Category Archives: Popular science talks

Alan Turing Art (Talk at Malmö Konsthall)

Henrik Olesen, from Some Illustrations to the life of Alan Turing

On Wednesday, 19 January 2011, I will give a general audience talk about Alan Turing at Malmö Konsthall, a contemporary art museum.

The occasion is a current exhibition of Henrik Olesen, one of Denmark’s most important contemporary artists according to the programme.

My presentation is based on a talk I gave in the Fall 2010 Teknik- och Naturvetarcirkeln for Folkuniversitetet, but for the art museum I tone down the technical aspects and instead build the talk around a presentation of verious artworks featuring Turing, including:

There is more, including theatre plays, stamps, and scientific and political awards.

See you there!

Alan Turing (talk)

Popular science talk about Alan Turing, father of Computer Science, intellectual giant of the 20th century, persecuted by his own government despite helping to win the war a few years earlier.

The talk describes the intellectual environment for Turing’s work, going back to the formalist endeavours of Russel and Hilbert and culminating in Turing’s definition of the “Univerval Machine,” known today as the Turing machine and the birth of the computer; the cryptoanalytic work of Turing’s group at Bletchley Park for breaking the German coding machine Enigma; and a brief appraisal of the role of Computer Science in today’s technological and scientific reality to establish the importance of Turing’s work.

Further reading

From HAL 9000 to the Cryptonomicon – which computational world do we live in?

The question in this talk is, What can we compute? Today? Tomorrow? Will it be like science-fiction? If so, which one? 

This talk is geared towards an audience of science fiction readers, who are supposed to find computation interesting for two reasons.

First, as technologically curious persons, we want to understand the role played computation in current society:

Why do Google, genome sequencing, and car navigation systems work? These are computationally feasible tasks with astounding consequences for society.
Why can’t I use natural language to talk to my computer, like in Star Trek? This computational task is routinely solved by our brains, but we don’t seem to be able to automate it, to our great annoyance. Why can’t my neighbour break my home banking cryptosystem? A seemingly computationally infeasible task, to our great pleasure. 

Second, as consumers of speculative fiction, we want to understand the questions that permeate the genre. In general, the nature of our computational world determines the possibility of strong artificial intelligence, a trope of Science Fiction. In particular, writers such as Charles Stross make the transition between these computational worlds a central world-building or plot element. 
The talk provides a non-fiction counterpoint to the fiction, including a gentle introduction to theoretical computer science, in particular the theory of computation, focussing on the question “Which computational problems can be solved?” (Solved, for example, using an electronic omputer – but it’s not really a question about hardware.) Depending on the answer, we live in one of five different computational realities, which we can call Algorithmica, Heuristica, Pessiland, Minicrypt, and Cryptomania. The greatest challenge – or, if you want, embarrassment – of computer science is that we don’t know which. 

The talk is aimed at a lay audience. If you have a degree in computer science, it will bore you to tears.

Rule 30 – Cellular Automata in Nature and Science

Regel 30 – om cellulära automater i naturen och vetenskapen

The pattern on the seashell Conus Textile is similar to the output of a cellular automaton

Cellular automata are a basic computational model from theoretical computer science that model the behaviour of many natural processes, such as the pattern on the seashell Conus Textile. They are a beautiful and very accessible example where apparent complexity emerges from very simple rules.

Cellular automata were popularised in Stephen Wolfram’s problematic book A New Kind of Science and have inspired several modern artists. Norwegian artist
Kristoffer Myskja’s contribution to the biannual exhibition Electrohype of computer based art in Malmö is a mechanical representation of an automaton called Rule 30 in wood, paper, and metal. I take perverse pleasure from seeing it in action!

My talk starts with a description of Myskja’s piece and becomes a friendly introduction to computability theory.

  • 10 december 2008. “Electrohype 2008” Fifth Biennial for Computer Based Art, Malmö Konsthall. Del av föreläsningsserien “Summen är större än helheten.”

How Google Works

Siden 1995 har vi fundet det, vi leder efter, ved bare at skrive et søgeord ind i Google, selvom ordet forekommer på milioner af sider. Hvordan virker det?

Et søgeord som «Einstein» forekommer på milioner af sider på internettet. En søgemaskine, som bare finder alle de sider, som indeholder ordet, er derfor ikke til nogen hjælp — det ville tage flere år for brugeren at gennemlede milioner af sider. Googles algoritme, som hedder PageRank, blev opdaget (og patenteret) i 1995 og er selve kernen deres service. Dens vigtigste funktion er først og fremmest at rangere information i stedet for bare at finde den. Google har ændret vores måde at håndtere og kategorisere information på, og er derfor et af civilisationshistoriens store omvæltninger. Jeg vil forklare, hvad PageRank gør og give et kort overblik over internettets historie. Hvordan brugte man webben fx i efteråret 1994?

Foredraget er rettet mod alle, der har brugt en søgemaskine som Google. Det tager en lille time med omtrent 45 billeder, men kan tilpasses.

  • Forskningens døgn 2010, diverse foredrag i Hovedstadsområdet, 23/4-24/4 2010
  • 10 oktober 2008 (Københavns kulturnat) ITU.
  • 13 november 2008, for 9-klasses elever, “pigepraktikdagen” på ITU.

Science Under the Algorithmic Lens

Videnskaberne under den algoritmiske linse

Algoritmisk tænking påvirker i dag videnskaber fra sociologi til kvantemekanik. Virkeligheden er information, og algoritmer er de kræfter, der påvirker den.

Datalogi har overtaget matematikkens rolle som videnskabernes dronning og tjenerinde. Det sidste er klart: alle videnskaber er blevet til anvendere af informationsteknologi, så algoritmer er blevet den store problemløser. Det vil jeg ikke tale om. I stedet vil jeg tale om, hvordan den algoritmiske linse giver et nyt perspektiv på virkeligheden. Som alle linser giver den mulighed for at stille skarpt på noget nyt. Foredraget består af en række eksempler på, hvordan algoritmer forklarer fænomener, vælger modeller, stiller spørgsmål, designer eksperimenter, og udfordrer hypoteser i ikke-datalogiske videnskaber.

Foredraget er henvendt til en lytterskare med en vis interesse for videnskab, men ikke nødvendigvis hård naturvidenskab. Det tager en god time med omtrent 60 billeder, men kan tilpasses.

  • Naturvetenskaperna under den algoritmiska linsen. 2 september 2007. Kårhuset, Lund.
    Introduktion till naturvetenskaperna för novischer på Lund universitets naturvetenskapliga program.
  • Från sociala nätverk till kvantmekanik – ett algoritmiskt perspektiv på vetenskaperna.
    27 november 2007. Hallands nation, Lund.