University of Sydney


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 –
  • 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.

Q Research, Q3

The University of Sydney launches world-leading nanoscience institute

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This week, the University of Sydney launches the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology (AINST), which aims to bring together the best researchers and research facilities to discover and harness new science at the nanoscale, including quantum science, to address some of society’s biggest challenges.

The Sydney Nanoscience Hub will be the new headquarters for AINST, and is among the most advanced facilities for measurement and experimental device fabrication in the world.

The Hub will be home to several different projects including the Quantum Control Lab lead by Associate Professor Michael Biercuk who was a Q3 Symposium participant on the Quantum Moment panel last February. Michael has also been involved in the public media discussing his team’s work in quantum innovation recently on ABC’s Q&A program. Professor David Reilly who leads the Quantum Nanoscience Lab research project at the Hub was also a participant at the first Q1 Symposium in 2014.

This week, AINST will be holding several different events as it officially launches, which included a free public talk by Professor Joanna Aizenberg from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard titled ‘Slippery Surfaces: how nanoscience is changing our material world‘.

A two-day Scientific Meeting will follow from Wednesday to find out the latest developments in nanoscale science and technology from eminent scientists from around the world, including research leaders from the institute. Professor Charles M. Marcus from the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark will be presenting a seminar ‘From the Atom to the Computer and Back Again – A 100 Year Round Trip‘ on the development of semiconductor-based computing technology and quantum mechanics. Registrations for the meeting are still open and can be done via AINST’s website.

Photo: Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology

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.”


All, Q2

Re-Remembering War and Peace in Uncertain Times

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In Thursday’s Q Lecture, Mckenzie Wark focused on the gaps that exist between data, models, and theory. On Friday, Andrea Loehr talked about the event horizon­: the range at which two objects are so far apart in the universe that the photons they emit will never reach each other. Saturday morning saw Badredine Arfi problematize the notion of a discernable present and question the stability of identities that cannot be auto-present. In both the physical or social sciences, the limits to knowledge—and, by extension, common connotations like fixity, stability, and security—have emerged as a preeminent theme for Project Q.

For Saturday’s “War: Memorial, Transformational, Gendered” panel, discussant Megan Mackenzie (University of Sydney/CISS) found this common theme once more. The presentations by Antoine Bousquet (Birkbeck/University of London), Laura Shepherd (University of New South Wales), and Jairus Grove (University of Hawai’i at Mānoa) each focused on new means of thought and action developing around the First World War, but Mackenzie noted that each presentation had a “focus on what we focus on” before introducing the notion of “blind spots” to push the conversation.


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

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.


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.