he 5th Dimensional Camera project began in October 2009, as a collaboration between EPSRC, Nesta, Royal College of Art, Superflux and scientists from the Quantum Information Processing Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (QIP IRC). Whilst investigating the science, the team came across Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and one expression of it which is at the core Quantum computation called ‘Superposition’. Simply put, Superposition is the ability for a thing, at the nanometer scale, to be in two or more states at the same time. Superposition is used inside a Quantum Computer to perform massively parallel processing. Furthermore they became fascinated by one interpretation of quantum mechanics, ‘Everett’s many worlds theory’ that says: “one aspect of quantum mechanics is that certain observations cannot be predicted absolutely. Instead, there is a range of possible observations each with a different probability. And each of these possible observations correspond to a different universe.” It goes on to deduce that while we observe time as a linear line, there are diverging time lines occurring in parallel worlds.
While this may sound like a scene from Star Trek, it it is an idea that is arguably gaining much ground. David Deutsch, the ‘father of Quantum Computation’ in a WIRED interview said: “The fact that answers are obtained from a quantum computer that couldn’t be obtained any other way will make people take seriously that the process that obtained them was objectively real. Nothing more than that is needed to lead to the conclusion that there are parallel universes, because that is specifically how quantum computers work.” This led to two main questions: 1. What if it would be possible to ‘see’ these ‘many worlds’? Unlike how a Quantum computer accesses the many worlds of binary information ‘within itself’, would it be possible to visualise a machine that could access the many possible worlds that branch from our own timeline? 2. How might the popular adoption of devices that utilize, and in some way make tangible the ‘Many Worlds Interpretation’ affect our sense of place in the world, or worlds? Could this be a kind of second Copernican Revolution? These questions helped think about devices that allow to ‘see’ and perhaps ‘reach out to other worlds’. And from this came the idea for ‘The 5th Dimensional Camera’, a fictional device for photographing Everett’s, and everybody’s own, many worlds. Just as the Quantum Computer will make tangible many of the abstract aspects of quantum physics in the shape of the algorithms, part of the thinking behind designing the 5th Dimensional Camera was to ground the open-ended nature of the questions the project addressing in a physical form that people could directly engage with. By presenting images of parallel worlds as captured by this device, they hope to open up the strange processes at work within quantum computation to the wider public, and explore how they might impact people’s beliefs, values and indeed fabric of people’s reality.