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Let me tell you the story of my first murder case. Don’t worry this won’t be one of those stories- no blood and gore here, nothing to keep you up at night. I am not that kind of detective. 

The woman came into my office sometime in the month of April. She had one of those androgynous bobs that were popular back in the twenties and wore her lipstick bright red. Her skin was olive toned and flawless as if her beauty was a kind of compensation for her people’s suffering. Like me, she was a child of refugees, but she had grown up here and didn’t have an accent. On another world line where I dated my clients I might have asked her out. But I wasn’t on another world line. 

“I think my father’s been killed,” she said after introducing herself as Ms. Amaya Abrahamian. I let her know that this wasn’t the kind of human evil I dealt with. If she thought there had been a murder she should go to the police, or if that failed, one of those legion of private security services stuffed with goons from the war. She said the police had already decided her father had died of a heart attack, and that despite her Mouawad handbag she couldn’t afford a private security service. I kept trying to find a way to politely ask her to leave.

“Will you amuse me in a game?” I asked. Then I told her that I wished to ask her a series of questions to which she should give me only yes or no answers. She nodded. 

“Do you know anyone who would want your father dead?” 


“Was it a woman?” 


“Was it a man?” 


“Were these people close enough to your father that they could have made a murder look like something else?” 


“Okay, game’s over.”

“What was that all about?” 

“It just a game. It was cooked up by a guy called Wheeler-about a hundred years ago. I play it with all of my clients. I find that most people already know the answer to the riddle they’re asking me to solve. All I’m for is asking the right questions.”  

“Oh,” she said. I was hoping I had convinced her to take her nouveau riche paranoia elsewhere, but she just sat there like a stone. 

“Look, if you tell me which persons fit the above description I’ll look into it. My fees are listed.”

 “The killer is my father’s wife.”

“Not your mother?” 

“She was killed in the war,” she said, blinking. 

“Sorry. Who’s the other suspect?” 


“The man?”

“Oh, brother Hashem. He may have wanted my father dead, but he’s no murderer.”

“Alright, that’s all I’ll need for now”. 

My entire career rests on exploiting fundamental flaws in the source code. The human kluge bugged up with laziness, stupidity, and greed, and the NET built atop the crackable foundation of RSA. I hadn’t planned on becoming a parasite, things used to be so simple.

I’d spent the first half of my life as a computer scientist riding the hype- cycle of quantum computation. As always the money men didn’t listen to the skeptical geeks who pointed out that QCs wouldn’t be a crystal ball allowing them to game markets or run billion dollar businesses out of a box. Entanglement was a powerful tool if you could preserve coherence and keep it from spreading, but the more qubits you needed the harder it was. The big shots heard only what they wanted to hear. They paid no attention when we said that unless you had structure QCs might not solve problems classical computers struggle with, but they would certainly destroy the basis of almost all encryption, something we’d know since good old Shor. 

When the QC bubble burst it left me and thousands like me without a job. It also left everyone who’d been too lazy or stupid to not secure their data with post-quantum crypto vulnerable to creeps who could now unmask all of their secrets. What else was I supposed to do?  

The suspects in this case were all exploitable. One call to some old friends with access to QCs and I was deep into their accounts. The new Mrs. Abrahamian’s profile screamed gold-digger, but there was nothing in terms of incriminating texts. However, she was there when the old guy croaked, and looking at their health-stats they must have had a hell of a fight a few hours before. 

Then I saw what looked like a smoking gun. According to his bank, Mr. Abrahamian was a small time jeweler. He didn't have a fortune but enough for people to fight over as if it were one. And he had made a major change to his will the night he died, signing over the bulk of his business to his new wife. Why hadn’t the cops looked at this?            

Texts between Amya and her brother added a layer. Their father texted them about the change, and they flipped. That’s why she wanted a murder pegged on her step-mother- to nullify the will. Hashem’s GPS soon put him in the house. But like his sister said he wasn’t a killer- Mr. Abrahamian was very much alive when he left. 

Lastly there was the call record of Amya herself. I don’t know what she said to her father- I only have his health-stats synced to the time of their call, but whatever it was, it killed him. His body must have known what was coming. He died alone in his study scrolling through pictures of his deceased wife. Entanglement is best when monogamous.       

The verdict I gave Amya wasn’t murder but decoherence. Her father was entangled with a trophy wife after his money and two kids greedy for their take. In the superposition none of them had killed him and all of them had killed him. Becoming too entangled is the same thing as falling apart. 

About the Author: 
Rick Searle is an affiliate scholar for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology where his essays occur regularly and a member of The Future of Life Institute. He is the author and editor of the book Rethinking Machine Ethics in the Age of Ubiquitous Technology.
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

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.

D is for ...

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

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!

T is for ...

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.

K is for ...

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

X is for ...

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 ...

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

P is for ...

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.

L is for ...

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!

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.

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.

I is for ...

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

T is for ...

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.

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.

S is for ...

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.

E is for ...

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.

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

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.

W is for ...

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.

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.

R is for ...

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!

D is for ...

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.

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.

T is for ...

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.

G is for ...

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.

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.

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.

K is for ...

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

I is for ...

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

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.

A is for ...

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

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.

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.

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.

M is for ...

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

N is for ...

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.

M is for ...

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.

U is for ...

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

C is for ...

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.

R is for ...

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

C is for ...

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

G is for ...

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

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.

Q is for ...

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.

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.

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.

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”.

S is for ...

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

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