Bronze-level articleAlan Turing

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Alan Turing
Here's this person, who is being murdered for who he is, after being one of the heroes for liberating people who were being murdered for being who they were.
—Jaron Lanier[1]

Alan Turing was a British mathematical academic who was responsible for running the Bletchley Park SIGINT operation during World War II. He was also gay and was the victim of government persecution due to the UK's then-policy prohibiting homosexuality.

The fact that someone who may have been one of the top ten most important people responsible for winning the war was treated like scum by a government who should have been making him comfortable for life may or may not have had something to do with later liberalizations of laws in the UK regarding homosexuality. In any event, during the 1950s Turing chose the Snow White route, apparently spiking an apple with cyanide (the apple was never tested to be sure[2]) and therefore never living to see the eventual revealing of his pivotal role in the Allied war effort, not to mention his lionization as the alpha hacker of all alpha hackers in the computer field.


[edit] Church-Turing thesis

Turing is regarded as one of the fathers of computer science for his co-development, with Alonzo Church, of the Church-Turing thesis, which hypothesized that any problem that is "effectively computable" (solvable by mechanical means) can be solved using a certain sort of formally specified machine, which is now called a Turing machine.

He also devised a "universal Turing machine" that could "compute any function that any Turing machine can compute," which was a "blueprint" for the later general-purpose computers. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, many philosophers of science, being unacquainted with the finer points of the theory, have grossly misinterpreted the thesis, falsely stating that it proves Turing machines to be capable of computing all that is computable, or that any possible computer architecture is no more powerful than the Turing machine.[3]

[edit] Turing Test

The Turing Test is a well known method for ascertaining computer "intelligence." It consists of a person (judge) communicating with two subjects, one of which is human and the other a computer. If the judge is unable to distinguish between human and machine then the computer is said to display intelligence. The communication is nowadays via typed words on a screen in order to remove other sensory clues. Turing originally conceived the idea from a variant of a sex detection parlour game and envisaged teletype as the communication medium. The Chinese room thought experiment attempts to refute the Turing test's standard for judging artificial intelligence.

[edit] The imitation game

The original formulation of the test was known as "The Imitation Game", where person A attempted to impersonate person B. It was then up to the interviewer (Person C, if you will) to decide who was telling the truth and who was lying. Possibly due to Turing's interest in the nature of gender, he usually described A and B as a man and woman couple, with one pretending to be the other gender. The interviewer could ask questions and A and B, who were isolated from the interviewer so that even their voices wouldn't be heard, would then answer. The basis of the imitation game with regards to the development of the Turing Test was the question of what would happen when one of these individuals, A or B, was replaced by a machine (a computer, in our more modern views on how the test can be carried out). Unfortunately, this was as bit too much of a gender-bender for people's squeamish sensibilities, and almost every subsequent version of the test conducted left this part out, leaving it as just an interviewer and a simulated interviewee.

[edit] Extra points

Extra points can be earned by either computer or human if they are able to convince the judge that he (the judge) is a computer.[4]

[edit] Death

Turing was convicted of having a sexual relationship with another man in 1952 and was given a choice between jail time and chemical castration through the hormone estrogen, and chose the latter.[5][6] His security clearance was revoked, leaving him unable to continue his work in cryptanalysis. He died two years later of cyanide poisoning, which was ruled to have been a suicide after an investigation, though his mother thought the death might have been accidental.[7]

In 2009, the British government apologized for thus driving one of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th century to his death.

[edit] Overturning of conviction

In December 2013, Turing was finally issued a posthumous pardon.[8] The governing Tories did not oppose the backbench bill.

Criticisms against the legislation[9] ranged from poor education of law ("Oh, you're rewriting history!"), ad hominem ("This is why I can't take left-wing arguments seriously!") to outright homophobia ("There were rumours that Turing was a child molester!"[10]). The three likely overlap.

[edit] In film

There's a movie due out in 2014 about Turing's life, starring Benedict "One Computer Nerd Wasn't Enough For Me" Cumberbatch as the man himself; it's titled The Imitation Game (see above).

[edit] Turing and Apple Computer

While Apple Computer's bitten-apple logo is generally accepted to have been a reference to the story of Isaac Newton's apple, there is a curious urban legend to the effect that it is instead an homage to Alan Turing. This hypothesis is largely discounted, although still very prevalent.[11][12]

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Jaron Lanier: The Death of Alan Turing on Big Think.
  2. He was found with a half eaten apple beside him; many people think that the two are connected and it seems like not too far a leap.
  3. The Church-Turing Thesis, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  4. I'm...not even sure who I am anymore.
  5. Turing, Alan, glbtq
  6. The British government, unwilling to grant variance from the Official Secrets Act, forbade presentation and consideration of Turing's indispensably vital role in the WWII victory to advocate mitigation in sentencing.
  7. Code-Breaker, The New Yorker
  8. Alan Turing granted royal pardon for gay sex conviction, CBC
  9. You can observe some of these here.
  10. Wikipedia themselves have been inundated with the claim and can't find anything scholarly to support it.
  11. Enigma of the Apple Computer Logo
  12. According to mattsmacintosh on YouTube, the logo had the "bite" because they overlapped the text "Apple Computers" over the apple.
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