Monday, May 17, 2004



|| A Question of Fun ||
Art.4

As i celebrate the crossing of the hundred hits on my blog (not to mention searching franctically for that absconding scoundrel who was my hundredth eyeball - we two hundreth actually unless i had some one-eyed donkey also.) we pay a tribute to one of the founding fathers of compting, computing morality and of course philosophy. This 'enigmatic' persona has continued to haunt historians for a long time for his brilliance , eccentricity, and gayness.
Anyways this excellent article from the annals of the WWW is excellent in content as well as conciseness. As they say Enjoy !!

"
Alan Turing's short and extraordinary life has attracted wide interest. It has inspired his mother's memoir (E. S. Turing 1959), a detailed biography (Hodges 1983), a play and television film (Whitemore 1986), and various other works of fiction and art.
There are many reasons for this interest, but one is that in every sphere of his life and work he made unexpected connections between apparently unrelated areas. His central contribution to science and philosophy came through his treating the subject of symbolic logic as a new branch of applied mathematics, giving it a physical and engineering content. Though a shy, boyish, man, he had a pivotal role in world history through his role in Second World War cryptology. Though the founder of the dominant technology of the twentieth century, he variously impressed, charmed or disturbed people with his unworldly innocence and his dislike of moral or intellectual compromise.

Alan Mathison Turing was born in London, 23 June 1912, to upper-middle-class British parents. His schooling was of a traditional kind, dominated by the British imperial system, but from earliest life his fascination with the scientific impulse — expressed by him as finding the ‘commonest in nature’ — found him at odds with authority. His scepticism, and disrespect for worldly values, were never tamed and became ever more confidently eccentric. His moody humour swung between gloom and vivacity. His life was also notable as that of a gay man with strong emotions and a growing insistence on his identity.

His first true home was at King's College, Cambridge University, noted for its progressive intellectual life centred on J. M. Keynes. Turing studied mathematics with increasing distinction and was elected a Fellow of the college in 1935. This appointment was followed by a remarkable and sudden d├ębut in an area where he was an unknown figure: that of mathematical logic. The paper "On Computable Numbers…" (Turing 1936-7) was his first and perhaps greatest triumph. It gave a definition of computation and an absolute limitation on what computation could achieve, which makes it the founding work of modern computer science. It led him to Princeton for more advanced work in logic and other branches of mathematics. He had the opportunity to remain in the United States, but chose to return to Britain in 1938, and was immediately recruited for the British communications war.

From 1939 to 1945 Turing was almost totally engaged in the mastery of the German enciphering machine, Enigma, and other cryptological investigations at now-famous Bletchley Park, the British government's wartime communications headquarters. Turing made a unique logical contribution to the decryption of the Enigma and became the chief scientific figure, with a particular responsibility for reading the U-boat communications. As such he became a top-level figure in Anglo-American liaison, and also gained exposure to the most advanced electronic technology of the day.

Combining his ideas from mathematical logic, his experience in cryptology, and some practical electronic knowledge, his ambition, at the end of the war in Europe, was to create an electronic computer in the full modern sense. His plans, commissioned by the National Physical Laboratory, London, were overshadowed by the more powerfully supported American projects. Turing also laboured under the disadvantage that his wartime achievements remained totally secret. His ideas led the field in 1946, but this was little recognised. Frustrated in his work, he emerged as a powerful marathon runner, and almost qualified for the British team in the 1948 Olympic games.

Turing's motivations were scientific rather than industrial or commercial, and he soon returned to the theoretical limitations of computation, this time focussing on the comparison of the power of computation and the power of the human brain. His contention was that the computer, when properly programmed, could rival the brain. It founded the ‘Artifical Intelligence’ program of coming decades.

In 1948 he moved to Manchester University, where he partly fulfilled the expectations placed upon him to plan software for the pioneer computer development there, but still remained a free-ranging thinker. It was here that his famous 1950 paper, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," (Turing 1950b) was written. In 1951 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his 1936 achievement, yet at the same time he was striking into entirely new territory with a mathematical theory of biological morphogenesis (Turing 1952).

This work was interrupted by Alan Turing's arrest in February 1952 for his sexual affair with a young Manchester man, and he was obliged, to escape imprisonment, to undergo the injection of oestrogen intended to negate his sexual drive. He was disqualified from continuing secret cryptological work. His general libertarian attitude was enhanced rather than suppressed by the criminal trial, and his intellectual individuality also remained as lively as ever. While remaining formally a Reader in the Theory of Computing, he not only embarked on more ambitious applications of his biological theory, but advanced new ideas for fundamental physics.

For this reason his death, on 7 June 1954, at his home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, came as a general surprise. In hindsight it is obvious that Turing's unique status in Anglo-American secret communication work meant that there were pressures on him of which his contemporaries were unaware; there was certainly another ‘security’ conflict with government in 1953 (Hodges 1983, p. 483). Some commentators, e.g. Dawson (1985), have argued that assassination should not be ruled out. But he had spoken of suicide, and his death, which was by cyanide poisoning, was most likely by his own hand, contrived so as to allow those who wished to do so to believe it a result of his penchant for chemistry experiments. The symbolism of its dramatic element — a partly eaten apple — has continued to haunt the intellectual Eden from which Alan Turing was expelled.
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Thus ends an insight into one of the greatest philosophcal minds of the 20th century - A.M.Turing.

NOTE : Small well known trivia, Apple Computers logo of an half eaten apple has been derived from the incident of Turing's death.

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