The Quantum AI Revolution.

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Some 200 years ago, the Industrial Revolution drove workers from farms to factories, and created the grand cities of the world, fuelled by the fires of industry.

The monumental shift generated by quantum will be the same, with complex AI programs able to take over many of the jobs which employ many of us today. Once the substance of sci-fi series, the field has seen rapid development in recent years, much of the progress happening in the background; great leaps and strides, occurring with little fanfare in the media or political discourse; being blurred together with the growth of smart devices and AI systems.

Indeed many of us are happy with our new AI pals; software like Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and others are rapidly becoming part of people’s everyday routines. Smart devices and other ‘Internet-of-Things’ are becoming ubiquitous wherever we go. As powerful as these services may seem to the end-user in the street, they are still constrained by the limitations of processing power available. Of course the power in our phones and IoTs are nothing to compared to those that the quantum future will bring. Commentators have been shocked at the rate of development in the quantum field, just a few years ago the talk was quantum as a couple of decades way – at best; yet as of last year, multiple manufacturers have shown off functioning 50 qubit chips. While the practical applications of these chips are limited – mostly to weather modelling – they do show the viability of having a chip available for some commercial tasks in the near future.


A qubit short for quantum-bit, differ from that of a ‘classic’ computer chip. Whereas a classic chip is limited to returning a 1 or a 0 for each calculation, a qubit can exist in three states, 1, 0 or 1 & 0. This escalation of states vastly improves the rate in which calculations are made, and opens the door to new and potentially disruptive applications by exponentially increasing computing power.

So why is this important? As Friedman discusses in his recent New York Times op-ed; Quantum computing will open up the ability to process larger amounts of information, faster; revolutionising the way that we interface with artificial intelligence in our daily lives. Existing ‘unsolvable problems’ for classic computers, could with quantum assistance, see solutions in minutes, or even seconds. Experts predict that soon, many jobs will disappear fully to AI; trains, trucks and taxis are likely the first to be automated with the explosive growth of driverless or autonomous vehicles. Here in Australia, the same questions are being asked about other fields of work, what will end up automated in the near future?

While we aren’t there yet, the technology that quantum heralds will quickly be able to create AIs which can do most “routine and repetitive tasks”. This, as Friedman highlights, raises concerns about numerous economies’ middle classes reliant on this type of work for their livelihoods.  But also more worryingly, the same technologies will invalidate exist methods which we use to secure all our data. The same dramatically increased processing power can also be applied to breaking the encryption of our health records, bank accounts, and personal devices. This goes without saying the threat that quantum poses to state-secrets, and the vast troves of data that are held by governments, ripe for the taking if our ability to secure is taken away. With quantum automative AI, Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics – namely a Robot may not allow a human to come to harm – may no longer be a thing of fiction; rather a required tool in the near-future.

The issue of about quantum and artificial intelligence will be the subject of the Q Forum at 6pm, February 15 2018 at the General Lecture Theatre, University of Sydney, which kicks off the the fourth annual Q Symposium, ‘QC3I’:  Quantum Computing, Communication, Control and Intelligence.

All, Project Q, Q3

The Q3 Symposium: Quantum Moment panel


The inaugural panel for Q3 began with the observation that, “Political Science had given up on the future.” In his opening words, Director James Der Derian remarked that what has hindered our ability to prepare for the shocks to the international system has been the abandonment of the essential imperative to speculate. When the premise of a peace and security symposium is speculation, identifying vantage points becomes the primary challenge. Assembling thinkers from a spectrum of methods, disciplines, and cultures, the opening panel traced three of these points.



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

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.