Quantum Bookie

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“This is where you’ll work.”  Jim’s escort said as they stepped into a room that looked like a network television studio.  Jim looked at his listless orientation guide thinking, What was his name? Brad, Ben, Bill?  
Jim decided he’d call him Bill.  “What is this place, Bill?”
“It’s Brad,” Bill said, apparently unbothered by the mistake.  “This? It’s every quantum physicist’s dream job, working with branching universes. Vince will explain.”
A gray-haired guy sitting at one of the panels, glanced over at them and hung up a phone. He kept his eyes on the screens as he made his way over.

“Vince is a legend.  Luckiest guy in the company.”  Bill said to Jim, deadpan.  He turned to Vince  “This is Jim, your new help.”
Vince stuck his hand out, and Jim obliged, cigarrette stench hitting him as Vince stepped in.
“Don’t forget to stop by security for your badge.” Bill said, heading down the corridor.  “Vince can point you the way.”
“Thanks Bill.” Jim called before the door could close, then turned back to Vince.
“You ready to work.”
Jim didn’t answer, turning to look at what Vince was watching-- a football game, Vikings-Browns.
“Okay... let’s get started.” Vince said, walking towards his seat. “We are ‘Strategic Procurement on Rapidly Tangential Sequences’, the SPORTS division.  Probably paid some egghead a pretty penny to come up with that stupid acronym.”
“This place is funded by bookies gambling on sports?”
“We’re a division of Funding.  Stupid as the acronym is, it’s still accurate on what we do here.  It’s not gambling, it’s Strategic-”

“Procurement on Rapidly Tangential Sequences.” Jim interrupted.  “Okay, and you’re the luckiest guy in the company. Never lose, huh?  How does it work?”
“I’m not a scientist.  I’m a bookie. Sports junkie.  I just know what they tell me.” Vince said, walking over to an older monitor with an output reminiscent of an EEG rhythm. “We’ve got two input devices.  This machine combines the two data sets.  We call it ‘The Squawk Box’” he said, tapping the screen with his yellowing fingernail.
Vince looked up,expecting the obvious question.  Jim played along.  “What’s it do?”
“So, two input devices.  The one on this wall we call ‘The Bull’.  It tracks all the possible branching universes, and in sports betting, the branches go way down.”
Vince sauntered toward the other wall, continuing to talk.  “Along with tracking how many branches, The Bull also calculates the probability of each of the diverging universes.  That’s why sports fit the bill. Take this game.  The Vikes were up seventeen at the start of the fourth quarter.  That’s equivalent to an expected win ninety-seven percent of the time.  Not many things in this world happen with ninety-plus percent probability.  So, the potential branches go down, and the probability of the remaining branches separate significantly.  
Jim looked at the other wall, “What’s that one do?”
“The ‘Main Line’.  It tracks, twelve hours in advance, the branch that we live on.  The Main Line has yet to incorrectly choose which path we will follow.”
Vince flopped back into his chair, “Put them together, the Bull and the Main, and you've got a machine that can tell you, in advance, when something relatively improbable is going to happen.”
“Why the TV's? Can't you just place bets without watching?”
Vince grinned, “That’s where your training comes in.  The machines tell us where, physically, the main branch takes an improbable turn. We can easily locate that game, but it's a process to figure out what to bet on.  This game was supposed to be equal, then the Browns quarterback is injured, and suddenly they’re down seventeen starting the fourth quarter.  They mount a comeback, and are about to kick a game winning field goal.  We look at the movement of the Main Line down an improbable branch, and with some sports knowledge figure out what’s going to happen.”
Jim rubbed his forehead, a headache growing. “So, I’ve got to learn football?”
“Not just football.  Baseball, basketball, tennis.  Pretty much anything people will bet on.  Plus, you’ve got to learn gambling.  The money we bet has to seem natural. We can see the shocks coming, and we have to time our calls when the line is the most advantageous. Bet on the Browns in the first quarter, and you're lucky to get even money. At the start of the fourth quarter, down seventeen with a backup QB, the line was a hundred to one. So that ten thousand I just placed, earned us a smooth million.”
Jim just groaned.  “Got any Advil?”

Six Months Later
“I want five-thousand on the US to win before overtime.  Yes, I know they’re already in overage.  What odds will I get.  I’ll take it.  Do it now.”
“That was close,” Vince said.  “The spike hits in ten seconds.”
“Yeah, but I just got three hundred to one odds.  It was hundred to one when overage started.” Jim said.  “And look, here comes Donovan now.  Should score in three, two, one... yep.  There it is.  Is this when chant ‘USA, USA’?”
“Six months.  Not too bad.”
“Is a million and a half score that good after being here only six months?”
“I’m not talking about the money.  It took just six months for you to become disenchanted with this sports stuff.  And you didn’t even like it before starting here.”  
“I never really liked it.  I think it’s just taken me this long to trust that this thing is never wrong.”  
“That’s why they start all you nerds in SPORTS.  They get you used to the idea of how accurate their data is.  And these are the oldest devices in operation.  Wait until they move you up and suck the life out of something that really matters.  Politics, natural disasters, death.”
“What’s that like?”

“Not really sure.  I’m lucky enough to never have to move past sports….  Luckiest man in the company.”

About the Author: 
I'm a thirty-year old pharmacist, who is submitting this story as my first work of fiction. I live in Pensacola, FL with my wife and three-month old son.

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Quantum Theories

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.

D is for ... Decoherence

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

N is for ... Nonlocality

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.

C is for ... Cryptography

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

U is for ... Universe

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

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

T is for ... Teleportation

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Reality

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!

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.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

T is for ... Tunnelling

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.

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.

Q is for ... Qubit

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.

L is for ... Light

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!

G is for ... Gluon

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

R is for ... Randomness

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

A is for ... Act of observation

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

K is for ... Kaon

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

G is for ... Gravity

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.

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.

P is for ... Probability

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.

X is for ... X-ray

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.

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.

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.

S is for ... Superposition

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.

A is for ... Atom

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

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.

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”.

W is for ... Wavefunction

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.

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.

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.

D is for ... Dice

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.

E is for ... Entanglement

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.

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.

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 ... Computing

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

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 ... 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!

M is for ... Multiverse

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.