Chapter 4

Everett interpretation: many worlds

One of the most tedious flights ever was the trans-Pacific. Even worse was to the west coast of Australia. Western Australia was chosen for the Square Kilometre Array because of its isolation, not in spite of it. Ellie had a keynote to deliver at an astronomy conference to be held in Perth to signify the conclusion of the SKA infrastructure construction phase. After settling in to her hotel she set up a recharge bank in the kitchen for her devices, all the while cursing about the lack of power points in the bedroom.

After the flight over the Murchison site and the guided tour through the computing facility Ellie was at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research. The room, with its panoramic south facing windows overlooking the lush campus of the Nedlands campus of the University of West Australia avoided the direct sun. The pearlesque clouds against a blue sky hinted at the South Westerly wind and the afternoon sun glimpsed through clouds gathering over the Indian Ocean. The Eastern-most wall of the room had a faint tinge of orange as the day was drawing to a close.

While the trip was somewhat formality Ellie wanted to ensure she was up to speed on everything before she provided her Keynote speach “What do you mean ‘bench-testing’? Hasn’t the cross validation already been done? I thought you were now supposed to be providing data for parallel batch processing on the South African facility!”.

The Director of ICRAR, Professor Henry Miller, felt equally uncomfortable but not terribly surprised. “There is some argument about needing to optimise the algorithm for the larger aperture and wavelength.”

“And you buy that?”

“Well, no. The telescope structures are bigger but the signal is simpler. They don’t have the same reliance on a super-computer as our Australian effort. Also, any signal they wanted bench tested would need cross validation, and it simply isn’t necessary.

“So what is this all about then?” Quizzed Ellie.

“Well there are only so many massively parallel supercomputers, and most are busy. Maybe someone is borrowing some computer time?”

“It’s only borrowing if you ask, and then intend paying it back.”

Henry knew that Ellie was a seasoned campaigner. Money was secured on political favourables and imperatives as much as it was on merit. He also knew that Ellie needed to see transparency if she was to brand herself with the SKA.  He leaned over the desk and went on, “Apparently the payback is coming from your government, we can’t identify what analysis is being done, and our liaison says it is simply ‘historical data’.”

“Can you provide me with terminal access?” Probed Ellie.

“I thought you would never ask.” Henry smiled. ”I have a terminal in the postgraduate research area downstairs that you can have access to. Here are the credentials. I’ll have our postgrad student Viet Ng help out where he can”. He handed over a post-it note.

“Thanks,” said Ellie. This was a little too contrived. First the invitation out of the blue, and now a console access account. She suspected that she was being called upon for help. “So shall I let you know?”

“Please do,” said Henry. “And again thank you for coming, it really is an absolute honour.”

Soon afterwards Ellie was staring at the monitor. This was not astronomical data. She did not know what the signal represented but it was not anything she’d seen. The recursive nature of the calculations was akin to an inverse transform which was possibly astronomical correlation of data but the data set was huge.

Although she knew enough to be dangerous she was not a computer science whizzkid. She copied the source data file to a cloud drive and resolved to give it to Willie. She set the sharing permission for his account and sent him an email.

He may know what to think of it.

+

In the darkness of the hotel room kitchen a light illuminated the roof, and Ellie’s mobile whistled.

Incessantly it nagged the space around it. Willie’s face on the mobile smiled incongruously, oblivious of the fact that it was being ignored.

Somewhere in the data silo’s of the mobile network provider a virtual machine had a timer subroutine interrupt the call. The parent program popped off the stack and examined the flags left by the subroutine. This supervisory program then called upon another subroutine and subsequently pushed itself onto the stack, further pushes and pops were made that resulted in registering the calling number and the opening of a message file in preparation. A pre-existing file was opened and a digitally encoded voice took on its original analog form, it was then re-transcribed into a VOIP format and transmitted over the network to the caller.

“Hi you’ve called Ellie, please leave a message. (where is the stupid hash key?)” beep!

A stack pop reverted control back to the original call and then another subroutine which began buffering the incoming analog signal.

“Ellie, I think you need to call me. This is about the gift you sent. I just thought you’d like to know that I already had one which I passed on to a friend recently. So it came as a pleasant surprise to get an exact copy from you.”

Willie completed the dialogue and allowed the supervisory routine to be dissolved into entropic oblivion. This left him just as perplexed as before, he couldn’t dispel suspicions that James had not been as discrete as he would have liked. He screwed up the paper containing the carefully worded message and turfed it in the bin.

How on earth would the noise signal have gotten from James to Ellie though? The signal Ellie provided had exactly the same Checksum as the signal he had given to James. This meant they were derived from the same origin, and being digitally encoded there was absolutely no way of determining its source as being James, or … Kitz.

He decided he had to ask James, so he sent an email asking for their meeting to be brought forward. Being a creature of strong habits he suspected that James may go into a tailspin, but he simply had to know.

No reply came, so the next day he finished his lecture 30 minutes early. This he did with the commitment to leave a set of questions on the subject forum page with six encoded audio signals for six teams. The actual audio signal was required to be written down as a type of capture the flag competition. To make it interesting the team that came first would have their time score reduced incrementally by the time of the team who came last.

He allowed them the 30 minutes to determine their teams and post this team breakdown to the intranet page. The chaos that ensued was an exercise in the need to collaborate, and be inclusive of less advantaged players to spread the strengths evenly. He had this material all geared up for a few weeks time, and would normally have released it as a revision exercise. It now bought him the time he needed.

James was in the laboratory. He looked dreadful. He had obviously not slept. Several bowls, plates of pizza crusts and a half eaten ‘Shazlix’ roll sat on the table. A 5×5 Rubik cube sat half solved atop the stale food. James looked up from a monitor and pushed his 3D glasses up onto his forehead as Willie entered.

“Hi James,” said Willie as he binned some of the old food and stacked away a few of the plates.

“Don’t touch that!” murmured James under his breath.

“Look at me James,” said Willie. “You NEED a break.”

“Grunt,” much of the confident demeanour of James had diminished, and the lab – once immaculate – now resembled an untidy child’s room, and it smelled terrible.

“You need some air”, Willie said softly peering with concern at James for a possible negative reaction.

James glanced over at some of the mess and at the various pieces of electronic equipment. He eventually shrugged resignedly, deciding that resistance was pointless, and that Willie was probably right.

“I should clean this up first,” said James.

“Later, let’s get some breakfast,” said Willie.

He guided James up and waited outside while James locked the door behind him.

Breakfast comprised of coffee and a fruit salad. Willie insisted that he needed something a little more wholesome and representative of the actual time of day.

Willie began; “You haven’t slept for …”

“.. about two days, I think,” completed James. “It’s pretty hard to tell actually since the room is shielded against just about everything, and no daylight ever comes in. I tried putting a radio in there once. I couldn’t get a single station, not even the campus…”

“Shhhhhh, eat.”

James ate, and Willie sipped his coffee. Once James had regained some of his blood sugar levels, and his composure had returned in part, Willie continued.

“So what is the driving force behind the reclusive turn?”

“Oh, I haven’t told you yet have I? I have some interesting results.”

Willie’s head went into a spin. Something he hasn’t told me! Results!

Of course! this self imposed isolation means that he has been too busy to have divulged the signal. And yet there is another copy in the wild. Maybe he had been hacked. Maybe the results too!

The feeling of deja vu was flooding back. He recovered, “You can tell me in a minute. I need to know how vulnerable you are in your security protocols”.

This was like a slap to James. He looked at Willie flatly and said simply, “Not a concern”.

Willie considered his options. If his confidence in his security was to be believed there was no point telling James about the second signal yet. “Tell me about the results then.”

“There is something seriously strange about that noise you gave me.”

“What?”

“It seems to be adaptive! It has a key. It was fairly easy to find in the first iteration and…”

“and..”

James scoffed down the last of the fruit compote and yoghurt and grabbed the paper cup of coffee. “Come with me, I’ll show you what I mean.”

He got up and they left the cafeteria. Minutes later they were back in the lab. James scurried around and finally uncovered a chair that Willie dragged over to the screen. James’ disorganised chaos in the lab was not representative of what he did with the computer. He did struggle to find a second pair of 3D glasses but he finally navigated quickly to the file that he wanted.

“What I’m using here is a Quantum Computer. It’s a massively parallel Turing machine that uses the concept of parallel universes to…”

“Hang on, parallel universes are only theoretical aren’t they?” Willie was not about to let James launch into a recital of his thesis.

“In the sense of universes that have different constants? absolutely! Maybe parallel realities is a better phrase. Although there’s no proof, Everett’s ‘many worlds’ interpretation of quantum mechanics is compelling . You just need to look at the double slit quantum eraser experiment.”

The interruption worked; James appeared to have lost his thread. Finally he looked at the screen in front of him, and put his glasses on.

“Anyway, this is the input model for your noise problem. The solution event occurred in about a millisecond. It represents the rough crypto-analytical equivalent of finding a 128 bit AES encryption key. With such a huge sample space it allows a smooth representation in q-space. It looks something like this,” James loaded the file and used the mouse to slowly set what resembled a landscape of valleys and mountains into a gentle rotation.

“Okay,” began Willie, “I get this. Your quantum computer solves this by finding the lowest valley or highest peak, which must then represent the key, and it does so by tunnelling through the ‘mountains’ with a kind of fuzzy logic.”

“Yep, but that’s not the strange part,” said James, pleased to have such a good student. ”The solution is this,” James clicked a checkbox in a floating toolbar. Immediately there was a mapping of colour codes over the landscape. “Do you see it?”

“Not really,” said Willie. “Am I missing something or is there more than one peak or trough that would be a solution?”

“BINGO!” shouted James gleefully. “This is extraordinary!”

“But what does this mean?”

“Well,” began James, “If you had to write a letter to your grandmother to tell her whether her cat was alive or dead, but you didn’t want anyone else in the family to know, you would want to encrypt the letter right?”

“Yes, I guess so. Grandad may be happy it was dead and Gran might want to smuggle another cat in before he knew,” Willie laughed, James didn’t. Willie just put it down to the aspergers. He didn’t even want to consider joking about explaining encryption to his grandparents.

“Yes! so here’s the thing. One password opens the letter to reveal that the cat is alive. But what if there was another password that revealed that the cat had met with a truck?”

“Is that possible?”

“It is called an encryption collision. It is almost diminishingly improbable in the encryption systems we utilise. In the case we have here there are literally hundreds of collisions, maybe thousands. But it goes further. When I take any key and apply it, this is what I get.” James pressed the play icon on a program. What emanated from the speakers shook Willie to the core. One pulse, two pulses, three, five, seven… He pressed stop.

“Now, if I use a different key we get one, two, three, five, seven again, but, the noise is different each time.”

“What does this mean though?” Willie was now very shaken.

“Well, its almost as if the signal is providing some sort of adaptive system. Something that will react differently to different stimuli”.

+

Xien Wu Hsu was called into the sterile white office.

“I understand the Kien Mu system has provided some insight Wu Hsu. Please let me know of the revelations.

“Master, there is much discussion in relation to Quantum Mechanical Computers and adaptive processes. It seems that this may be the answer we seek. It is worth further exploration. I will go and see if it can be brought to our worthy cause.”

“Go,” consented Xien Wu Hsu’s master, “much depends upon it.”

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