The Best of All Possible Worlds

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“Be the best “you” that you can be! Sign up for MarkovLife today, and unlock your true potential! With MarkovLife’s patented DecisionPaths, live with confidence, knowing that your decisions will be the best of all possible worlds. Sign up today on your computer or mobile device and guarantee your best possible life!”

 

-MarkovLife ad, early 21st century

 

Things used to be so simple.

You weighed your options, with what little information you had, and you made a choice. 

 

Done.

 

Sometimes it turned out well, sometimes not so well, but that was life. You couldn’t go back and change things. You could always keep second-guessing yourself with ‘what-ifs’. Keep yourself up at night, staring at the ceiling, asking yourself if you’d made the right choice. But you’d never really know how things might have been. Might be.

 

That all changed with MarkovLife. It was born out of some think tank project called Cassandra, trying to use math to predict the results of choices, or something like that. Apparently, one day someone had the bright idea to combine project Cassandra with quantum computing. I remember seeing articles when it first began, talking about “radically parallelized simulation” and “probabilistic evaluations”. Talking heads promised “an end to uncertainty” and you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about it.

First, governments used MarkovLife to predict the best places to send humanitarian aid, predict natural disasters, that kind of thing. It actually worked; thousands of lives were saved. 

 

Soon, MarkovLife was expanded, with agencies using it to determine what technologies to invest in, what policies to enact and so forth. It was hailed as the next and best tool to “advance the human condition”. MarkovLife was used more and more, for more and more tasks, eventually spreading to the public sector. For a small monthly fee, you too could make choices in absolute confidence. 

 

Soon, no one made any decisions without asking MarkovLife. 

 

Trying to decide whether or not to leave your job? 

MarkovLife. 

Should you get sandwiches, or pizza? 

MarkovLife. 

Swipe left or swipe right? 

Definitely MarkovLife.

 

Everything became so simple. You just chose the recommended path for your best and brightest future. No messy dates, no indigestion, no unexpectedly shitty bosses. Sure, sometimes your “best” option wasn’t very good, but it sure wasn’t any worse than it had been before that. On that, everyone could agree. 

 

And for a while, it was good.

 

Global happiness went up, standards of living increased, mortality rates dropped. Even technology advanced at an unprecedented rate. When you can accurately simulate billions of possible experimental outcomes from MarkovLife “Experiment Analysis SErvices”, it really cuts down on R&D time. The MarkovBuddy was built; a small brain implant, hooked into the global MarkovLIfe network, that made it possible to evaluate your decisions in real time, without a clunky cell phone. We were living a predictively-assisted golden age. A new breed of extreme sports even developed--unassisted decision-making. It seemed ludicrous to members of the older generations, but for people whose whole life had been a MarkovLife, making choices without knowing what might happen? It was almost unthinkable. 

 

Thinking back on it, the collapse was inevitable. Almost no one thought about the downside to optimal decision making, and those who tried to warn us were ignored as alarmists. It turns out just because someone can choose the best of all possible worlds, it doesn’t mean that any of their worlds are very good. Of course, there was nothing in MarkovLife to balance out decisions for the whole, at least not inherently. It was a tool, a digital hammer. Sure, it could be used to predict what decision would be best for us all within some time frame, but it rarely was. And when a fast food worker and a billionaire take their best paths, whose do you think makes more of a difference?

 

People began to rely on their MarkovBuddies more and more. Everyone was performing at their best possible level, so each decision became increasingly important. Room for error became smaller, and smaller and soon failure to use MarkovLife for on-the-job-decisions was grounds for firing. With most people so close to the edge, and with community optimization a premium service, charity support dropped to almost zero. Governments tried to rebuild social safety nets as more and more people began to slip from “getting by” to “not”. Riots began, with MarkovBuddies being used by police and rioters alike. Public transportation ground to a halt in many cities, pushing more people over the edge. Trucks of food were ambushed and looted, causing shortages. 

 

Eventually, we hit the tipping point. 

 

A lot of us didn’t survive the collapse. Some people just didn’t have enough to make it through, even doing their best. Others panicked, abandoning MarkovLife and ignoring their MarkovBuddies, believing that it must have been a scam all along. Of course, they’d never made their own decisions before, so going it on their own didn’t last long. Others became predators, using their MarkovBuddies to take what they needed. Some of us banded together and pooled our collective resources and decision-making, to build small communities, protected by MarkovLife.

 

Of course, MarkovLife, their servers, power-generation, security, and mobile device infrastructure, even the ability to build more MarkovBuddies, all survived. The company had, of course, been making the best possible choices. Their resources just meant that their best possible decisions were better than everyone else’s. 

 

So now we live day-to-day, but we have enough to get by. We try to make sure that we’re safe, that we have enough food, that we can improve things just a little bit, and maybe leave a better world behind for our children. And every time we make a choice, we use our MarkovBuddies. If we’re lucky, we’ll save enough to make sure that our children can get their own MarkovBuddies. We all want to be sure that our children can live with confidence and without MarkovLife, how else can we guarantee their best possible life?

 
About the Author: 
Max Mikel-Stites is a master’s graduate student at Virginia Tech in the Mathematics and BEAM departments. He grew up in Florida and moved to upstate New York to attend the University of Rochester, where he received degrees in Applied Math and Physics & Astronomy.
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

N is for ...
Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

W is for ...
Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

S is for ...
Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

V is for ...
Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

O is for ...
Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

J is for ...
Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics and is a technology to build qubits for quantum computers.

K is for ...
Key

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a way to create secure cryptographic keys, allowing for more secure communication.

Q is for ...
Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

U is for ...
Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

T is for ...
Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

L is for ...
Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

F is for ...
Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

E is for ...
Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

T is for ...
Time

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. This doesn’t seem to follow the laws of physics which work the same going forward or backward in time. Some physicists argue that there is a more fundamental quantum source for the arrow of time.

I is for ...
Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer

L is for ...
Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

M is for ...
Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

P is for ...
Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

B is for ...
Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

G is for ...
Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

A is for ...
Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

Q is for ...
Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

G is for ...
Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

R is for ...
Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

S is for ...
Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

S is for ...
Sensors

Researchers are harnessing the intricacies of quantum mechanics to develop powerful quantum sensors. These sensors could open up a wide range of applications.

H is for ...
Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

A is for ...
Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

R is for ...
Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

B is for ...
Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

A is for ...
Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

T is for ...
Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

C is for ...
Clocks

The most precise clocks we have are atomic clocks which are powered by quantum mechanics. Besides keeping time, they can also let your smartphone know where you are.

S is for ...
Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

P is for ...
Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

I is for ...
Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

W is for ...
Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

C is for ...
Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

M is for ...
Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

X is for ...
X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

C is for ...
Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

Y is for ...
Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

D is for ...
Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

K is for ...
Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

M is for ...
Maths

Quantum physics is the study of nature at the very small. Mathematics is one language used to formalise or describe quantum phenomena.

U is for ...
Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

H is for ...
Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

Z is for ...
Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

D is for ...
Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

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