Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Quantum International Relations?

I am still trying to get my thoughts around a comment that C. Uday Bhaksar made earlier this week, about new ways of thinking about foreign relations in the 21st century. He suggested that policymakers take a page from the sciences, specifically quantum computing. Unlike in traditional computing, based on a binary system--something is either a one or a zero, quantum computing works from the model that you can have a one, a zero, or a quantum superposition of the one and zero simultaneously.

Bhaksar argues that in foreign policy governments and analysts have to become more comfortable with balancing competitive and cooperative approaches simultaneously with the same country in terms of the bilateral relationship. It is a further reminder that we are moving away from a system where the assumption that if states cooperate on one set of issues, they will cooperate on everything else is no longer operative. And the fact that a country may have very serious competitive issues with another will not remove the obligation and the need to cooperate on other issues which are of vital interest to both.

It also challenges then the assumptions that serve as the foundation of traditional alliances. It also means, and let's be frank, that future administrations will have to pay a great more attention to questions of diplomacy and statecraft.

It's an idea I think should be explored in greater detail--and I submit it to TWR readers for comments.

How does a quantum computer balance two competing and contradictory instructions?
I know a fair amount about Quantum Computing and I will state my opinions below.

The QC is based on Quantum Mechanics which posits that if you perform the same experiment with identically prepared systems; then the results follow statistical patterns that are governed by the laws of quantum physics; Schrodinger Equation of Heisenberg Dynamical Laws (reformulations of each other).

QC wants to take advantage of this statistical property of measurement process (performing experiments) to reduce the effort involved in performing certain classes of computational problems that take exponential amount of time to perform with digital computers.
In my opinion, QC is over-sold. But, like many other scientific disciplines, it is being used by humanistic disciplines – in this case political economy – to give a veneer of rigor to an otherwise crude scientism.

I think you can talk about cooperation/competition within a strategic/tactical framework without having to invoke QM or QC. You can use statistical models that owe nothing to QM or QC and still help with making trends and tendencies apparent. I mean, the econometric guys, the hedge fund quantitative analysts have been using statistical analysis for years with varied amounts of success to make decisions. They did not need QM/QC and neither do you.
Anonymous 6:49 AM:

QM cannot handle 2 contradictory instructions; it can handle 2 contradictory states; arrow up (spin up) or arrow down (spin down).
I think this is better understood as a metaphor rather than saying QC provides a model. DC functions in binary mode all the time--country is friend/enemy, etc. So perhaps it is to use the metaphor of QC that foreign policy is not about only yes/no options.
Anonymous 11:11

Digital computers work on basis of binary arithmetic. This binary approach leads inevitably to an explosion of decision points that no algorithm can ever hope to wade through in a reasonable amount of time.

DC does not work on basis of binary logic; it seems to me. I think it works on the basis looking for "Zero Cost" solutions.

But I might be wrong.

As for QC being a metaphor - perhaps but it is not a metaphor that helps advance understanding - in my opinion.
I don't believe anyone has made a quantum computer that actually works, so maybe it could be a metaphor for something that foreign relations have still to achieve.

I agree that we need to invest more in diplomacy. Defense Secretary Gates noted in recent testimony before Congress that the entire State Department budget was just a small fraction of the Defense budget. If we're going to make diplomacy more effective, we need to give it the resources to be so.
Supposedly Alex Wendt at Ohio State is working on some form of this.
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