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The Turing Guide

Jack Copeland, Jonathan Bowen, Mark Sprevak, and Robin Wilson
Publisher: 
Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 
2017
Number of Pages: 
546
Format: 
Paperback
Price: 
29.95
ISBN: 
9780198747833
Category: 
General
[Reviewed by
Tom Schulte
, on
07/4/2017
]

This commemorative, even reverential, tome contains forty-two articles by thirty-three contributors on aspects of Turing's direct work and the immense legacy of his lifetime contributions. Celebrations and considerations following the 2012 centenary of his birth made this previously obscure idiosyncratic code-breaker, computer pioneer, and mathematician an icon. Much of the media attention came from commentators removed from Turing himself and some of it was fictionalized. This anthology features first-hand accounts from intimates and colleagues and also articles from Turing scholars for a multi-faceted view of this pioneering genius whose “life was both tragic and triumphantly influential" (Roger Penrose). This excellent compendium of essays covers not only the well-known Enigma deciphering (and — probably more important — the cracking of the German High Command’s “Tunny” code), but also the Turing test (and its often-missed nuances), his little-known contribution to biology through a theory of pattern formation, and more.

As may be expected from such a collection, there is overlap and repetition. The editors step in here with helpful pointers to relevant, more detailed sections. The natural variation arising from differing points of view adds authenticity and depth to the image being etched. Articles are grouped by topic, so that a reader can enter via any area of interest. The editors’ pointers to articles with more depth become a roadmap to reading the material. The eight parts touch on biography, computing, codebreaking, artificial intelligence, biology, and mathematics.

Each piece in the biographical section touches on Turing’s homosexuality, the period laws that criminalized his inclinations, and the doubts that his death was suicide. Of his personal life, recurring themes include the open secret of his proclivities and his accepting and even nonchalant attitude to his court-assigned punishments that included breast-inducing hormone therapy. As for this death, his behavior, appointments, and experiments in the final days point to accidental cyanide poisoning. This set of articles is moving and underscores the tragedy of a life encumbered with prejudice and cut short. Remembrances here come from a nephew and colleagues. More than one remembers the shabby trousers and general sartorial stereotype that has become a trope for popular art depictions of genius.

As examples of human ingenuity go, few can rival the bombes and other devices and techniques employed at Bletchley Park by Turing and other innovative colleagues. Stephen Fry has observed that "Turing was a genius who helped shorten the war though his extraordinary solutions to the Enigma and Tunny ciphers that the Germans were using ... We owe him a huge debt." Just the reduction in tonnage lost to U-boats after Turing’s lead role in breaking their code makes him to be one of the important agents for victory. Certainly, he should have been recognized far earlier for his contributions than conservative-minded security restrictions eventually allowed.

Readers seeking details of World War II history and codebreaking in general will find discussions of strategic impact, development of deciphering technologies, social engineering techniques, and even the recollections of non-scientist workers performing tedious tasks that can only be understood when stepping back to appreciate the coordinated effort and the cryptological principles at work. This section includes the best, most enlightening single-page illustration of the Engima machine’s workings that I have seen. Note that the many first-hand accounts are literally from the “Greatest Generation” so swiftly leaving us now. One of the first pages here lists the contributors that passed on while writing their essays. Veterans of this effort but largely not writers, these contributions are primary sources from a pivotal era.

Deciphering work began by “breaking machines with pencils.” From this humble beginning and all that was at stake, computing as we know it was forged. From nubs to the stored program Collosus (pre-ENIAC by two years), the computing evolution detailed here was shrouded in state secrecy for years after the war. A key part of that evolution was the usage of electronic valves as envisioned by Tommy Flowers and Max Newman. A surprising amount of this book, considering the title, covers pioneering work done by those that worked along with and after Turning. This includes the execution of the first stored program on the “Baby” computer in Manchester, covered in the article “Turing’s Zeitgeist”. The full account paints the invention of computing as much more of a British than American achievement.

A fascinating footnote to this history of computing is Chapter 23, “Computer music”. Motivated by a spirit of play and not much more practical concern than needing a timed alarm, Turing and others succeeded at music playback through the Baby’s single, crude loudspeaker. The chapter explains in detail how controlled beats of the speaker generated frequencies of recognizable notes so that compositions could be replicated. This is similar in detail to the first algorithmic chess matches – done by “paper machine” – and allows for enlightening musings on the development of such ideas without precedent.

On the subject of artificial intelligence, Turing comes across as not only visionary but as prescient. Today, in the popular mind, AI conjures up thoughts of an insightful data search engine, autonomous vehicles navigating a city, or accurate algorithm-generated movie suggestions. Turing foresaw “computer intelligence” as achievable via “guided search”. Fascinated by this goal toward the end of his life, he tackled algorithmic chess, sought to mechanize learning, and in 1947 gave a public lecture that mentioned “computer intelligence.”

Contributors Jonathan Bowen and Jack Copeland observe that Turing founded “a field”, which is about as immense an industrial and scientific impact as can be made in a single lifetime. It is no wonder that building on Turing’s impact and ideas, this collection can range from pencil deciphering to asking the question of Chapter 41, “Is the whole universe a computer?” to validating Turing’s morphogenetic theory via the basic forms of ocean-dwelling radiolaria by application of his two-dimensional theory to three-dimensional growth.


Tom Schulte is a software architect at Plex Systems in Troy, Michigan and reaches back a hand in time to thank Turing for giving the initial push to this fascinating, challenging, and rewarding industry.

BIOGRAPHY 
1. Life and work, JACK COPELAND and JONATHAN BOWEN
2. The man with the terrible trousers, SIR JOHN DERMOT TURING
3. Meeting a genius, PETER HILTON
4. Crime and punishment, JACK COPELAND
 

THE UNIVERSAL MACHINE AND BEYOND
5. A century of Turing, STEPHEN WOLFRAM
6. Turing's great invention: the universal computing machine, JACK COPELAND
7. Hilbert and his famous problem, JACK COPELAND
8. Turing and the origins of digital computers, BRIAN RANDELL
 

CODEBREAKER
9. At Bletchley Park, JACK COPELAND
10. The Enigma machine, JOEL GREENBERG
11. Breaking machines with a pencil, MAVIS BATEY
12. Bombes, JACK COPELAND, with JEAN VALENTINE and CATHERINE CAUGHEY
13. Introducing Banburismus, EDWARD SIMPSON
14. Tunny, Hitler's biggest fish, JACK COPELAND
15. We were the world's first computer operators, ELEANOR IRELAND
16. The Testery: breaking Hitler's most secret code, JERRY ROBERTS
17. Ultra revelations, BRIAN RANDELL
18. Delilah - encrypting speech, JACK COPELAND
19. Turing's Monument, SIMON GREENISH, JONATHAN BOWEN, and JACK COPELAND
 

COMPUTERS AFTER THE WAR
20. Baby, JACK COPELAND
21. ACE, MARTIN CAMPBELL-KELLY
22. Turing's Zeitgeist, BRIAN E. CARPENTER and ROBERT W. DORAN
23. Computer music, JACK COPELAND and JASON LONG
24. Turing, Lovelace, and Babbage, DORON SWADE
 

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND THE MIND
25. Intelligent machinery, JACK COPELAND
26. Turing's model of the mind, MARK SPREVAK
27. The Turing test - from every angle, DIANE PROUDFOOT
28. Turing's concept of intelligence, DIANE PROUDFOOT
29. Connectionism: computing with neurons, JACK COPELAND and DIANE PROUDFOOT
30. Child machines, DIANE PROUDFOOT
31. Computer chess - the first moments, JACK COPELAND and DANI PRINZ
32. Turing and the paranormal, DAVID LEAVITT
 

BIOLOGICAL GROWTH
33. Pioneer of artificial life, MARGARET BODEN
34. Turing's theory of morphogenesis, THOMAS E. WOOLLEY, RUTH BAKER, and PHILIP MAINI
35. Radiolaria: validating the Turing theory, BERNARD RICHARDS
 

MATHEMATICS 
36. Introducing Turing's mathematics, ROBIN WHITTY and ROBIN WILSON
37. Decidability and the Entscheidungsproblem, ROBIN WHITTY
38. Banburismus revisited: depths and Bayes, EDWARD SIMPSON
39. Turing and randomness, ROD DOWNEY
40. Turing's mentor, Max Newman, IVOR GRATTAN-GUINNESS
 

FINALE 
41. Is the whole universe a computer?, JACK COPELAND, ORON SHAGRIR, and MARK SPREVAK
42. Turing's legacy, JONATHAN BOWEN

Dummy View - NOT TO BE DELETED