security Issues, and Comprehending China


If Friday’s opening Q Effect panel opened the theoretical possibilities for quantum IR, the afternoon’s Geo-Security: Risky States, States at Risk, and the Indo-Pacific panel re-grounded the conference in the pressing complexity of security concerns specific to the region.

Panel moderator Bates Gill, CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, explained that this panel would take a unique form relative to the others. Leading things off would be a presentation by Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, AO, CSC, and Chief of the Royal Australian Navy on his thoughts on Australia’s place and role in the region. After the VA’s presentation, CISS scholars with a wide-ranging range of specialties would speak to their work and its applications in light of the Admiral’s presentation.

A diagram of the Bohr Model of the atom, in which a nucleus is surrounded by electrons on various orbital paths. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)The panel took a form akin to the Bohr model of the atom, which theorized in 1913 that atoms consisted of a positively-charged nucleus of protons and neutrons, orbited by electrons at varying levels of proximity.

With Griggs’s presentation the nucleus, CISS researchers would present their research as it related to various degrees despite their different orbits, all contributing to a thorough and coherent conversation about security in the Indo-Pacific.

VA Griggs assumed his role, beginning his talk by looking for a core essence of Australian identity and interests as a foreign policy actor. He spoke of an Australian obsession with figuring out “who we are and where we sit” globally and regionally, bemoaning that such soul-searching never seemed to sufficiently convince Australians of the inevitable conclusion that their country is an island: a maritime nation utterly dependent on the sea for prosperity and security.


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Q Effect Panel: Towards Complementarity


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.