Author Archives: Stephen Oram

Quantum algorithms, drugs and photosynthesis

One of the great things about living in central London is being able to pop out on any day of the week to an interesting event. This week I went to a London Quantum Computing meetup (no jokes about trying to find it please) where Dr Ashley Montanaro from Bristol University gave a talk on Quantum Algorithms to a fairly knowledgeable but not specialised audience.

He began by defining a quantum computer as, “a machine which uses the principles of quantum mechanics to try to do things which are impossible for any standard computer that’s based only on the laws of classical physics.”

There were four important elements of quantum mechanics that he talked about: superposition; collapse; entanglement; and uncertainty. Alongside these he showed us photos of the different experimental computers based on: photons; super-conductors; and trapped ions. Surprisingly, to me anyway, there’s no agreement yet on the best way to build them.

Square root cropped up a lot as the typical efficiency saving over traditional computers; apparently the trick is to use very clever algorithms to exploit this incredible efficiency to perform calculations in a couple of weeks that might otherwise take thousands of years.

It was fascinating to hear what quantum algorithms can do that traditional algorithms can’t. For example, they can simulate physical quantum systems so we might understand photosynthesis, create incredibly efficient solar panels and model the effects of quantum drugs on the human body.

Another possibility is breaking cryptosystems and internet security. A revelation that led to audience speculation about how far the world’s security services have got in developing quantum code breakers.

It’s not until we start to use these algorithms that we’ll really know the possibilities they’ve opened up.

There was a lot more to his talk and although I don’t think it’s available online yet, there is a video of a similar talk to the South West Futurists. Take a look and find out what’s behind his phrase, “to use all these strange effects to our advantage.”

So, don’t be surprised if some of my future stories involve dodgy folk stealing cryptocurrency while high on quantum drugs…


photo credit: Tom Simpson Strung out via photopin (license)

Science Fiction and Science Futures

Michael Reinsborough, one of the social scientists I worked with on the Bristol Robotics Lab project and co-presented with at the Science in Public conference has written a piece for the Journal of Science Communication about the work.

Here is the abstract and a link to the article.

Science Fiction and Science Futures: Considering the role of fictions in public engagement and science communication work.

Abstract: The imagination of possible scientific futures has a colourful history of interaction with scientific research agendas and public expectations. The 2017 annual UK Science in Public conference included a panel discussing this. Emphasizing fiction as a method for engaging with and mapping the influence of possible futures, this panel discussed the role of science fiction historically, the role of science fiction in public attitudes to artificial intelligence, and its potential as a method for engagement between scientific researchers and publics. Science communication for creating mutually responsive dialogue between research communities and publics about setting scientific research agendas should consider the role of fictions in understanding how futures are imagined by all parties.

Open for submissions…

I’m really pleased to be able to announce that I’ll be curating another series of near-future fictions for Virtual Futures and this time I’ll be co-curating with Jule Owen, Allen Ashley, Britte Schulte and Vaughan Stanger.

It’s going to be good…

So, authors and poets, we need your best imaginings of the future of infection and infestation, of personhood, of war and of brains.

Successful stories and poems will form a series of live reading events in London between February and May 2018 with an opportunity to be included in an anthology of Virtual Futures Near-Future Fictions.

I’ve been asked about the fees to enter and payment if chosen; it’s a no fee, no payment London based event and we do ask that you attend in person (naturally, there’s no charge for you plus one).

If you’re unfamiliar with the Virtual Futures events, take a look at some of the video footage here https://m.youtube.com/user/virtualfutures

We are open for submissions until 21 December 2017 on the following themes:

The (dis)ease of the i-Mortal: Born of earth or brought back from far away, biological or viral invasions or diseases can affect humans on any scale; from protecting or plaguing an individual to becoming an epidemic that affects us all. Take on a topic that Literature has meditated on from its inception; from Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, to Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, to Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, to Camus’s The Plague, to King’s The Stand.
Show us the good, the bad, but not the bland; we are relying on you to predict the future of infection and infestation in any of its various forms. What is the nature of the diseases, contagions or contaminations have in store?
Curated by Allen Ashley and Stephen Oram

E-Me’s: The digital world is a personality playground that offers us an unprecedented ability to curate and create a public persona — but what does this ability mean for the future of personhood?
As the digital world expands around us and the Internet of Things combines the physical and virtual do we have a moral obligation to represent ourselves with truth and integrity in the digital realm, or should we view it as an opportunity to explore new and radical ontologies?
Curated by Britte Schulte and Stephen Oram

Tomorrow’s Battles: War has, so far, been inevitable throughout human history – but what will the future of conflict or cooperation look like? Will the discoveries of the future lead us to a world without violent disagreement, or just result in us killing one another in more creative ways? Paint us your future of what kind of conflict – or lack of – will emerge from the caldron of tomorrow’s technologies: what utopia or dystopia will we be exposed to?
Curated by Jule Owen and Stephen Oram

Post-Brain: As technology gets smarter and smarter, the human brain is forced to reflect on itself in the mirror of the future and question what value it will have in a world in which wet tech, cerebral hacking and commodified consciousness could reign. A world not of enhancement or augmentation, but replacement. We implore you to enquire what the future of our most precious organ will be, while you still have one.
Curated by Vaughan Stanger and Stephen Oram

The deadline for submissions is 21 December 2017 and successful authors and poets will be notified in January 2018.

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