Tuesday 14th November…to Trelissick for an Oxford Society lunch and talks..

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In search of a little intellectual stimulus and a good lunch, we decided to go to our first Oxford Society meeting. We knew the location was great, having been twice to Trelissick recently. Having not looked up the times carefully enough beforehand we were just about last there and only just in time. We sat at our lunch table and were introduced to the first speaker retired Oxford academic Fenella Wojnarowska who explained how our immune systems can become misdirected so that, instead of attacking cancer or other negative cells, they attack our own proteins, causing autoimmune diseases. She had a clinic where she examined patients with serious skin diseases, being a dermatologist. And over time she noticed that quite a few of her patients also had something wrong with their brains….memory oss, Alzheimers or strokes of some kind. This led her to investigate the connection between the two. Well, eventually as it took her ten years to persuade people to give her funding. This led her into this whole area of how our immune systems work and how they can be ‘trained’ onto targets. The research was, as she said, ‘very promising’ but as the grant was coming to an end, and she retired, so did the research end. How unfortunate and how typical!

The secretary of the branch, Richard Cockram,  who is a retired Oxford mathematician, then talked about the quantum world of the very small and how quantum theory is being applied to a potential new generation of computers. This like the previous talk was exceptionally interesting and given in a very unassuming way. Richard explained that all the big companies, Google Apple, IBM etc are trying to develop quantum computers but that it may be a start-up company such as Rigetti that comes up trumps. Unlike regular computers, which store information in bits made up of either zeros and ones, quantum machines can use both zero and one at the same time in what’s called a “qubit.” It sounds like a small change, but it enables computers to run more tasks at once. Just 50 qubits can represent 10,000,000,000,000,000 numbers, a scale a regular computer would need petabytes of data to hold. What is difficult to get hold of is that a quantum computer will be built ‘within the near future’ that has the same computational power as every computer on earth today combined. Of course this has all kinds of implications, but the talk was too short to enable us to discuss this angle.

Basically here’s the underlying rationale…see ‘Futurism’

‘While a classical computer works with bits as information placeholders, a quantum computer works with quantum bits (qubits). While bits carry information in either a 0 or 1 state, qubits can be 0s and 1s at the same time thanks to quantum superposition.

Meanwhile, entanglement allows particles to be manipulated despite the distance between them — anything that happens to one particle will instantly be reflected in the other. Information can, therefore, be sent across greater distances far more quickly than with classical computers.’

The lunch? Not great unfortunately. I for instance had a quiche which was a ‘mush’ in a pot with a pastry topping (quiche?!), and a sponge pudding which was supposed to be ‘clementine’ but had no taste. With all the intellectual activity going on I could perhaps have found more than a small glass of wine acceptable too! However, I now know a lot more than I knew before about matters which would not necessarily have concerned me but which proved fascinating……

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