The Computational World
University of Oxford Computing Laboratory
*with contributions from Bob Coecke, Karo Moilanen, and Nic Smith
Brief Intro to Comlab
• Established 1957. In 2009:
• 55 permanent faculty (35 in 2005)
• c.110 DPhil (PhD) students
• c.40 postdoc researchers
• c.60 MSc students
• c.200 undergraduates
• c.£30m research funding (up from £6m in 2005)
Security Infrastructures Chip design
Robotics Foundations, Logic
Medicine Music and structures
Humanities Animal behaviour
Biology Medical Informatics
Web Technologies Physics Game
Fluid Dynamics Sensor Networks Quantum Semantics
Transportation Aircraft Engineering Information
Spatial Power Management
Information systems Knowledge Programming
Representation Software Engineering
Just three examples:
• Heart Modelling (Computer Science + Physiology)
= better diagnosis and treatment.
• Quantum Information Processing (Computer
Science + Physics) = potentially a whole new way
of doing computing.
• Computational Linguistics (Computer Science +
Linguistics) = new ways of processing and
Modelling the Human Heart
In Comlab, David Gavaghan, Nic Smith, and Banca Rodriguez are
involved in several projects aimed at heart modelling, to:
- better understand how the heart functions/goes wrong
- better predict the outcome of particular types of treatment
- give clinicians better diagnostic tools and more information
about individual patients than they currently have.
Modelling the Human Heart
Heart disease is an enormous health and financial problem:
Primary care 60%
Scales in the Heart
gene SNPs physiology
35,000 100,000 (?) 100 cell 4 tissue 10 1
genes proteins types types organs body
The spatial and temporal scales
• 1m person
• 1 mm electrical length scale of cardiac tissue
• 1 µm cardiac sarcomere spacing
• 1 nm pore diameter in a membrane protein
Range = 109
• 109 s (70 yrs) human lifetime
• 106 s (10 days) protein turnover
• 103 s (1 hour) digest food
• 1s heart beat
• 1 ms ion channel HH gating
• 1 µs Brownian motion
Range = 1015
Ingredients of a Whole Organ Heart Model
Tissue Structure Anatomy
Computational Modelling Applications
Ventricular Coronary Blood flow
Regional work through the
cardiac cycle Stresses during contraction
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200
Quantum mechanics: a bluffer's guide
• The state of a system (e.g. electron + nucleus) is described
by elements of a complex vector space. This allows
calculation of probabilities of measurements (e.g. position
or direction of spin) of a particle. You can't simultaneously
measure both accurately (Heisenberg)
• Measurement of a physical observable is represented by an
operator on the vector space. When you measure
something the state `collapses' to a definite value, but this
blurs the values of other observables.
• `Superposition' of states: i.e. a system can be partly in one
state (e.g. spin up), partly in another (spin down),
simultaneously. A pair of particles can be in any
superposition of pairs of positions.
Quantum mechanics: a bluffer's guide
• It is possible to create pairs of particles that are
`entangled': i.e. some of their their properties are
correlated: e.g. direction of spin or charge.
• For example, both might have the same, or opposite
directions of spin or charge. This means that (if you know
which way the entanglement works, from the way the
particles were constructed) measuring one particle tells you
about the other.
• A `qubit' is the quantum analogue of a classical `bit': think
of it as a superposition of proportions of states 0 and 1.
• Particles representing qubits can be entangled in the same
Quantum mechanics: a bluffer's guide
• The very weird thing about entanglement is that it can
happen over long distances: many kilometres in fact - the
current record is from Geneva to the Canary Islands!
• In quantum cryptographic key distribution we can use this
fact to transmit information in a completely secure way.
• We can also carry out an operation which allows us to
transmit the state of a qubit using only two classical bits.
• This is known as `quantum teleportation' ... but not
teleportation as we know it, Jim.
• Create an entangled qubit BC, where Alice (in Oxford) has
B and Bob (in the other place) has C. Alice wants to
transmit qubit A (in an unknown state) to Bob.
• She then jointly measures A and B and gets two classical
bits as the result. A and B are now entangled by the
• B is no longer entangled with C - but C now potentially
contains information about A.
• Alice sends the two classical bits to Bob, which encode one
of 4 states (00,01,10,11).
• This tells Bob which operation to perform on C to
• The possibility of teleportation shows that by measuring
(i.e. observing) one can process continuous quantum data..
• This leads to a model of quantum computing where a
classical computer controls a huge quantum state.
• Such a computer is expected to be exponentially faster
than a classical computer on its own.
• Entanglement based communication protocols are secure
because although an eavesdropper could intercept the
classical communication, the quantum channel cannot be
intercepted without destroying the quantum state.
• But how can be sure that such quantum computational
processes have the right properties?
• In Comlab, Samson Abramsky and Bob Coecke have been
developing a graphical calculus to reason about such
quantum processes, and prove they do have the right
• Here is their proof of correctness of the teleportation
• And here is the textbook proof:
• How do we know the graphical calculus is telling us the
• Because it has a mathematical interpretation in Category
Theory, one of the basic tools of Computer Science.
• The Comlab Quantum Information Processing group
collaborates with Materials Science and Physics to advance
• Quantum Computing will be the next real computer
revolution...but not for a while.
WHAT IS COMPUTATIONAL LINGUISTICS?
We aim to create computer programs that behave
as if they had some understanding of English (or
French, Urdu, Hixkaryana, etc...)
Better searching for information: just ask a
question like `How many colleges are there in
Automatic translation, summarisation of
You can interact naturally with the computer to
solve problems or perform tasks that would
otherwise be too difficult, take too long, or
require specialist computational expertise.
Why is this difficult?
●not ambiguous (a sentence only has one
● not dependent on context
- a sentence always means the same thing.
● not simple, and very ambiguous
● the same sentence can mean different things in
different contexts: e.g. `he's here now'
● require non-linguistic knowledge (`common
sense') to resolve ambiguities.
How can we get the computer to
• we find the syntactic or grammatical structure of
• we use that to translate the sentence into a
simpler language that the computer can
understand: a `meaning representation'
• but we also have to solve the problems of
ambiguity and `common sense'
• and the problem of context changing meaning
Sentences have a hierarchical structure: words
combine into phrases, and phrases into
Name Name Verb Det Adjective Noun
Barack Obama won the presidential election
We can describe the structure of sentences with rules like:
Sentence → Noun Phrase + Verb Phrase
Noun Phrase → Name + Name
Noun Phrase → Determiner + Adj + Noun
Verb Phrase → Verb + Noun Phrase
We call a collection of rules like this a `grammar' and we
can use it to find the structure of new sentences
automatically. We call this process `parsing'.
Many sentences have more than one possible
syntactic analysis, corresponding to different
He photographed the man with the camera
He used a camera to photograph a man
He photographed a man who had a camera.
But often some of the syntactic possibilities do not
He photographed the man with a bicycle
- can't (easily) mean:
He used a bicycle to photograph a man
- because we know that you can't take photographs
with a bicycle. But it is very hard to get a
computer to `know' this.
• Many words are ambiguous: for example, the English
word `bank' has several meanings: financial, and
• Humans do not find this a problem:
He went to the bank to get some money
The fish jumped out of the water on to the bank
but computers do not know that fish do not jump on to
a financial institution (yet), or that you do not
(usually) get money from a riverbank
The state of the art
How well do we do?
• Parsing - 70-80% on newspaper text, including
• Word sense ambiguity: around 60%
• Context - `he's here now' etc. Really hard. Lucky
to get it right 50% of the time!
A practical application: detecting positive
(POS), neutral (NTR), or negative (NEG)
attitudes in text.
• brand management (what do people think
of your company or reputation?)
• consumer research (what do people like
and dislike about your product?)
• monitoring government policy (will you
• we call this Sentiment Analysis
Automated Sentiment Analysis
Typically done by spotting key words:
• This is a great film!
• This is the worst film I've seen this year.
Not always so simple:
• publicity for the Blackberry Storm
• adverse publicity for the Blackberry Storm
• counteract adverse publicity for the Blackberry Storm
• fail to counteract adverse publicity for the Blackberry
Using syntactic analysis we can deal with these
more sophisticated sentiment phenomena, using
a set of `sentiment logic' rules:
• adverse + NTR = NEG (e.g. adverse circumstances)
• counteract + POS = NEG (e.g. counteract progress)
• counteract + NEG = POS (e.g. counteract disease)
• fail + NEG = POS (e.g. fail to counteract progress)
• fail + POS = NEG (e.g. fail to counteract disease)
Syntax + sentiment logic:
fail to counteract adverse publicity for the Blackberry
We can classify individual entities rather
than whole documents:
Sentiment analysis from Twitter:
David Cameron: Nick Clegg:
Gordon Brown: David Beckham:
We can track sentiment over time, or
across a series of documents:
It's a computational world, but not this one:
Our computational world
• Computers are not going to go away - if
anything, they will become ever more present.
They are in your watch, phone, car, credit card,
• They are deeply involved in every aspect of
manufacturing, commerce, physical science and
technology, and increasingly in the medical and
• And are beginning to be indispensable in the
humanities and the arts.
• I can't imagine how we managed for so long