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Joel gripped the corner of the envelope like it was contaminated. For the last fifteen years, the birthday cards from his mother had contained cash. This year the card contained a certificate to Fortuna. After seeing the holographic logo, he’d shoved it back in the envelope.

“I made you an appointment,” she said.

“You don’t need me to move the mulch into the garden tomorrow, do you?”


“Thanks.” Her pursuit of grandchildren was shameless. In Joel’s mind, it would happen when it happened. From his mother’s perspective, it wasn’t happening quick enough.

The side project of a research trio at Quantum Computing Research Institute, Fortuna had caused a sensation when six months after its inauguration each of the thousands of couples it matched were still together. The one-year mark and millions of couples. Then two years. Five. It was a statistical impossibility.

That was what quantum computing had done, made the impossible possible. After they’d broken conventional encryption, QCRI turned to chemical modeling and weather forecasting. Their Knapsack project became the de facto SAT solver, providing optimal solutions to non-polynomial time problems. Then Fortuna arrived and changed the game of matchmaking.

Sandra had been with Fortuna since day one, a test engineer snatched away from QCRI by the offshoot corporation. Seven years ago, they’d needed to fill the database and created an employee incentive program. Now, Fortuna retained her because she was The Anomaly.

Sandra’s qubits had been in excited superposition for years without reaching the decoherence state. Technically, they only existed for a q-second. But quantum time had its own idiosyncrasies and exact durations could only be theorized. Who was to say her qubits weren’t the expanding, shivering spheres of bright energy she imagined? Maybe their intersecting wave forms had been cancelling and boosting each other for years on end. The result was the same, either way. No match.

Researchers at heart, Fortuna kept her around. Sandra suspected it was because her NDA expired a few short years after her employment ended and they didn’t want word getting out that there was an anomaly. Eventually, they’d promoted her to managing the East Coast division. It paid well, and most days she enjoyed her job. Except when she had to scan someone.

Fortuna processed a client’s digital personality simulacrum and didn’t require an on-site scan. Occasionally someone’s DPS was incomplete or poorly trained. Less frequent were the paranoids worried about identity theft, brainwashing, and cloned doppelgangers. Lazy or crazy. Sandra wondered which type would show up for the morning’s appointment.

Fortuna occupied a skyrise with a view of the ocean. Joel’s appointment was in room 304, not high enough to catch a glimpse of the water. The attractive young woman behind the desk smiled and offered him tea.

“How long is this going to take?” he asked and took the teacup.

“The scan? Minutes. The match?” Sandra shrugged. This was Kit’s job, but he was on vacation and she was the only qualified person on site. “Possibly before you walk out the door. Most people are matched within a week.” They always loved hearing that, but the man’s posture and tight lips indicated something like reluctance.

“Fortuna will start with a synapse reading. You’ll experience mild hallucinations as it stimulates different regions of your brain. Then, the analytics run,” she said. Lazy or crazy, he seemed to be neither. She explained the process as she prepped the sensor halo.

Joel listened to words he didn’t understand. They said no one really understood quantum systems, but she was convincing with her talk of uncertainty principles and probability matrices and nontrivial entangled states.

“It’s not as clinical as it sounds,” Sandra said. She placed the halo around his head. There was something spiritual in witnessing Fortuna perform its elegant calculations that exposed the organization of the universe.

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see.” She took the teacup from him.

“Should I close my eyes?” Joel asked.

“It doesn’t matter.”

The halo vibrated and then Joel was elsewhere.

Sandra wondered who he saw. She’d scanned herself plenty of times, searching for a fault in the scan that never emerged. He’d see flashes of potential matches proposed and rejected as Fortuna read his reactions to stimuli. He’d experience love with each. That love might last a night, a week, a year, during the quest for the one that would last a lifetime.

Among countless others, the young woman from Fortuna flashed though Joel’s awareness. Images and emotions battered him into overstimulation. It was over almost as soon as it began. The experience faded and she removed the halo from his head.

Sandra received a priority notification from Fortuna as the man came out of the scan. She’d been matched to the man in the chair. Her hands fumbled the halo.

Joel caught the halo before it dropped into his lap. Feather-light and sleek, it looked expensive. A notification from Fortuna announced his match. She stood in front of him.

Joel needed to leave. He stood and pushed the halo into her hands. “The appointment was a gift,” he said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think I’d meet you in person right away. I’m not ready.”

Overwhelmed by pinging notifications and congratulations from colleagues, Sandra barely registered his words. She’d hoped no one watched her file after all these years, but that was not the case. “I understand,” she said and walked him to the door. “You can reach me through Fortuna if you change your mind.”

Joel left.

Sandra stared at nothing. Things used to be so simple when she’d been The Anomaly. Her future at QCRI just got complicated. Would they let her go now that she had a match? And for nothing, since he wasn’t ready.

On his way home, Joel passed through doubt to curiosity. He had vague recollections of her from the scan. Feelings, mostly, of comfort, strength, and joy. More tangible than what a brief meeting might produce.

The next day, Joel called Sandra.


About the Author: 
Annie Tupek holds a master's degree in computer science. She resides in Oregon where she spends her days developing software for an aviation company and her nights developing stories. When not in front of a computer, she can be found knitting and exploring the Pacific Northwest.
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

U is for ...

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

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

E is for ...

As the world makes more advances in quantum science and technologies, it is time to think about how it will impact lives and how society should respond. This mini-documentary by the Quantum Daily is a good starting point to think about these ethical issues. 


T is for ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. On microscopic quantum scales, this seems less certain. A recent experiment shows that the forward pointing of the arrow of time remains a fundamental rule for quantum measurements.

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.

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.

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.

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. This column from Quanta Magazine ​delves into the fundamental physics behind quantum computing.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Q is for ...
Quantum States

Quantum states, which represent the state of affairs of a quantum system, change by a different set of rules than classical states.

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”.

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.

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.

G is for ...

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

I is for ...

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

K is for ...

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ...

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

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.

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.

S is for ...

The feature of a quantum system whereby it exists in several separate quantum states at the same time.

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.

T is for ...
Time travel

Is time travel really possible? This article looks at what relativity and quantum mechanics has to say.

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.

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.

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.

I is for ...

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

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.

C is for ...

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

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.

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.

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.

R is for ...

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

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