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A new letter from the Director of the Centre for International Security Studies

18 February, 2014

CISS Director James Der Derian writes about all things quantum, and the upcoming annual Michael Hintze Lecture and Q Symposium, 'Peace and Security in a Quantum Age'

My views on the media’s role in foreign affairs are heavily influenced by the notion of “quantum diplomacy,” for which I must credit a physicist friend at Stanford, Sid Drell. An axiom of quantum theory is that when you observe and measure some piece of a system, you inevitably disturb the whole system. So the process of observation itself is a cause of change. That is all too often the case when a TV camera is right in the middle of some chaotic event, trying to capture its essence objectively. Quantum diplomacy holds that true reality is hard to record.
                                                                                                                                                       -  George Shultz, 2010

In the course of seeking a nuclear weapons treaty in the 1980s, Secretary of State George Shultz and theoretical physicist and arms control expert Sydney Drell coined the term ‘quantum diplomacy’ to describe the difficulties of understanding and negotiating complex security issues under the unblinking eye of the media. 

Thirty years later Edward Snowden dropped the Q Bomb. Bringing the new year in with a leak, he revealed a top-secret NSA programme (‘Penetrating Hard Targets’) to build a quantum computer. A quantum computer uses ‘qubits’ that superposition as one, zero or both, making it possible to exponentially increase the speed and volume of calculations. An operation that would take a classic binary computer centuries would take a quantum computer seconds. 

One month later quantum computing emerged from the shadow world of the NSA to the front cover of TIME magazine, which sported a cover image of what looked to be a car battery encased in gold and microprocessors. The bold yellow text belied the banality of the object:  

It promises to solve some of humanity’s most complex problems.  It’s backed by Jeff Bezos, NASA and the CIA.  Each one costs $10,000,000 and operates at 273° below zero. And nobody knows how it actually works. The Infinity Machine.

This week, in anticipation of a quantum shift, and made possible through the generous support of The University of Sydney and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, CISS stages the first Q Symposium, ‘Peace and Security in a Quantum Age’. The symposium starts at the University Quadrangle with the Michael Hintze Lecture by Professor Lene Hansen on 20 February (open to the public) and then moves to the historic Q Station at the entry to Sydney Harbour.  

Q gathers peace and security scholars and experts as well as scientists and humanists, diplomats and soldiers, journalists and filmmakers to address global events of high consequence, the ‘white swans’ of the Southern Hemisphere. Q draws on the latest innovations in the natural, social and human sciences to explore reconfigurations of global power, emergent peace and security issues and the role of networked global media in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. Q investigates a wide range of topics, including rising powers, new actors, financial crises, terrorist attacks, cyberconflicts, uberveillance, pandemics as well as natural and unnatural disasters. With Australian universities leading the way in quantum computing and communication, Q focuses on the political, strategic, diplomatic, financial and ethical implications of a quantum shift from the microphysical and metaphorical to the macrophysical and actual.  

Come to the Michael Hintze Lecture, visit Qsymposium.net and stay tuned for the first CISS video documentary, ‘The Q Effect’. 

Contact:Raelene Loong
Phone: 61 2 9351 7663 (Mon & Tues)
Email:raelene.loong@sydney.edu.au

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