Hi-tech trek – The ghost in the machine (2008)

Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop examines how software affects nearly every aspect of our lives.

Watch time: 37:20
Four children holding up signs that have the pattern of dominoes
Credit: Royal Institution

Lecture 3 – The ghost in the machine

Computers represent one of the most versatile machines ever invented with the same piece of hardware being used for a huge range of different purposes. However it is the software that brings the machine to life, turning it into a phone, a music player, a game or any other number of possibilities.

In the third of his Lectures, Chris Bishop delves into the fascinating world of computer science to reveal how software is solving real world problems.

Find out how powerful new computers running sophisticated software are able to run thousands of tasks at once, and why a quantum computer may one day be able to do more calculations at the same time than there are atoms in the universe.


In this series of CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Chris Bishop invites us on a journey into the high-tech world of computer technology.

From the origin of the microprocessor to the development of the internet, the field of computer science has literally changed the way in which we live our lives.

But the world of computers is vast and complicated, ranging from the architecture of microchips to the use of quantum mechanics for data encryption – it's not always easy to know what exactly is going on inside the box.

So how do computers work? How is so much information stored within a single hard-drive and how do computers communicate with each other over the internet?

Across five lectures, Chris Bishop sheds light on some of these questions by tracing the evolution of the modern computer.

Along the way he explores the many technologies which have developed as a result of the computer revolution; including the interconnected world of the internet, the use of software to control hardware and the challenges involved in creating artificial intelligence.