6th Mar 2015 : Mr Turing, I presume?
Mr Turing, I presume?
March 6th, 2015

Mr Turing, I presume?

Alan “Sherlock” Turing as he is now known :S

A true computing hero, and of course, an actual hero (having shortened the length of WW2).

His contribution to computing is immense, he practically invented the concept of modern computers years before anyone could build such a thing. We still talk of a computer as a “Turing Machine” and a computational structure as being “Turing Complete” [did you know you can make a Turing complete computer in Minecraft?].

He also devised the Turing Test.  This is a test for human-like intelligence? [really this is a test for natural language parsing and production  - See John Searle's "The Chinese Room"]

He proposed that if an independent judge could not distinguish a computer from a human in conversation, then the computer should be considered intelligent.  This does of course show our natural human bias – that our form of intelligence is all there is – isn’t a self-drive car “Intelligent”? But it is accepted as a real and hard problem.

Actually the original Turing test was derived from a party game Turing devised called “The Imitation Game” (that rings a bell..). Wherein a judge communicates via written notes with two players, one a man and the other a woman. The judge then has to guess which is which.  Ironically Turing played (and lost) the game form most of his life being a gay man having to pass as straight, with the penally of losing being chemical castration. Nice.

Final note. My favourite work of Turing’s is not his theory of computers, but a paper called “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis”. Turing with incredible insight described pattern formation in nature as simple reaction-diffusion systems that could produce all the complexity of life. The paper was sidelined for many years, but as we better became to understand how genes work (e.g. Hox genes), his brilliance was realised.  I based much of my MSc final project on the idea of Morphogenesis – so I too owe Mr Turing a debt.

He wrote that paper in 1952, just a couple of years before he died at the age of 41. Einstein didn’t publish his paper on General Relativity until he was 46.  Imagine what Turing might have done.

[EDIT : PS - Here's a nice article about Turing's morphogenesis paper, and how only recently is it's brilliance being appreciated.

http://mosaicscience.com/story/how-zebra-got-its-stripes-alan-turing ]

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