Author Archives: Stephen Oram

The Age of the Ageless

Recently I was thinking about writing a story set in a world where you never die.

Now, that’s not an original idea I grant you, but nonetheless it is a fascinating idea that can be used to illuminate a lot about the human condition. I guess that’s why it’s been used so often.

We often think of health when we think about living for ever, but what about experience, knowledge, and good judgement – let’s call it wisdom.

And, that’s the twist in this particular tale – you have to choose the age you’re going to stay at. This then determines not only your health but also how wise you are, for ever. In other words, you keep maturing until the age you choose and then you stop and your health can’t get better or worse and you can’t gain any more wisdom.

I wanted to understand what age people would choose so I asked my mailing list if they wanted to help me, anonymously of course, and luckily they did.

Responses are coming in; their creative juices are flowing and enlightening me. Almost half of the survey respondents have chosen a similar age to their present age and the remainder are split 50:50 between choosing to be younger or older.

Of course, the explanations are the most fascinating and that’s where the real ‘flavour’ of the story will come from.

I wonder if you can you guess what age this respondent chose? “It was my last hurrah. I had tasted it all, learned my knowledge and experienced the ups and downs of love, life, friendship and work. Children yet to come, dreams still alive and ambition still believable.”

The survey will run for a little while longer and then I’ll write The Age of the Ageless. I reckon it’s going to be interesting to write and hopefully it’ll be a good read.

If you’re not on the mailing list and would like to contribute feel free to leave a comment at the foot of this post.

 


photo credit: byronv2 Carnival 2017 073 via photopin (license)

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.