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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Turing-completeness

A few notes on Jim Holt's piece in the New Yorker about the new pro-gay take on Alan Turing:
  1. As amazing as Turing's work on the Enigma was, it was not pivotal to
    the war effort. By the time it was broken, other methods were being used by the Nazis. In fact, to avoid making it clear that the code had been broken, the Navy was forced to withhold information from many officers so that they would still lead their men and ships to their deaths. And the communications within British intelligence and the Allied command were too poor to make use of what good information did get collected.

  2. Even though Holt's review specifically deals with Turing's homosexuality, Holt glosses over the big boy crush of Turing's youth (he didn't reciprocate, at least not physically). Turing declared to others that his boyf, who died young, spoke to him from beyond the grave.

  3. It bears mentioning that Turing's mother was wonderful, was pretty much cool about him being gay, and drew endearing pictures of him being unlike the other boys--for example, him playing field hockey, wandering away from the goal to smell the flowers.

  4. Holt shouldn't note Turing's chess playing without mentioning one of Turing's favorite games, a variation on chess that he invented in which each player must run around the perimeter of the house between moves, and can take a turn after each loop regardless of who moved last.

  5. Holt should mention that the "Turing test", which asks that computer programs fool human users into thinking that they are conversing with a human instead, has been administered in an annual competition for twenty years, and has been passed by numerous programs. (Humorous and absurdist conversationalists seem to be the easiest to convincingly emulate.)

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