Tag Archives: talks

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)

BusinessCloud podcast

Being interviewed is an interesting experience and one I enjoy. Why? Because it makes me see my work through someone else’s eyes and I’m always intrigued to hear what it is about my writing that has sparked their interest.

Answering questions live is also fascinating and makes me think. Hard. You can hear my brain whirring in this podcast as I discuss the inspirations behind Eating Robots and Other Stories with Jonathan Symcox, the Deputy editor of BusinessCloud.

http://www.businesscloud.co.uk/podcasts/eating-robots-and-the-potential-dystopias-of-the-future

Collaboration Works

As part of the 2017 Fitzrovia Festival, the people live here festival, neural scientists, social scientists, science writers and science fiction authors all came together to take an audience on their different journeys of collaboration.

Georgina Ferry and Kathrin Jacobsen introduced Neural Architects, the behind-the-scenes account of a unique collaboration between a leading architectural practice, Ian Ritchie Architects Ltd, and a community of scientists seeking to understand how we think, feel, understand and remember. The outcome of this collaboration was the evening’s host building, the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre.

I read from my new collection, Eating Robots and Other Stories, including The Thrown Away Things – a tale of interconnected and dangerously discarded ‘things’ – and the title story Eating Robots about an errant old lady and her errant robot.

Christine Aicardi (Senior Research Fellow, King’s College London) has been a key person in my collaborations with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and the Human Brain Project. She read her own short fiction, Tablet Stroker, and made many insightful observations about The Thrown Away Things and suggestions on what to look out for as we head off into the future. You can read her thoughts in the back of the collection.

Swimming with the Algorithms was a piece I wrote especially for the evening. The idea came out of a series of conversations with Danbee Kim (Researcher at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre and Scientist-in-Residence at the Brighton Sea Life Centre). The piece was iterated over a series of exhanges between me and Danbee touching on both the believability of the science and the behaviour of the protaganist. On the night I read the story and Danbee gave her thoughts on it and what it was like to collaborate on its creation.

There were questions throughout from the audience ranging from: ‘Do Asimov’s three robot laws help or hinder in the writing of fiction about robots?’; ‘What is the most scary thing about present day technology?’; and ‘What’s the best thing about collaborating?’

The conversations continued for at least an hour and a half after the formal part of the evening; the discussions I was involved in were fascinating, whether about the art of writing or the meaning of intelligence.

A big thank you to the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for being such good hosts.


photo – left to right: Christine Aicardi, Danbee Kim, Kathrin Jacobsen, Georgina Ferry and Stephen Oram