Since 2017, quantum information and technology science (QIS), and especially quantum computing, are quickly emerging as central in Hollywood and its movies, TV series and novels. Their scenarii emphasise the link between quantum power and national security situations.
Hollywood and the U.S Strategic Debate
This is a crucial indication, considering that the relation between the U.S. cultural industries and National security has been one of the main drivers of the U.S. strategic debate since World War II (Jean-Michel Valantin, Hollywood, the Pentagon and Washington: The Movies and National Security from World War II to the Present Day, 2005).
That link organizes the structure of the U.S. strategic debate through the very complex and tangled relationships between the federal centres of political power in Washington D.C, the Department of Defence, the intelligence community and the media and cultural industry (Valantin, Ibid.). That is the reason why Hollywood movies, television and video games play a vital role in the U.S. strategic debate.
As a result, the Hollywood cultural industry is extremely reactive to any evolution of the national security apparatus. Thus, the themes present in movies and other cultural productions are highly likely to be very strong indications of crucial issues for the U.S. national security, including how the future is foreseen.
Quantum Goes to Hollywood
Currently, we can see the heightening importance of quantum computing and more broadly QIS in Hollywood in a couple of instances. It is central in the mega-blockbuster “Mortal Engines”, produced by Peter Jackson (2018). The same is true of the new “Star Trek: Discovery season” TV series (2017). The novel “The Quantum Spy”, by David Ignatius (2018) is also a strong signal. Hollywood’s reactivity reveals the importance of quantum information science and technology in strategic terms. Reciprocally, it turns Hollywood into a driver for the development of the quantum potential.
As Hélène Lavoix brilliantly demonstrates, there is a race for quantum computing that drives its development (Hélène Lavoix, “Mapping the Race for Quantum Computing ”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 27 November 2018). This development is quickly going to have vast consequences in terms of defence and national security, even more so as this evolution translates in the culture industry. Indeed, the latter feeds the quantum race, through the production of quantum centred national security movies and TV series that create a cultural set of references, which becomes a driver of this race, including because it allows imagining the future, as explained in The Quantum Computing Battlefield and the Future – Quantum, AI and Geopolitics (2).
Outline: Exploring Quantum Hollywood
In this article, we focus on the way quantum computing is emerging from the “national security movies and novels” apparatus. We look at what that reveals about the strategic status of quantum computing. Then, we explore the way it turns Hollywood into a technological driver, and how it installs quantum computing and QIS at the geopolitical level.
Quantum computing, national security and Hollywood
Since World War II, a dense and very complex network of relationships exists between the different political, military and scientific centres of national security and the then novel publishing and movie industries. Therefore, the American culture industry is a preeminent stakeholder of the U.S. national security and strategic debate. Hence, those movies and novels are putting together representations and narratives that emphasise important features of the strategic debate. It follows that the general public integrates these representations.
This triggers the emergence of a popular legitimacy attached to these dominant narratives about U.S. strategy and national security.
From nuclear, air and space power to Quantum Power
This Hollywood/ National security community/ Federal government cycle is a driver of the modern U.S. strategic history. For example, it has played a central role in the development of the nuclear and air and space capabilities during the Cold War (Valantin, ibid).
Therefore, this process is currently applied to quantum information science and technology.
The blockbuster “Mortal Engines”, produced by Peter Jackson, is an important signal for this ongoing phenomenon. The film describes how the planet has been largely destroyed by a “quantum weapons world war”. Because of the collapse it causes, a thousand years later, giant mechanised rolling cities roam through the devastation of Eurasia. The rolling cities devour and absorb each other, in order to survive and to keep functioning. In this permanent war of all against all, the terrible “London City” achieves the reconstruction of a “quantum weapon system” and uses it against the “Asian great wall”, in order to reach the Asian resources.
Similarly, quantum technologies and basic research in quantum sciences are very present in “Star trek: Discovery”. The USS Discovery spaceship utilises quantum computing in order to use quantum space and time travel. The quantum physics dimension becomes a strategic resource to use.
In the literary field, David Ignatius’ novel “The Quantum Spy” takes place nowadays. The reader follows the adventures of a U.S. spy trying to prevent China to weaponize a quantum encryption code .
Hollywood as a technological driver
Most importantly, in the case of quantum computing, Hollywood has another function. It is linked to the immense potential of quantum information science. As it happens, this potential currently entails a new race for technological dominance. As Hélène Lavoix puts it, the race to imagine its uses is also of strategic importance:
“Actually, being able to imagine and foresee the usage of quantum technologies is also part of the race for quantum. Indeed, those who will be at the top of the race are those who will be able to harness first as many usages as possible, alongside developing quantum sensing, quantum communications, and performing quantum computing and quantum simulations.”The Quantum Computing Battlefield, Ibid.
Popularizing Quantum Technologies
And it is exactly what the movies, TV series and novel are doing. Meanwhile, it must be kept in mind that this “quantum use” movies, TV series and novels impact dozens of millions of people.
For example “Star trek: Discovery” has been the most popular streaming television program in the U.S. in 2018 (Jamie Lovett, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Is Most Popular Streaming Show in the US, UK According to Report », ComicBook, June 27, 2018). In addition, “Mortal Engines” has attracted 10 million U.S. spectators (IMDB). Thus, writers are “imagining” the use of quantum information science and technology. As a result, dozens of millions of spectators start to imagine these usages. Therefore, the American cultural industry creates a cultural and popular base for the understanding of what is at stake with the quantum potential.
The quantum political base
It also creates a political basis for QIS development through the sheer mass of spectators that are also citizens. Henceforth, in the same dynamic, these shows stimulate the necessary imagination of QIS usages, and thus turns the public into a driver of its development. Consequently, the public attention, in turn, is increasing the strategic interest of quantum computing. So, the narratives found in these various cultural products are turning the attention of the public towards the strategic importance of quantum.
“Feeling” and “seeing” the strategic importance of Quantum Technologies
As a result of this cultural/scientific/ political feedback loop, those cultural narratives make people “see” and feel the importance of QIS. Above all, mastering quantum computing and other quantum technologies is the ultimate technological, industrial and strategic high ground.
That is why, reciprocally, not developing these technologies could become a threat.
Quantum technology: asset or threat?
The possible materialisation of the threat is expressed through the “other side” (Klingons, other cities, dark empire, resource rich region, China, …) possibly acquiring and weaponising QIS. Thus, those adversaries would become the new strategic and existential threat. In other words, those movies, TV series and novels are creating a common culture about the strategic importance of QIS. They also turn it into a strategic issue at the national scale.
From Hollywood to the race for geopolitical power
Meanwhile, the emergence of quantum technology thematics in the “national security cultural field” takes also place in the geopolitical field. It is because the race to quantum computing is so intense that, for example, Asian actors such as the Chinese plan to invest 14,5 billion dollars in five years on the Laboratory of Quantum Information in Hefei (Lavoix, ibid). In addition, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the U.S. Department of Defence are studying the military and strategic use of these emerging technologies (Elsa B. Kania, “Quantum Hegemony: China’s ambitions and challenge to U.S Innovation Leadership”, The Centre for a New American Security, September 12, 2018). The Chinese and the U.S political, scientific and military authorities also study the way QIS will interact with the rapid militarization of artificial intelligence and decryption/encryption.
In the next article
In the next article of this series, we shall see how quantum computing is even more likely to impact the U.S. movie industry, especially in the field of “national security movies”. Indeed, the movies and TV industry is deeply dependent on the digital special effects production capabilities. Those are, in turn, dependent upon specialised companies, themselves tied to cloud computing capabilities.
Si vis pacem …
The prodigious computing capabilities that quantum computing could develop will thus deeply impact Hollywood and the production of special effects and simulation. It will also have consequences for the U.S. Department of Defence. We may imagine those new simulation capabilities will be invaluable in order to plan the next generation of battles and warfare.
About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Geopolitics Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.
Featured image: Caleb George (https://unsplash.com/seemoris) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons