Lovelace lecture 2014

Contextual semantics: from quantum mechanics to logic, databases, constraints, complexity and natural language semantics

Speaker: Prof Samson Abramsky, Christopher Strachey Professor of Computing and a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford University

Quantum mechanics presents a disturbingly different picture of physical reality to the classical worldview. Its non-classical features also offer new resources and possibilities for information processing.

At the heart of quantum non-classicality are the phenomena of non-locality, contextuality and entanglement. We shall describe recent work in which tools from computer science are used to shed new light on these phenomena.

This has led to a number of developments, including a novel approach to classifying multipartite entangled states, and a unifying principle for Bell inequalities based on logical consistency conditions.

At the same time, there are also striking and unexpected connections with a number of topics in classical computer science, including relational databases, constraint satisfaction and natural language semantics.

This reflects the pervasiveness of contextuality in computation, language and cognition as well as in quantum physics, leading to what we may call the “contextual semantics hypothesis”; we can find common mathematical structure in all these diverse manifestations and develop a widely applicable theory.

The lecture will present an introduction to contextual semantics, in a self-contained, expository fashion.

Main lecture


About the speaker

Samson Abramsky is Christopher Strachey Professor of Computing and a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford University. He has held Chairs at the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, and at the University of Edinburgh. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Member of Academia Europaea. His paper “Domain theory in logical form” won the LiCS Test-of-Time award (a twenty-year retrospective) for 1987. He was awarded an EPSRC Senior Research Fellowship on Foundational Structures and Methods for Quantum Informatics in 2007. He has played a leading role in the development of game semantics and their applications to the semantics of programming languages.