In November 2017, the Future of Life Institute in California—which focuses on ‘keeping artificial intelligence beneficial’—released a slick, violent video depicting ‘slaughterbots’ [some viewers may find this video distressing]. It went viral. The tiny (fictional) drones in the video used facial recognition systems to target and destroy civilians.
Alan Turing was one of England’s most influential scientists of the twentieth century. He is best remembered as having cracked the codes used in the Enigma machines, enabling the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many important battles, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean. While this achievement which arguably helped to bring the Second World War to a quicker end has been brought to the fore through popular histories
Alan Turing’s personal mathematical notebook went on display a few days ago at Bletchley Park near London, the European headquarters of the Allied codebreaking operation in World War II. Until now, the notebook has been seen by few — not even scholars specializing in Turing’s work. It is on loan from its current owner, who acquired it in 2015 at a New York auction for over one million dollars.
Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) was a mathematician and computer scientist, remembered for his revolutionary Automatic Computing Engine, on which the first personal computer was based, and his crucial role in breaking the ENIGMA code during the Second World War. He continues to be regarded as one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century.
Three words to sum up Alan Turing? Humour. He had an impish, irreverent and infectious sense of humour. Courage. Isolation. He loved to work alone. Reading his scientific papers, it is almost as though the rest of the world — the busy community of human minds working away on the same or related problems — simply did not exist.
By Jack Copeland
Germany’s Army, Air Force, and Navy transmitted many thousands of coded messages each day during the Second World War. These ranged from top-level signals, such as detailed situation reports prepared by generals at the battle fronts and orders signed by Hitler himself, down to the important minutiae of war, such as weather reports and inventories of the contents of supply ships. Thanks to Turing and his fellow codebreakers, much of this information ended up in allied hands — sometimes within an hour or two of its being transmitted.
By Keith M. Martin
I’ve always been intrigued by the appeal of cryptography. In its most intuitive form, cryptography is the study of techniques for making a message unreadable to anyone other than the intended recipient. Why is that so intrinsically interesting to so many people?
By Peter J Bentley
It is perhaps inevitable that on the anniversary of Turing’s birth we should wax lyrical about Turing’s great achievements, and the loss to the world following his premature death. Turing was a pioneer of theoretical computing – his ideas are still used to this day in our attempts to understand what we can and cannot compute. His achievements are tremendous in many aspects of mathematics, computing, and the philosophy of Artificial Intelligence. But our digitized world was not created by one man alone. Turing’s work was one of many key pioneers of his era. If only we could listen to the views of a direct contemporary of Turing, we might learn a more complete picture.
As Artificial Intelligence technologies enter into more and more facets of our everyday life, we are growing accustomed to the idea of machines talking directly to us.
By Kenneth Barish
At this holiday season, I would like to offer a few thoughts on how we can help nurture in our children a spirit of generosity and concern for others. I cannot write this post, however, without first expressing my deepest condolences to the families of Newtown, Connecticut, for their unimaginable and unbearable loss.
By Kees van Deemter
Alan Turing’s work was so important and wide-ranging that it is difficult to think of a more broadly influential scientist in the last century. Our understanding of the power and limitations of computing, for example, owes a tremendous amount to his work on the mathematical concept of a Turing Machine. His practical achievements are no less impressive. Some historians believe that the Second World War would have ended differently without his contributions to code-breaking. Yet another part of his work is the Turing test.
By Cristopher Moore and Stephan Mertens
Many of the central moments in science have been unifications: realizations that seemingly disparate phenomena are all aspects of one underlying structure. Newton showed that the same laws of motion and gravity govern apples and planets, creating the first explanatory framework that joins the terrestrial to the celestial. Maxwell showed that a single field can explain electricity, magnetism, and light. Darwin realized that natural selection shapes all forms of life. And Einstein demonstrated that space and time are shadows of a single, four-dimensional spacetime.
By Paul Cockshott
This year is being widely celebrated as the Turing centenary. He is being hailed as the inventor of the computer, which perhaps overstates things, and as the founder of computing science, which is more to the point. It can be argued that his role in the actual production of the first generation computers, whilst real, was not vital. In 1946 he designed the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), a very advanced design of computer for its day, but because of its challenging scale, initially only a cut down version (the Pilot ACE) was built (and can now be seen in the Science Museum).
A chatbot, or chatterbot, is computer program designed to engage in conversation through written or spoken text. It was one of the words on the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 shortlist. The idea of a chatbot originates with Alan Turing’s mid twentieth century aspiration to build a thinking computer. Turing proposed a test to determine what might count as success in this venture.
At one point in the recent film The Imitation Game the detective assigned to his case asks Alan Turing whether machines could think. The dialogue that follows is perhaps not very illuminating philosophically, but it does remind us of an important point: the computer revolution that Turing helped to pioneer gave a huge impetus to interest in what we now call the mind-body problem. In other words, how is the mind related to the body? How could a soggy grey mass such as the brain give rise to the extraordinary phenomenon of consciousness?
Who was Alan Turing and why is he regarded as one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century? How did he become the father of the computer science? How did the development of the Automatic Computing Engine lead to the development of the first modern computer? We spoke with B. Jack Copeland, author of Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age, about Turing’s work.