Dawn of the Cybermen

News editor

A festival at the Science Museum looks at how technology might help humans to ’upgrade’ themselves, while the UK’s quantum technologies have heir day in the sun.

Here’s a question for the bleary-eyed at the start of the working week: would you take advantage of biotechnology to ‘upgrade’ yourself?

You could, for example, make yourself think faster [try brewing your tea for longer – Ed] or start controlling devices with high-tech implants.

It doesn’t seem too far-fetched as concept, given humanity’s apparent addiction to electronic gadgetry and myriad of data held within it, be it a “tweet”, fatuous Facebook update or price fluctuations in the metals markets.

Just watch the hoards of people fixated on their devices as they walk along the pavement and wonder if a day will come when that device is implanted into the body for ‘always on’ connectivity.

These questions and more are to be addressed at London’s Science Museum, which is holding You Have Been Upgraded, a festival looking that what biotechnology can deliver now and in the future.

It is hoped the event will leave visitors questioning their feeling about humanity ‘upgrading’ itself and it will do so by taking them into a future scenario where a new global company called Unlimited Enhancement Technologies (UNET) has made celebrities out of its biotechnologists.

Created by the museum in collaboration with Unlimited Theatre, the festival presents a futuristic take on the life-changing innovations currently being developed by scientists, artists and designers.

The museum says: ‘Visitors can meet experts, try demonstrations and see the latest technologies across high-tech prosthetics, neural implants, brain enhancers and sense augmentation devices.’

You Have Been Upgraded is a free festival that will run on Wednesday 25 March – Lates (adults only):  18:45-22:00, Friday 27 March – Schools: 11:00-15:00, 28-29 March (Saturday and Sunday): 11:00-17:00.

Surrey University have announced that a team of its researchers had demonstrated a quantum on/off switching time of about a millionth of a millionth of a second. This, they said, represented the fastest-ever quantum switch to be achieved with silicon and over a thousand times faster than previous attempts.

Friday’s news from Surrey preceded today’s announcement of a UK strategy for stimulating growth in quantum technologies, a market predicted to be worth over £1bn in the future.

The strategy will guide new quantum work and investments over the next 20 years to ensure the UK’s capabilities and contribution to a sector that has already provided electronics that control telecommunications, computing, electronic systems and digital cameras.

Developed by the Quantum Technologies Strategic Advisory Board, which oversees the newly established £270m UK National Quantum Technology Programme – the strategy highlights that the biggest opportunities for the UK to exploit its advantage in quantum are in the finance, defence, aerospace and telecommunications sectors, and the $2.5tn world oil and gas industry.

Currently, improved quantum sensor and imaging technologies are being used to develop tools capable of seeing through the ground, enabling improved flood prediction, sinkhole detection, and more efficient construction projects through the quicker identification of underground obstructions before starting work.

Briefing has been told that these technologies are also being developed for use in the medical field, such as providing ‘unprecedented views’ into the brain for dementia research.

In a statement, Bob Cockshott, Quantum Lead at the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), said: “From finance and telecommunications to energy, aerospace and transport, new quantum technologies will have a significant impact on many of the world’s biggest markets and may substantially improve on what is possible with current technology, such as enabling sub-surface imaging of buried assets and navigation without GPS.

“By pursuing the five action points of the strategy, we can capture the scientific excellence of UK quantum research and ensure British businesses are the first to benefit from it.”

The five ’action point’s mentioned by Cockshot are expected to:  

  • Enable a strong foundation of capability in the UK
  • Stimulate applications and market opportunity in the UK
  • Create the right social and regulatory context
  • Maximise UK benefit through international engagement
  • Grow a skilled UK workforce

Nurturing a skilled workforce for the future remains a top priority and it’s heartening to know that – according to one source – around 70 per cent of children are still excited by science after primary school. However, only 17 per cent go onto pursue their passion for science and Britain requires 50 per cent more STEM professions by 2020.

In order to stimulate the number of young STEM enthusiasts, STEMNET, Science Museum Group and BP announced the launch of Ultimate STEM Challenge, a competition that asked 11 to 14 years olds to form teams of two to four and then put their STEM skills to the test in one of three challenges.

These were focussed around keeping warm, keeping hydrated and keeping cool, and the young students were asked to create a short film or presentation to showcase their project.

The initial judging process has now finished and the top six teams from across the country will participate in the final today, Monday 23rd March 2015, at London’s Science Museum.

The students will present their ideas to a panel of judges in front of a live audience. The judges will then question the students and discuss their ideas before deciding on the prize winners.

Finally, this Wednesday sees an event designed to explore solutions to the rapidly growing problem of capacity on the UK rail network.

The organisers say the first session of Releasing Capacity on the UK Rail Network will explore the importance of integrating HS2 and HS3 with existing rail network to improve connectivity, and generate extra capacity on passenger and freight train services.

They add: “We will look at how Network Rail decision-making and investment plans through CP6 will integrate with HS2 and HS3, and where the opportunities lie for the integrated operation of rail services. We will look at the wider impacts of high-speed rail, as we explore how it can improve connectivity across the North and the Midlands, as well as north-south links to London.

Delegates will then hear a range of case studies on where improvements are being made to the current rail network, looking at improvements to the West Coast Main Line, developments at Euston, line speed improvements, and the impact of electrification.

The final session of the conference will explore wider benefits of increasing capacity, including the benefits for freight, and how regional rail enhancements will support city growth.

Delegates will also have opportunity to hear nationwide and international best practices on releasing capacity on the passenger and freight network.

School children from across the UK gather for the final of BP's Ultimate STEM Challenge at the Science Museum in London
School children from across the UK gather for the final of BP’s Ultimate STEM Challenge at the Science Museum in London

Update

Four students from Wells Cathedral Senior School in Somerset won yesterday’s inaugural Ultimate STEM Challenge competition.

Their solution focused on how to keep hydrated in extreme environments. The team developed S3, a portable Solar Still Solution that uses solar energy to produce drinking water from salt or polluted water anywhere in the world.