Alan Turing, RIP.

In February 2011, Watson the IBM computer beat two humans in the game of Jeopardy!. Watson was programmed with massive information – some 200 million pages, 15 terabytes.  He can process 500 million books per second.  He ‘listens’ for key words in a clue, then matches them with clusters in his memory, then cross checks them against contextual information that is offered, and then ‘buzzes’ a decision when his statistical analysis finds the likelihood of a match.

Alan Turing would not be surprised.  “I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”  1950.  Turing was the British mathematician who broke the Nazi Enigma security code. He was also a homosexual, which was a crime in England during his lifetime.  A lover blackmailed him. Turing sought police help.  He would not deny his homosexuality.  Despite his great service to the war effort, he was placed on house arrest, and ordered to receive female hormone treatments.

Mathematicians in his time sought to unify the truths of numbers, geometry, language, and logic.  With mathematics and grammar, and self evident axioms and propositions, they sought a symbolic logic that could derive all knowable truth. Was this possible?  Kurt Gödel ultimately proved that. . . no, such a system was not possible.  There are inevitably truths in any system of logic that can not be proven within that system.

Turing’s genius was to see that in the mechanics of functioning devices, machines that really work must embody some kind of truth. He utilized the most basic element of logical mathematics, the binary system, 0/1, and then conceptualized the mechanical expression of the most basic operations, the Boolean operations: and, or, not, if and only if, and never. He created a process of physically ordering events in time along a moving tape, and applied ordered ‘sets-of-rules’ to discrete ‘events’ – positions on the tape.  He then proved, mathematically, that this Turing machine could compute anything logical or mathematical.  He had derived the theoretic essential elements of Mind, and defined the structure of the modern computer.

His mother would often say that he was so . . .”literal minded“.  This was autism.  Turing used his intellect to compensate for limited emotional understanding. Indeed, like Spock of Star Trek, he was machine-like himself.  He found himself defending machines against the outrage that machines could be intelligent.

And to him, humans weren’t so wonderfully thoughtful. They clearly and profoundly misjudge, after all, the simple meaning of sexual preference.  He mocked their faulty reasoning:   Turing believes machine think. . . .Turing lies with men. . . . Therefore machines do not think

Turing loved Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, particularly the scene where the Queen plots with the Raven to entice Snow White to bite into a poisoned apple, so that she, the Queen, can then be ‘the fairest in the land’.  He was found dead, on June 8, 1954, alongside a bitten apple dipped in cyanide.

Apple Computer’s logo?

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