Decoherence

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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?” 

“Yes.”

“Was it a woman?” 

“Yes.” 

“Was it a man?” 

“Yes.” 

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

“Yes.” 

“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?” 

“Other?”

“The man?”

“Oh,...my 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

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