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Reading (Week 1): De Landa on Alan Turing

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Mathematician and cryptologist Alan Turing will come up a lot over the course of our discussions.  It's hard to imagine a single more important figure in the history of computing, and it isn't a stretch to think him one of the most influential figures of the 20th century.    His mathematical model, dubbed the Turing Machine, provided the blueprint for the first computers (and solved many difficult problems in mathematics as well).   His cryptological work for British intelligence in World War II is largely credited for turning the tide of the war, as his efforts in breaking the Enigma machine allowed the allies to intercept Nazi communications. His model for computer intelligence (or more accurately the appearance of intelligence), now called The Turing Test, is still debated today; Turing reasoned that appearance of intelligence is intelligence, basically cutting around the problem of creating a totalizing theory of thought.   The Turing Test is still a benchmark today:  whenever Google accurately predicts what you were looking for as you type, it's passed.

His post-war imprisonment for being homosexual (and his later suicide, by poisoned apple no less), was a tragedy and a national shame in England.

De Landa does a good job of outlining the Turing Machine in this reading.   

Start on page 129 of War in the Age of Intelligent Machines and end on page 132.

Begin with this passage:

The computer was born in 1936 as an “imaginary” machine.  That is, Alan Turing, its inventor, gave only a logical specification of the machine’s functions without bothering to give any details regarding its physical implementation.  The original purpose of the machine was to settle some abstract questions in metamathematics, not to solve any real computational problem ...

And end here:

Machine reasoning was liberated from a search for eternal laws of thought and began to yield practical results.  No magical essence of thought was found.  The electronic master thinker never materialized.  In its place, a synthetic version of the “idiot savant” appeared, bringing expert know-how to bear on the process of mechanical problem-solving.