Monday, November 21, 2016

Simple Book Review: Alan M. Turing, A Biography

Alan M. Turing (first published 1959) by Sara Turing

English mathematician, logician, cryptographer (code-breaker), and founder of computer science, Alan Mathison Turing, has not doubted a genius! I came to know about this man when I browsed through Walter Isaacson’s latest book The Innovators (2014), a story of the people who created the computer and the Internet that included Alan Turing as one of the leading thinkers that created our current digital revolution. Then I have introduced again to Alan’s life in a movie The Imitation Games (2014) loosely based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges [Benedict Cumberbatch a.k.a. Marvel’s Dr. Strange!]. So, when I found this book in the library, I straightaway borrow it!

This is a 2012 Centenary Edition. Sara Turing, the author, is Alan Turing’s mother. Alan is her younger son, and John Turing is her eldest son. “Sara Turing,” comments Martin Davis in the forward, “failed to understand [Alan] on so many levels, wrote this remarkable biographical essay. She carefully pieced together his school reports, copies of his publications, and comments on his achievements by experts.” To me this book is a bit bias, I can feel it as I read it – mother’s touch is always kinder – and I agreed that “she was trying to fit [Alan] into a framework that reveals more about her and her social situation than it does about him.” Alan’s brother, John, wrote in the afterward can only be described as a rebuttal of his mother's account. Sara is so optimistic about Alan; John thinks otherwise. Sara tried to make Alan look excellent and friendly, but John said that he was a bit weird and absent-minded.

Nevertheless, Sara Turing’s aim for this book is precise; it’s not about exhausting detail accounts but “to trace from early days the development of a mathematician and scientist of great originality.”

Highlights about Alan M. Turing: As a child, he was very energetic, intelligent, very good with words, adventurous, love sports, curious, and had his lab to do experiments. He studied at Cambridge and then Princeton. During World War II, he worked in the Foreign Office (where he and other code-breakers cracked German ‘Enigma’ code). After the War, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory Teddington, and also with the Manchester Automatic Digital Machine. In 1937, Alan published the paper On Computable Numbers, which, as much as any single event can be seen as the start of the modern computer age (where his proposed ‘The Turing Machine’). He published another paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence in 1950, which introduced his famous the ‘Turing Test.’ The test continues to play a big part in debates about Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Sadly, Turing died at 41. Sara thought of his death as ‘an accident.’ She writes, “Many friends, either because of his temperament and recent good spirits… have been led to believe that his death was caused by some unaccountable misadventure. Besides, his inadvertence alone had always involved the risk of an accident.” But Martin Davis and John Turing suspected otherwise. Martin writes, “There is a reason to believe that Alan did take his life” by staged suicide, biting a “deadly cyanide apple.” Very likely, this version is more accurate. In memory of her son’s death and significant accomplishments, she endowed the Alan Turing Prize of Science to be awarded annually at Sherborne School.

[P.s: Alan Turing is thought to have committed suicide shortly after his conviction for a homosexual offense, still criminalized at the time. His mother may or may not know of this, and she doesn’t record it clearly in her biography. “I believe it was here, perhaps in the first four or five years at the Wards, perhaps even in the first two,” John Turing recalled, “that Alan became destined for a homosexual.”]


Best Blogger Tips

No comments:

Post a Comment

They Click it A lot. [Top 7 last 7 Days]