On the importance of the free availability, development and distribution of encryption technology, and the dystopian implications that follow if we fail to protect ourselves against government intrusion in the digital era.
In response to the highly-acclaimed, largely accurate, yet somewhat opaque and authoritarian Quantum Bullshit Detector Twitter account (@BullshitQuantum),
I am pleased to introduce the democratised equivalent, the Democratic Quantum Bullshit Detector Bullshit (@QuantumDemocrat), where all bullshit is determined by you, the people, via Twitter polls, expressing your First Amendment quantum rights on what is bullshit and what is not.
Interestingly, the first result (voting still open at the time of writing this), indicates that three quarters of the community has faith in the original authoritarian Quantum Bullshit Detector, determining it to be 'Not Bullshit'.
Happy bullshitting! And be thankful that you live in a world where we are all free to call bullshit!
Nb: the editor fully acknowledges the meaninglessness of Twitter polls, as was recently confirmed by a Twitter poll. But that is not to say we can't have fun, provide a platform to hold one another to account, and the polls and comments can't trigger useful dialogue, which I very much encourage.
When I was in Switzerland last year climbing in the Alps, I noticed that CBD (the marijuana extract, Cannabidiol) was available over the counter in pharmacies, without a script. I’d been wanting to test out CBD for a long time, given its reputation in assisting with improving sleep cycles, and alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression and mood disorders, without the medical side effects of prescription meds, such as benzos (liable to cause tolerance, addiction, and subsequent withdrawal) or SSRIs (which have countless side effects, including rapid weight change and loss of sleep), both of which I have used in the past, but want to avoid as much as conceivably possible.
The reason CBD struck me as such an attractive alternative is that, to the best of my understanding, it:
- Is not psychoactive (in the recreational sense that it makes you high).
- Does not cause dependence or addiction.
- Does not lead to withdrawal symptoms upon cessation.
- Is non-toxic.
- Does not have adverse side effects such as weight change, or liver/kidney problems.
- Can be safely used long-term.
- Does not cause any kind of hangover or inhibited cognitive or physical function that hinders work.
- Cannot result in overdose.
That is to say, CBD is safer than taking an aspirin or a Panadol.
Note that CBD is entirely distinct from THC, the recreationally sought-after cannabis compound that makes you high. THC also has legitimate medical uses, also legal in Australia for medical purposes. But this is not what I was exploring – I only wanted CBD.
Upon trialling over-the-counter CBD in Switzerland, my self-reported response was very positive. My partner and climbing buddy, who was with me during this trial, agreed with my self-assessment. We both agreed that this was something worth pursuing once back in Australia, given that only just recently (in the last few years) Australia had legalised medical cannabis.
So upon returning to Australia, I went to see a GP about it. They declined and said to see a specialist. I spoke to a neurologist (for about $600, and a significant waiting time). They also declined. I spoke to a psychiatrist (for about another $600, and another substantial wait time), who also declined. Using their own words (paraphrasing),
The medical marijuana legislation is a complete shambles. You’re best off going to one of the dodgy telephone companies or sourcing it on the black market.
I did both.
First the black market.
Because it’s the black market, despite it being quick (as in 30 minutes quick), there is by definition no quality control, and no guarantee that what you’re getting is what’s advertised (every recreational drug user is aware of how large the variance is in the purity of black market products – Don't trust the coke from the Ukranianian syndicate on the north side, whatever you do!). That is, if the intent is a medical one, rather than a recreational one, where you require consistent and predictable dosage, this is obviously completely unreliable. Anyway, I approached one of the underground Uberised drug dealers — who asked if I'd like any LSD tabs or MDMA pills while he was at it (I won't comment on the answer I provided). This turns up.
It certainly smelt like distilled pot. I have no idea what was in it though. It doesn’t even have a label! (Apparently it was illegally imported from Amsterdam, and therefore was legit).
So I moved onto the grey market, via one of the seemingly legitimate online dealers, who don’t advertise the CBD content overtly (instead just calling it ‘hemp oil’), in which case it’s just an obvious online racket via lack of enforcement of guarantee. Here’s me with a bottle from one of the 'legit' online suppliers. They privately communicated that it contained 10% CBD. I have literally no idea whether that’s true or not, and it's not even written anywhere on the label.
After that whole nonsensical debacle, on which I wasted hundreds of dollars, I decided to try the (using the words of the psychiatrist) ‘dodgy phone guys’. What awaited me was the most stunningly medically unethical distribution and protection racket I could conceivably imagine. The whole system is so self-evidently implicating that it might as well be considered a political sex scandal.
First, I had to send through my doctor's certificates by email, then have a phone interview with a 'specialist' doctor, that lasted less than 5 minutes and cost $95. The doc immediately said “yep, all good, you meet the criteria, we’ll lodge an application for you”. On my behalf, they sent an individual application to the federal government for approval. Despite only requesting CBD, not THC, each application has to be individually considered, and signed off on by the federal government. The ‘dodgy telephone guys’ specifically advertise that they are experts in lobbying the federal government on behalf of their patients. It’s not beginning to sound the slightest bit unethical at this point, is it? Paying a highly secretive, non-disclosing third-party to lobby the federal government for your right to access a legally sanctioned medicine? It's literally easier for me to walk into a GP and fabricate a reason for requiring strong synthetic opiates than this (I know). Nothing to see here, guys...
Two weeks later I receive a congratulatory email from the company, advising me that my application with the federal government was successful, and I am now approved for CBD use!! Hurrah!
Does this mean I get a script that I can use to approach competing pharmacies to seek the most competitive price? Oh no, that’s where you’d be forgiven for thinking that a pro-free market, neo-liberal government were in power.
Instead, it turns out that the doctor is part of a fully vertically-integrated supply chain between the prescribing doctor, producer and distributor. I don’t even get to hold the physical script in my hand at any point. Instead, the doctor ships the oral CBD product to a cooperating pharmacy, from whom I pick it up. The cost of the product was never even advertised beforehand online. Who wants price transparency to enable market competition? The cost is only revealed after you’ve already invested into the upfront cost, at which point they have vendor lock-in regardless. Anyway, at a cost of $400 for a 25mL bottle, I was able to pick up the product several weeks later from a nearby pharmacy. Btw, as an initial customer they gave me a two-for-one deal, which I’m pretty sure would be illegal (or at least considered an unethical medical marketing practise – except in the United States) for any other medicine. Can you imagine if they started offering two-for-one first customer deals on Oxies? What could possibly go wrong?
Upon turning up at the pharmacy, a small privately run pharmacy in Newtown, the poor guy was so overwhelmed (showing visible signs of anxiety — he probably needs some CBD himself) by the complexities of the online system, that after me sitting there for more than half an hour waiting, he completely gave up and gave me the product, promising to navigate the ridiculously over-protective online system later on when he had the time.
So then I had this, an actual legitimate CBD product, with pharmaceutical quality control, and all the other bells and whistles you’d expect in contemporary medicine, at a cost of only $400 for a small bottle of plant extract (notwithstanding the two-for-one first customer deal).
Seriously, it’d be so much cheaper if I just started smoking bongs every night, especially given that none of this is PBS subsidised, leaving legitimate medical users with astronomical out-of-pocket expenses (in excess of $10k annually from some patients I have spoken to). If I did so, it might even score me a free sexual interaction with the NSW Police (get your annual NSW Police sexual abuse calendar here).
So after many months and countless hundreds of dollars down the drain, I finally have a legitimate medical supplier. Of course, given that the supply chain is fully vertically-integrated from doctor to producer to distributor, this thing is so obviously intentionally overprotected that I could swear it was some kind of mob-like political protection racket. In fact, I’d be willing to place bets on who’s friends with the federal Health Minister at this point, given that they need to be individually lobbied on behalf of patients, and that the suppliers benefit from full vendor lock-in (should I want to switch to another supplier, I’d have to go through their full process from scratch).
And all of this red-taped protectionism coming from so-called Liberal governments. Give me a break — I’m willing to take a position in the betting markets you guys are sleeping with the doctors.
PS: To give you an idea of just how safe and non-psychoactive CBD is, here's a picture I took of a bottle of Swiss 10% CBD oil, of which I drank half the bottle (almost 100 times the recommended daily dose) near the summit of the Lagginhorn in Switzerland, at an altitude of 3,750m, from which I nonetheless managed to safely return to the hut in time for dinner, despite the route being almost entirely unprotected. Here's the video to prove it.
There's an enormous cost and regulatory barrier of entry to people seeking access to medical cannabis, and from what I gather it's not uncommon for people to fork out in excess of $1000 in out-of-pocket expenses to gain entry into the system, not to mention the time required to navigate it. So to save you all from an enormous waste of time and money...
Executive summary: Use the dodgy phone guys for now, because for the remainder of the medical industry, from GP to high-charging specialist, it isn't worth their time to do the paperwork.
Or buy a bong...
Following the revelations, prosecution, and subsequent death of former billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, relating to his incredibly sinister history of sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors, and the multitude of high-profile names implicated in the countless and ongoing allegations, my own community — the quantum computing academic community — has even found itself being drawn in, via the research donations given to prominent MIT Professor Seth Lloyd by Jeffrey Epstein.
For those who don’t know, Seth is an extremely prolific and influential figure in our field, who has made a beyond-staggering academic contribution to our area of research.
Although there hasn’t been any suggestion (to my knowledge) that Seth was in any way involved in or supported Epstein's sexual depravity, following the revelations that he had accepted donations from Epstein to fund his research, who is currently on paid leave, many are calling for him to be dismissed from MIT outright for his lack of judgement in accepting these donations, including student-led protests against him.
I have no knowledge whatsoever of the nature of the personal relationship between the two, what they talked about when Seth visited Epstein in jail, or anything remotely along those lines. I want to avoid all of that altogether, because I’m simply not in a position to have an opinion on it, less so to express one.
I don’t personally know Seth very well, having only ever socialised with him on a few occasions at conferences overseas (of course, I know his academic work very well). Needless to say, I never knew Epstein at all. So none of this should be interpreted as some kind of underhanded attempt to 'stand up for a mate', or anything of the sort. There are no partiality issues at play here.
Having said this, what I want to raise is (in my mind) a very glaring moral equivalence between Seth's actions and something that is, moralistically, highly comparable, which people in our research community engage in all the time (and to be clear, I am no exception to this) — accepting money from major international defence contractors, where in many instances it is very well known they knowingly provide material support for war crimes and other crimes against humanity at a global scale, engage in war profiteering, and use their immense wealth to engage in extensive political lobbying to forever promote the expansion of this self-reinforcing agenda of permanent armed conflict.
They also happen to dish out tons of cash to researchers in forefront scientific areas, such as ours.
I recall the first time I accepted a university position directly funded by a major international defence contractor (they financed my entire salary at the time). I was extremely aware of their highly morally questionable history. Upon being offered the position, a point in my life at which I had few other career options, I genuinely emotionally and morally struggled with myself in ways I never had before (to the point of falling into a prolonged state of deep depression upon making the decision to accept it), and internally debated with myself about it for quite some time before coming to terms with it via the following conclusion:
So long as the research I am conducting using their money is open research, accessible to all, and not in any way kept secret for the select benefit of the financiers, then every dollar I accept from them is a dollar less spent on raining down missiles on some impoverished country, under illegal military assault or occupation. Surely it’s far better for me to take their cash and use it to advance science for the benefit of all, than let it contribute to rolling the next cruise missile off the production line?
I’ve thought about it a lot since, and I am still in retrospect very comfortable with the above moral justification, and would be open to accepting further such cash contributions from similar entities, assuming the caveats and conditions stated above remained in place.
Without having any special inside knowledge of the Lloyd vs Epstein case, what is clear to me is that there seems to be a significant moral equivalence between these two scenarios. As far as I'm aware (and do correct me if I'm wrong), all research conducted by Seth using Epstein's money was openly-published scientific research, where the funding source (Epstein) was acknowledged accordingly for financial support (as is the expected scientific norm, in the same way that defence contractors are acknowledged accordingly).
What I’m interested in hearing from those in academia (or outside for that matter), who receive money, directly or indirectly, from highly morally questionable defence sources (which is most of us at some point or another in our careers as quantum computer scientists), is what is fundamentally different between accepting money from sex criminals as opposed to war criminals, provided that the research is scientifically open, for all to access, and does not preferentially benefit the financier in any way?
One could indeed go further by pointing out that those accepting research funds from defence contractors knowingly engage in the following:
- Accepting money from organisations known to promote and contribute to illegal wars.
- Enhancing their reputation via the required funding source acknowledgements in published work.
- Developing science and technology that may be of direct material benefit to their efforts.
- Enhancing their networking and influence potential, via the provision of direct high-level access to upper university leadership.
- Reporting on the latest scientific advancements, providing them with the intelligence to project a potential competitive edge.
- Recognition within the academic community as the 'go-to people' to seek partnerships when major developments are made.
- In some instances, the organisations provide direct guidance as to the nature of the research being undertaken (in others there are very few strings attached).
In the case of donations sourced from a private individual, much of this does not apply. Certainly, networking ability and reputational enhancement may be of benefit. Direct scientific and technological developments are highly unlikely to be — certainly not in any manner that would foreseeably benefit the depraved acts of someone like Epstein.
The second issue — that of Seth visiting Epstein in jail following his initial conviction — is one where I believe we should all be extremely ethically mindful of what the nature of that visit might have entailed. Were a friend of mine to end up in jail, for whatever reason, I'd almost certainly pay them a visit. That would not automatically imply that the visit was a tacit statement of endorsement — it could very well be entirely the opposite. Speaking to someone needn't at all imply it be positive, pleasant or supportive in nature. This is something that presumably none of us are in a position to pass full judgement on, based on lack of information. That's not to say I don't absolutely recognise that making such a visit at all brings with it enormous potential for a complete PR disaster (clearly that's exactly what followed).
I want to be absolutely clear that I'm not attempting to morally absolve or implicate anyone (Seth Lloyd, MIT, myself, my colleagues, our industry, nor the academic community at large), nor take sides. Rather, what I would like to promote is consistency in the way we view such issues, from a humanist perspective, both within academia and beyond, and hear sound and consistent arguments as to why Seth Lloyd's decision to accept research funding from a sex criminal is inherently different to (or indeed worse than) the far more common, and accepted, practise of accepting research money from known war criminals and war profiteers (which most in my industry are guilty of — especially those at the top).
In terms of the way in which I have personally morally justified accepting money (under appropriate constraints) from war profiteers, why should a similar moral justification not apply more generally, for example to the scenario presently involving Seth Lloyd?
If Lloyd is to lose his job for having used the money from a known sex criminal for the purposes of open scientific research, should the rest of us also lose ours for accepting money derived from war profiteers, who support the violation of international law, knowingly enable war crimes, and other crimes against humanity?
Frankly, those of us who have, have far more to answer for. And I, like most, am one of them.
Nb: I realise that writing anything whatsoever on this particular topic at the present moment is incredibly dangerous territory to wade into. Given the nature of the crimes committed by Epstein, any discussion of this topic has tremendous potential to cause enormous hurt to countless people. I really do want to make this clear, and I mean this as genuinely as I possibly can, that in writing this the absolute last thing I want to do is come across as trivialising the depravity of Epstein, or turning a blind eye to it. For very personal reasons, the crimes Epstein committed are ones that are deeply emotionally upsetting to me. If any reader interprets this post as dismissive or trivialising in tone, let me assure you that's not at all what was intended. My intention is very different to that — depraved sex criminals aren't the only criminals in the world, and if we are to take a strong moral stance against criminal depravity, and ensure that scientific research funding is sparkling clean, it should be applied in a self-consistent and uniform manner. To all the victims of Epstein, and those like him, you have my unwavering support.
In Australia, call Lifeline (13 11 14) if these issues affect you. Similar free and confidential services are available in many other jurisdictions around the world.
I'm pleased to present the first edition of the annual NSW Police calendar.
Get your free PDF copy here.
Sydney fireworks (2019-2020), taken from Blues Point Tower.
I'm glad Sydney went ahead with this, while giving my absolute respect to those who have perished or lost their homes in the surrounding fires. As I watched in amazement at the display, I chose to dedicate that time to reflecting on my gratitude to the RFS volunteers. A celebration needn’t be disrespectful. It can be used to show gratitude too. Perhaps the City of Sydney should have made such a dedication. Thank you RFS.
Thank you for your invitation to review this manuscript for your journal. Unfortunately, I must decline the invitation given that, as a matter of principle, I do not support or endorse the activities of for-profit scientific journals.
The scientific community has previously offered this industry, free of charge:
- Conducting all scientific research.
- Writing all scientific manuscripts.
- Acting voluntarily in editorial roles.
- Performing all refereeing.
- (i.e the entire workload of your organisation, other than hosting the website on which you serve the PDFs).
In exchange, we receive:
- Massive journal subscription fees.
- Article download fees.
- Article publication fees.
- Intimidation tactics employed against us when we prefer not to be a part of it.
- Anti-competitive and financially predatory distribution tactics.
- Institutionalised mandates for the above.
This is not a symbiotic relationship, but a parasitic one, for the larger part financed by the taxpayer, who should rather be financing our research. I can no longer endorse this one-sided relationship, in which for-profit journals effectively tax scientific research, to the tune of billions of dollars annually, often using coercive and intimidatory sales tactics, whilst providing very little or no value in return. This capital is best spent on what it was intended for — scientific research for the benefit of humankind — training students, hiring research staff, financing equipment, travel and infrastructure — to which your organisation contributes nothing whatsoever other than to extort value.
In addition to declining this offer, please for future reference:
- Remove my name from your referee database.
- Immediately cease and desist from using intimidatory tactics when I decline to volunteer my labour (which is of very high value) to your pursuit of profit (in exchange for nothing).
- Hassling me for failing to voluntarily contribute my labour to your revenue-raising is tantamount to harassment and extortion.
- Do not request that I voluntarily act as your journal editor.
- Do not work in cahoots with national scientific funding agencies to enforce your own vendor lock in, thereby effectively mandating your own services, which are in fact of very little or no value whatsoever. This in an indirect form of taxation upon scientific research, which I have no interest in paying, and which we should be expected or forced to.
- I do not intend personally to submit any further manuscripts to your journal for consideration (if my co-authors do, I won’t stand in their way).
Personal note to the Editor: this should not be construed as a personal attack against you, who I absolutely respect, but rather against the industry which is exploiting you in a slave-like work relationship, whilst using you as a conduit to engage me for the same purpose. I write this as an act of solidarity with you, not as a personal attack against you.
We advance human knowledge for the benefit of humanity, and provide it as a gift for all.
(This post may be freely linked to, reused, or modified without acknowledgement)
Several days ago NZ PM Jacinda Ardern released her now-viral 2-minute policy achievement challenge.
I have prepared a response on behalf of Australia.
With my PhD student Madhav Krishnan Vijayan, and old PhD colleague Austin Lund.
Full paper available at https://arxiv.org/abs/1910.03093
Error-detection and correction are necessary prerequisites for any scalable quantum computing architecture. Given the inevitability of unwanted physical noise in quantum systems and the propensity for errors to spread as computations proceed, computational outcomes can become substantially corrupted. This observation applies regardless of the choice of physical implementation. In the context of photonic quantum information processing, there has recently been much interest in passive linear optics quantum computing, which includes boson-sampling, as this model eliminates the highly-challenging requirements for feed-forward via fast, active control. That is, these systems are passive by definition. In usual scenarios, error detection and correction techniques are inherently active, making them incompatible with this model, arousing suspicion that physical error processes may be an insurmountable obstacle. Here we explore a photonic error-detection technique, based on W-state encoding of photonic qubits, which is entirely passive, based on post-selection, and compatible with these near-term photonic architectures of interest. We show that this W-state redundant encoding techniques enables the suppression of dephasing noise on photonic qubits via simple fan-out style operations, implemented by optical Fourier transform networks, which can be readily realised today. The protocol effectively maps dephasing noise into heralding failures, with zero failure probability in the ideal no-noise limit.