Remembering Alan TuringS

This Saturday, June 23rd, would have marked the 100th birthday of Alan Turing. A visionary mathematician, logician and codebreaker, Turing was a pioneer in the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence. A linchpin member of Ultra, Britain's World War II counterintelligence team, Turing created the electro-mechanical, code-decrypting "bombe" that deciphered countless intercepted Nazi communications.

Turing's involvement in the war effort saved thousands of lives — and his contributions to science, technology, philosophy and literature have touched billions. It's time to celebrate his amazing legacy.

Despite his myriad contributions to society, in 1952, Turing was forced to choose between imprisonment and chemical castration, when investigations into his personal life brought his homosexuality to light. He opted for the latter. Two years later he committed suicide. "The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely," said British Prime Minster Gordon Brown, in a posthumous apology delivered in 2009. "We're sorry, you deserved so much better."

Only since his passing has society come to truly appreciate Turing for the genius that he was, and to recognize the immense importance of all that he accomplished in just 41 years.

Below we've curated an assortment of the best Turing content on the web. There are videos, interviews, editorials, book recommendations, even cryptography challenges. Set aside some time this weekend to learn, remember and explore with this compendium of all things Turing.


Remembering Alan TuringS

Alan Turing: Why the tech world's hero should be a household name

The first in an ongoing series of fantastic essays being hosted this week by the BBC. Vint Cerf — a computer scientists widely regarded as one of the "fathers of the internet" — discusses Turing's enduring impact:

I've worked in computing, and more specifically computer networking, nearly all my life. It's an industry in a constant state of innovation, always pushing beyond the limits of current capability.

It is sometimes said that "broadband" is whatever network speed you don't have, yet!

Things we take for granted today were, not that long ago, huge technological breakthroughs.

Although I've been lucky enough in my career to be involved in the development of the internet, I've never lost sight of the role played by my predecessors, without whose pioneering labour, so much would not have been accomplished.

This year, in the centenary of his birth, there is one man in particular who is deservedly the focus of attention: Alan Turing.

Turing was born into a world that was very different, culturally and technologically, yet his contribution has never been more important.

Continue reading at the BBC.


Remembering Alan Turing

The Turing test, and how to pass it

A great feature by Wired's Duncan Geere. Part of the magazine's ongoing Turing Week.

Turing's original "imitation game" had nothing to do with artificial intelligence. It was a simple party game with three players — a man, a woman, and a judge of either sex. The judge sits in a room apart from the man and woman, and has to guess which is which from nothing but written communication.

The standard interpretation of the Turing Test today, however, replaces one of the participants with a machine which has to "imitate" intelligence. In this case, the judge has to decide which of the pair is the person, and which is the machine. The computer is successful, and passes the test, if — as Turing puts it — "the interrogator decide[s] wrongly as often when the game is played [with the computer] as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman".

[Webcomic by XKCD]


Remembering Alan TuringS

The Tragedy of Gender-Defiant Genius

Brain Pickings' Maria Popova Talks Turing with the help of The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer, a book by David Leavitt that examines, among other things, "how Turing's homosexuality factored into his intellectual and creative triumphs and tribulations." (Find it at your local library by clicking here.)

"The most tragic irony - or, perhaps, greatest frontier for redemption - is that today, we're still debating the very civil liberty and basic human right the violation of which precipitated Turing's suicide," Popova muses, "but we're waging our wars, fueling and following that debate, largely via the machine he invented.

"More than half a century later, how many Turings are we forcing to be smaller than they are, and how many are we losing completely?"

Continue reading at Brain Pickings.


Codebreaker: Alan Turing's Life and Legacy

London's Science Museum has curated a brand new Alan Turing exhibition, featuring the Pilot Ace — one of the first computers on Earth, and what museum curator David Rooney describes in this introductory video as "Alan Turing's mind made into glass, metal and valves."


Remembering Alan TuringS

Play with Google's Turing Doodle a Day in Advance

It's June 23rd somewhere! Australia, for example. Visit Google Australia (or just wait til June 23rd to roll around) to tinker with the Google Doodle Turing Machine.


My Brother Alan

An incisive piece by John Turing on the life of his younger brother, written in the years after his death, but only published decades later. The Atlantic has received permission from Cambridge University Press to reprint this stirring excerpt. It begins:

My mother gives a true picture of Alan's generosity. Alan gave his time and brains unstintingly to his friends, paid for the schooling of a boy whom he more or less adopted, spent hours choosing suitable presents for his relations and friends, without regard to expense, and was incredibly patient with and endearing to small children, with whom he would have interesting conversations about the nature of God and other daunting subjects. All this is true to life and every word that my mother has written about it is true.

To my mind, it would have been fairer to Alan and made him more understandable to those who did not know him if my mother had mentioned some matters which contrasted sharply with his many virtues. My mother implies that his many eccentricities, divagations from normal behaviour and the rest were some kind of emanation of his genius. I do not think so at all. In my view, these things were the result of his insecurity as a child, not only in those early days at the Wards, but later on as his mother nagged and badgered him. This, however, is all theory which I am content to leave to the psychologists.

Another, even longer adapted excerpt can be found at The Daily Beast: Alan Turing's Brother: He Should be Alive Today


Remembering Alan TuringS

Crack the Alan Turing Cipher

Wired Magazine partnered up with Cyber Security Challenge UK to present its readers with a challenge: crack the code presented in the image featured here. (Click through to WIRED for higher resolution versions.) According to Wired:

Solving the cipher will reveal a hidden message with a win code — please email both of these to the secret address concealed within the cipher. The winner will be the first person to email through the correct answer. They will receive a year's subscription to Wired magazine and an official Cyber Security Challenge UK t-shirt.


Are you chatting with a human, or a computer?

This cute post from Smithsonian Magazine points you toward a handful of the internet's most (and least) convincing chat bots:

How can we decide whether a computer program has intelligence? In 1950, [Turing] proposed an elegantly simple answer: If a computer can fool a human into thinking he or she is conversing with another human rather than a machine, then the computer can be said to be a true example of artificial intelligence.


New Scientist's Turing Competition Results

"A few weeks ago we decided to mark the centenary of the birthday of Alan Turing on 23 June by asking you to speculate on the first words to be spoken by a conscious machine."

Click here to see the phrase that won.


LEGO Turing Machine

An awesome mini-documentary on a LEGO Turing Machine built by Dutch engineers Jeroen van den Box and Davy Landman. The pair built the machine for the exhibition Turing's Erfenis at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam. Find out more here and here.