Gothic Fall – English edition available from Heavy Metal

For something a bit different; some light relief from AGI, quantum computing and whatnot…

The new edition of my Gothic Fall book is now available!

For those who have no idea what I am talking about, let me explain:
One of my main hobbies is fantasy and dark art (which is mainly in the form of digital painting, although I do paint with acrylics too) and I have published a book of these works along with accompanying poetry. The first edition of the book was published in Spanish, but now the English version is available! Quote from the site:

“If you never leave home without wearing black you will enjoy this potent combination of black magic, graveyards, knee high boots, chains, candelabras, wings, cathedrals and masks. Suzanne Gildert is a UK based artist, specialising in fantasy, gothic and dark art. She combines traditional drawing and painting methods with more modern digital techniques to establish a unique blend of elements and an easily recognisable style.”

Here is the link to the book:
Buy GF book online!

I’m really happy that this edition has finally been released. it has given me a new motivation do do more artwork 🙂 My next challenge is to get the book on the shelves in Chapters!


BANG! The Universe Verse

I was asked to review this rather cute book:

BANG! The Universe Verse (Book I). The book is a portrayal of how the laws of Physics as we know them today arose in the short period of time after the Big Bang. The book also explains how matter forms, and how nuclear fusion and stellar activity plays a significant role in explaining why the Universe appears as it does at present.

But the cool thing about the book is that is is presented in a comic book format, with two cute characters guiding you through the science. Here is an excerpt:

“The proton in the centre may not be alone
As another has access to this VIP Zone
The neutron may not be quite as attractive
But it is quiet, well mannered, and rarely reactive”

This would be great to read to kids 🙂

You can read the PDF version online or support the author and buy the book.

‘id’ by Susan Greenfield

I’ve just finished reading this book, which was pretty enjoyable and fun to read. Susan Greenfield is a Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, and a well known science populariser. The book is light and easy reading for those with a scientific or technical background; the concepts are presented via thought-provoking discussion rather than technical content.

The main premise of the book is how technology will change our identity in the next few decades. Greenfield puts forward three main ‘identity camps’ into which we could possibly fall as individuals: Someone, Nobody, and Anyone. Someone is a Western idealism of ‘making your name’ in society (usually through a career), commanding respect and individuality. Nobody is the scenario where identity becomes consumed, for example by existence in a virtual world, which amounts to living for a ‘here and now’ sensory experience in order to activate the pleasure regions of the brain. It is also related to low amount of personal development, and giving little thought to behaviour which at present may not be pleasurable, but which in the longer term have a higher level of reward. Anyone is the scenario where you take on a group identity via a commonly held set of beliefs, for example where a personality is dominated by a particular political, philosophical or religious movement.

There are many links between these three personality sets, for example the shared feeling of ‘fulfilment’ or ‘meaning in life’ shared by the successful Someone and Anyone, and the ability to absorb new concepts quickly, shared by the Someone and the Nobody.

Each personality is explained by reference to how the brain changes and undergoes reinforcement learning with respect to each possible personality ‘basin of attraction’, so the identities that we assume become part of our neurological wiring. Overall an interesting read, although expect more of a philosophical journey than a book giving an introduction to some of the more scientific details of neuroscience. For that I’m currently reading ‘The 21st Century Brain’ by Steven Rose.

‘The Quantum Brain’ by Jeffrey Satinover

I’ve recently finished reading this book. I was slightly put off by the title when I first saw the book (I figured it would be another variant of Orch-OR or something similar), but I eventually got around to reading it, and I must say I was very pleasantly surprised.

The Quantum Brain – AMAZON

Satinover explains how quantum processes may underpin the workings of the brain, but not in the usual Penrose interpretation of microtubule activity leading to large scale quantum coherence, but more from a quantum chaos point of view. Satinover argues that quantum chaos can lead to enhanced pattern stability compared to classically chaotic systems, which then persist up to larger scales.

The philosophical implication from these arguments is intriguing: Because quantum mechanics is a non-deterministic process (to the best of our knowledge) then if the brain acts as a quantum amplifier in some way, then it too may also take advantage of this non-determinism.

The idea of a ‘quantum amplifier’ is introduced via our old friend Bob, who cannot decide which of two women to marry. He is struck by the fact that if he is a fully deterministic, mechanistic being, then the person whom he will marry will, in some way, have been preordained. He dislikes this idea, and so bases his choice on the outcome of a quantum mechanical experiment, such as the beam-splitter experiment, whereby a photon has a 50-50 chance of either passing through a half silver mirror or being reflected from it.

In this way the outcome of a quantum process *can* affect the behaviour of a macroscopic system.

Of course this is all very interesting with regards to the question of simulating the human brain at a very low level (one where QM does start to come into play). Just how low is low? Your opinion may change slightly after reading this 🙂

These are just a few of the very interesting ideas explored in this book. I’d strongly recommend it.

The obligatory book post

You all knew it was coming, so here it is:
My art book is now available… which means I’m a published artist, and one step up from a starving artist 🙂

This version is in Spanish, I’m working on getting an English version published but that may take a little while. But the pretty pictures really are the main focus of the book, the text is just an accompaniment, and there are translations available on my website.

I apologise to those readers who have already been inundated with GF paraphernalia.

You can buy the book on Amazon:
Gothic Fall – S Gildert AMAZON

or direct from the publisher (much cheaper):
Gothic Fall – S Gildert NORMA EDITORIAL

Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler

Engines_of_CreationThis has to be one of my favourite books ever. I’m so embarrassed that I hadn’t read it before now.

The book concentrated on how nanosystems will be used to transform our lives, our bodies, and the environment. There was also a discussion on how we will control nanosystems such that they do not replicate uncontrollably. The book was a nice introduction to the topic, not too heavy, and written with a powerfully optimistic style. I felt that the chapters on government policy were the weakest point, although to be honest that’s probably just my personal taste. They were well written, just not quite as gripping as the discussion of the actual technology itself.

The entire book was great reading, although I felt Chapter 14 in particular had something important to say; a lesson to be learnt. The focus of this section “A network of knowledge” was on the then future technology of hypertext, linked media and general freedom of information/knowledge aggregation techniques. It really stood out for me, because it’s the only chapter in the book where that technology today has not only been realised, but has exceeded Drexler’s foresight tenfold. Reading this chapter was so beautifully quaint, until a thought struck me…

…It could have been any of the chapters that had been fully realised.

Presumably all the chapters were written with a similar level of foresight, it just happened that the correct set of factors converged to cause 14 to be the first. I’m sure in due course more will follow, but this chapter sat somewhat uncomfortably and laughably in stark contrast to the rest of the (seemingly visionary) book. It humbly served to highlight our different behaviour towards incredible concepts that have already been realised, and those that still harbour engineering problems to be solved. Some would refer to the latter as (rather derogatorily) pure science fiction.

I also really enjoyed the last chapter too. Drexler’s writing style seriously moved me. I hope that people find this book a call to arms, and that those who read it when it was first published (1986) will take the time to re-read, and realise that we are closer to these dreams, enough so to really do something about it. In 10 years time I want to feel that quaint warmth when I read ALL the chapters, not just the one about hypertext.

I have the nanosystems textbook waiting on my bookshelf for some more in-depth learning.

Distress by Greg Egan

p_mini6194 I’m currently reading Distress by Greg Egan. The story is set at a Physics conference, so I’m actually really enjoying it (although I think overall I preferred Permutation City). It is however most unlike any Physics conference I’ve ever attended. With murder, mystery, intrigue, fanatical religious cults, shadowy biotech corporations, kidnapping, deadly bioweapons and potentially the end of the multiverse as we know it, maybe I should be frequenting TOE conferences instead of LT ones 🙂

However there are some descriptions which aren’t so far fetched, such as the conference venue being a picturesque tropical coral-reef island. That one does happen occasionally.

Shaping things by Bruce Sterling

shapingthings_sterling2 I’ve just been reading ‘Shaping Things’ by Bruce Sterling (2005). It’s a very interesting and cute book, I’d certainly recommend it. It’s about design, the interaction between people and objects, and how society can be catagorised into historical ‘eras’ determined by this interaction. The book talks about the SPIME – totally interactive and recyclable objects/material items, and how these items will infiltrate our future. The idea is that such objects will boast an incredible amount of information all built in to the design (how the object was made, material properties, the object’s complete history, etc.), although this is usually contained in a database external to the object (e.g. a weblink). The infrastructure for this technology is already mostly in place (barcodes/RFID) and can be extended (think micro/nanodots on each individual part of the object).

The book has some very interesting formatting – including lots of words ‘highlighted’ by the use of different fonts and paragraphs sporting background images. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I think it reinforces and enhances the main concept of the book, which is all about design.

The last few pages have a real posthumanism ‘feel good’ factor. Go read!

More books…

kaku21Sometimes I think this blog seems to be turning into a book review site! Hey, I read fast… Well I’ve just finished Parallel worlds by Michio Kaku. Kaku explores many different ideas, all tied together under a general cosmology theme.

The book begins by introducing some of the key concepts of spacetime, the big bang, and the development of some of the main ideas in cosmology. It discusses the growing field of experimental cosmology, using gravitational wave detectors, WMAP satellite data, data from other telescopes (Arecibo, Chandra, VLBA) and projects such as the Sloan Sky Survey, which can give us information about the distribution and density of black holes in the visible universe. A lot of information can be gathered indirectly, for example by analysing gravitational lensing around large objects. This information may be able to reveal some clues as to how close we are to a theory of everything with our current generation of string theories, supersymmetry, and M-theory. As an experimentalist I did appreciate this ‘down to earth’ spin in addition to the usual speculation of this type of book.

I find it rather impressive that we are able to answer (or at least ask) questions about physics beyond the largest scales with which we currently are familiar (the size of our universe) and the smallest (the planck length scale) using the same theories and data. I’ve always had a passing interest in string theory. I would however get something a little more mathematical next time, this was very easy reading. I was actually dying to see some equations by the end of it, I think it would have enhanced the book and grounded it a little more. (I’ve got Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong waiting on my shelf to be read at some point, that will probably satisfy my urge for something heavier!)

My other criticism of the book is that it tended to repeat itself a bit in places, especially the more esoteric sections about baby universes and potential escape of civilisation from an accelerating, dying universe. The sections on string theory were also a little confusing in places, mostly because the development of modern string theories was reported ‘chronologically’. This meant that the book kept changing the number of dimensions in the theories, to explain how and why they were ‘in fashion’ at the time. I’d rather have just heard about the latest ones here, the history could have been an entire book in itself…

It also gets a *little* bit too religious for me in places (especially at the end)…..but that doesn’t take much! And it’s mainly due to the presentation of some of the views of current scientists, so I’ll let it off 🙂

ai2I also read Artificial Intelligence – A Beginners Guide by Blay Whitby. It is very basic, but quite nicely written. My main liking of this book came from the fact that it explained the current divided state of the research field into distinct ‘camps’, groups of people that all believe their particular specialization is the true discipline, and explains some of the disagreements between them. It was very easy reading, and a nice introduction to some of the main concepts, but I think I definitely want something more mathematical in this area too. Luckily there’s a good selection of recommended further reading!

Experimentalist friendly QC books

I’ve just picked up a copy of this book from the library:


So far it’s looking quite good. I like it because of the large section in the later chapters dedicated to summarizing the field of experimental progress, whilst still maintaining a thorough introduction to the quantum mechanics, algebra and algorithms. The book covers NMR schemes, trapped ions, atomic (optical lattice) systems, Josephson junction and quantum dot realizations. It is also fairly up to date, being published earlier this year, which is always a bonus 🙂

Made me wonder though, I haven’t seen any published books (or sections of books) on AQC, or in fact books on schemes other than gate-model based systems, like cluster state or topological QC. I guess some of these fields are young compared to the gate model. Maybe there will be books soon…

If anyone knows of any such books, please feel free to point them out to me!