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The Great Philosophers: Turing [Paperback]

Andrew Hodges
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

27 Oct 1997 Great Philosophers
Alan Turing's 1936 paper ON COMPUTABLE NUMBERS, introducing the Turing machine, was a landmark of twentieth century thought. It provided the principle of the post-war electronic computer. Influenced by his crucial codebreaking work in thesecond world war, Turing argued that all the operations of the mind could be performed by computers. His thesis, made famous by the wit and drama of the Turing Test, is the cornerstone of modern Artificial Intelligence. Andrew Hodgesgives a fresh and interesting analysis of Turing's developing thought, relating it to his extraordinary life.

Product details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (27 Oct 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753801922
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753801925
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 10.8 x 0.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 486,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The enigmatic Turing 17 Aug 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Apple Macintosh's icon logo with its partially bitten apple, is said by many to be a visual allusion to Alan Turing, his tragic early death with all its conspiracy theories and one of the few actual recognitions of his place in our modern world's ubiquitous technology, the computer.
A star of Bletchley Park, the WWII code-breaking group without whom many creditable historians claim the Allies would not have won the war and on whom Churchill depended a great deal, he was a brilliant, if eccentric, intellectual. (I often wonder at the strange view and desire of many people who must reduce the brilliant and extraordinary individuals to the ordinary, one minute expecting their brilliance but unable the next to cope with their differences and, of course, not all their ideas are brilliant.)
He cycled with his gasmask on to avoid hay-fever, from which he suffered a great deal, and chained his tea-mug to the radiator to ensure it was there when he wanted it; he also cracked the Enigma-code and built and pioneered the use of an early computer to do it faster to speed the end of the war. Like many of Bletchley Park's darkest(?) secrets, he became inconvenient after the war and his homo-sexuality opened him to possible blackmail.
Turing's brilliant ideas and philosophies are explored in reasonable depth in this brief, well -researched volume. For anyone interested in this fascinating genius, this is a good beginning.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short, Sassy, and to the Point 27 July 2001
By Brint Montgomery - Published on
Look, sometimes you just don't want to spend days or weeks of your life getting to know some famous personage in intellectual history. At heart, you're lazy, and you're somewhat cheap too. So what better way to get a brief overview of Alan Turing than by Andrew Hodges' cheap and concise book on said? Well, I couldn't think of any, so I picked this up 53 page gem on a whim. It's a historical overview of Turing's career with balanced attention to his thought. With the exception of about 8 pages that only will profit those who have had some experience with what's called the "Halting Problem" in symbolic logic, this is a very readable book. What is a Turing Machine and why are they important to the modern notion of computers? Why is Turing considered the inventor of computational theory, even if not the outright inventor of the computer? (And this last claim is somewhat debatable, as the book points out.) What was Turing doing for the British Government during the war? Why did Turing get fired from his job? There are all sorts of little tidbits of information here, even about his sex life. Ho ho! Also in the book is some discussion of whether a computer can be made to think. Naturally, some of Turing's more interesting comments are quoted on this topic, and Hodges gives attention to the more recent ideas of Roger Penrose, a philosopher whose ideas on artificial consciousness have been influential on the contemporary scene. Okay, you got the time to read 53 pages, and for not more money than a good McDonald's meal, you could be reading it in a day or so if you'll just click the...ordering button...
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Turing: A concise but sophisticated biography 6 April 2000
By "bobv" - Published on
This is a superb, yet brief overview of Turing, his life and his math. Although this is a sophisticated approach to the man and his work, the writing is readily accessible by a lay person, like myself. One can get a clear flavor of the importance of his work and how his Turing machine model is not just the framework for Bill Gate's wealth but also as a profound extention of the Undecidable problem first addressed by Godel.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How natural philosophy helped invent the computer... 18 Nov 2007
By ewomack - Published on
To fully answer the question whether machines can think seems to presuppose the question "what is thinking?" In other words, how will we know when a machine thinks? Will it tell us? Will it compose sonnets? The eponymous "Turing test" attempts to unravel this paradox. To greatly simplify, the test states that if a human interpreter, alone in a room, cannot distinguish answers given by a machine, in a separate obscured room, from answers given by a human being, in a third obscured room, then the machine must have human-like intelligence. Alan Turing, often credited with the invention of the now ubiquitous computer, proposed these criteria in a 1950 paper called "Computing Machinery and Intelligence." He was not trying to invent a computer, even when he provided an unmistakable model for one, the "Turing Machine," in a 1936 paper. Instead, he sought to model the computable aspects of the human mind. The mathematician Hilbert's work gave rise to the "Entscheidungsproblem," or the problem of "decidability." Answering this problem, as the young Turing did, also led to his conceptual blueprint of what we now know as a computer. Nonetheless, the human mind remained Turing's focus, and that's why he's represented in "The Great Philosophers" series. Arguably, his predominant question was "what is thinking?" or, at least, "how does the mind compute?" His answers had far-reaching implications for the philosophy of mind, amongst other disparate fields. Early twentieth century mathematical logic, then seen as "the quest for truth" by eminent philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, was Turing's starting point.

This book's author, Andrew Hodges, also wrote an earlier, much longer, biography called "Alan Turing: The Enigma." Hodges uses this diminutive book to update some of the thoughts presented in that earlier 1983 biography. This 1999 book, a follow-up of sorts, traces Turing's thought from early adulthood to his sad and tragic suicide in 1954. Though some 58 pages long, it feels comprehensive. Apart from "The Turing Machine," "The Universal Machine," "The Turing Test," and his early development, the breezy text covers Turing's travails with homosexuality, his cryptographic feats during World War II, his conception of a discrete state machine, his thoughts on ESP, his brief but somewhat uneventful run-in with Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1937, and reactions to his work by Roger Penrose, a skeptic concerning "mechanical intelligence." Throughout, Hodges refers to Turing as a "natural philosopher" in that he ignored many of the demarcations that still silo academia, such as the distinction between "pure" and "applied" mathematics. Though this attitude led to some of his greatest intellectual feats, it also made him somewhat cryptic to academia. To this day, Turing's work defies solid categorization. Nonetheless, his influence on modern life remains indisputable, though many consider, controversially, von Neumann the "real" inventor of the computer (his EDVAC predates Turing's ACE by one year). In any case, anyone searching for a good overview of Turing's thought and influence will find it here. And although the text sometimes becomes very technical, it thankfully never becomes inaccessible.

Alan Turing met a sad end, as described in this book's final pages. Blackmailed and arrested for then illegal homosexual activity, he took "nature altering" drugs rather than face prison. Thereafter barred from a normal life, he ate an apple laced with cyanide in 1954. The sardonic syllogism he wrote, included in the book, provides a tragic but apt summary for Turing's later life. More than fifty years later, his ideas and influence continue to spread as computers dominate the everyday lives of millions. Artificial Intelligence also considers him a forbearer. This small book exposes not only why Turing was a great philosopher in classic and modern senses, but how he indubitably shaped today's world and culture.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great overview of Turing's life and scientific achievements 20 Mar 2013
By Lucia Figueroa Tasca - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This essay introduces Turing's great scientifical achievements along with the episodes of his life that triggered them.
The book is full of quotes of his actual works which are well integrated into the reading.
In my opinion, the author made a great job presenting each of Turing's fundamental works in a way that motivates the reader to investigate further.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction. 25 Sep 2002
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on
Very good summary of the work of Alan Turing: his influence on mathematics (where he tried to replace the notion of 'provable' by 'computable') and on the development of the computer.
For me, this little book proves that most of Turing's work has been countered by Roger Penrose. For Penrose, the human mind is capable of the uncomputable, while Turing treats the human brain as a computable machine.
The discussion Turing had with Wittgenstein on the 'liar' paradox has been solved by Tarski (see his difficult book 'Logic, Semantics, Metamathematics').
Obviously, Turing did not play in the same league as the one of geniuses like Gödel or Russell.
Also good information on his tragic personal life.
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