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88 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alan Turing's work and life explained
When I downloaded this book I feared it might be concerned with Turing's personal life at the expense of his mathematics, or vice versa. I was wrong: David Boyle gives an excellent balance.

Turing was an eccentric: at Bletchley Park he chained his mug to a radiator, held his trousers up with string and could be found knitting in a corner. He found social...
Published 14 months ago by Amazon Customer

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read
A relatively short but interesting account of a complex man. Some equally complex concepts especially for the non-expert. Irritatingly poor editing/proof-reading in too many places.
Published 12 months ago by Richie


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88 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alan Turing's work and life explained, 12 April 2014
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This review is from: Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
When I downloaded this book I feared it might be concerned with Turing's personal life at the expense of his mathematics, or vice versa. I was wrong: David Boyle gives an excellent balance.

Turing was an eccentric: at Bletchley Park he chained his mug to a radiator, held his trousers up with string and could be found knitting in a corner. He found social small-talk difficult. But his mathematical thinking was profound. His special interest was the creation of an intelligent machine.

He devised the tough Turing test for artificial intelligence: there would be a man, a woman, and an interrogator in a separate room trying to work out which was the woman - who would be trying to hinder the process. Now, said Turing, imagine the man was replaced with a machine. Could the interrogator tell whether they were talking to a machine or not after 5 minutes of questioning? Turing would have been satisfied if you couldn't tell which was the machine - his test was not concerned with whether the computer was actually 'thinking'.

As a mathematician Turing combined logic with intuition, and he believed that computers could also (eventually) be intuitive. Remember, this was before the digital age. When the opportunity arrived at Bletchley to create machines to assist in wartime code-breaking they were huge; and even the very latest version, the Colossus, had only 1500 valves.

Turing was particularly interested in 'the liars paradox': at its simplest you can express it just by saying 'I am lying'. The statement 'I am lying' must itself be a lie - unless I was actually telling the truth, in which case I would have been telling a lie. The question for Turing and his contemporaries was not so much whether the paradox could be resolved mathematically, but whether a solution could be resolved at all, by any other means. Turing wondered if some kind of machine was capable of working out the paradox. The answer, Turing said, was it could not. But this was the germ of an idea that eventually became a computer.

Turing didn't start from scratch. Looms were an important inspiration because weaving required punched cards which instructed the machine to weave certain patterns. (My note: first demonstrated in 1801 the Jacquard loom was controlled by a chain of punch cards allowing sequences of any length to be constructed. A portrait of Jacquard in silk required 24000 punched cards to create. The Jacquard loom was based on inventions from the early 18th century). The basics of computing had been conceptualised by the Victorian, Charles Babbage (who owned a Jacquard silk portrait) with his analytical engine - though Turing's friend Robin Gandy said that Turing had never heard of the Babbage engine. And at Bletchley the code-breakers had been helped by Polish mathematicians who had been able to read the German Enigma code for some time.

But Turing was thinking of a universal machine that could carry out all possible kinds of algorithms using a binary system to programme it based on the idea of punch cards used by looms, where the holes were either there or not; and like loom punch cards the programme could be changed.

Later, in his work at the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington he was frustrated by the ridiculous distinction between theoreticians and engineers. He resigned from Teddington in 1948.

Disgracefully by present standards Turing was arrested, convicted as a homosexual in 1952, and forced to take oestrogen treatment. This eventually lead to his suicide.

I strongly recommend David Boyle's book to anyone interested in Turing, the history of computers and artificial intelligence. Boyle concludes that Turing's reputation is growing.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unlocking the Enigma, 28 May 2014
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
This kindle single gives an interesting short biography of Alan Turing, the brilliant scientist best known for wartime code breaking at Bletchley Park and his pioneering contribution to the very beginning of information technology. This tells the story of his life from a bookish and withdrawn boy, independent and obsessed with mathematics, to an academic career which led to his important wartime work and a post-war period at King’s College where he faced difficulties in both the scientific world and his emotional life.

Alan Turing was both respected by colleagues and also infuriated many he knew. Like many great intellectuals, he cared little about external things – tying his trousers with string and staying in cheap hotels, even when he could afford better. He was also homosexual in a time when it was illegal and his sexuality was the reason for most of his troubles in later life. This book hinges on the 2013 request in the House of Lords for Turin to receive a statutory pardon for crimes relating to his homosexuality and there is also a fascinating possible link to Guy Burgess which I would like to read more about. Although this is a short book, it is a good introduction to a truly fascinating and ground breaking man.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating account of Turing's achievements, 20 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
When Alan Turing received a royal pardon at the close of last year, I quickly realised how little I knew of the man. The book covers more than just his most famous ideas/work as a codebreaker. It goes far back into his past to try and explain how and why he ended up the way he did. It makes for quite sad reading knowing the tragedy of his death in the end, but it proved to be a fascinating account of Turing's many achievements.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars book on the life of a man we all owe a great deal. If it encourages people to find out ..., 9 July 2014
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This review is from: Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
This is a very reasonably priced, albeit short, book on the life of a man we all owe a great deal. If it encourages people to find out more about this complex genius then it will have served its purpose exceedingly well. Alan Turing is a true hero whose treatment after the war he contributed so much towards winning, beggars belief. Read this book and find out a little bit more about the man whose test to establish computer 'consciousness' is still the yardstick we judge them by.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unlocking his genius..., 13 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
Excellent all round biography of Turing which gets to grips with his achievements (which were many) and also his complicated personality. Boyle treats the reader with intelligence and he succeeds in making some of Turing's more complex ideas accessible. Time will have to tell how prophetic some of Turing's ideas will be in reference to AI, but what this book rightly testifies to is his contribution to mathematics, early computing and also the war effort. The book addresses Turing's death well too. The comments from Turing's mother that the author recalls are even quite touching, as well as insightful. It is perhaps beyond the power of any author to totally unlock the enigma of Alan Turing, but this biography is as good a starting place as any.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great primer for the forthcoming Cumberbatch film., 14 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
This short but comprehensive study of Alan Turing acts as a great primer for the forthcoming Benedict Cumberbatch film about the great man. In some ways Turing was as eccentric and brilliant as Sherlock Holmes and it'll be interesting to see how the actor plays him. Turing also wanted to live life on his own terms, though in the end it seems that he couldn't and his way out was suicide. I'm no expert on Turing but it seems that Boyle hasn't missed anything major out. Unlocking the Enigma is more than just a conventional biography though and the author grapples with Turing's life as well as his theories and accomplishments. I would have liked a bit more material on Turing's time at Bletchley Park, but this is a small criticism of an otherwise engaging book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good first book to read, 12 July 2014
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This review is from: Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
Probably the best book to read if one has started an interest in the life and work of Turing. A very short read but clear and concise in respect of the most relevant points regarding him, his work and the environment at his time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting little book into the life of Alan Turing., 13 Jan. 2015
By 
FallenGrace (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
Before reading this I have to admit my knowledge of Alan Turing was set in a fairly empty sphere to do with breaking the German's Enigma code during the war. So in essence, pretty much nothing.

Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma is a bit of a misleading title as although it does mention the work he did towards that, this is more a story about his life, his achievements, quirks, sexuality and mistreatment by the government that possibly led to his untimely death.

The book is pretty short but fascinating all the same starting with the fight to pardon him for his "crimes" of homosexuality he was appallingly arrested for (with thousands of others) before going through his life and pioneering work in the creation of computers, cutting edge work leading to Chaos Theory as well as his famous Turing test to identify a thinking machine.

It's a fascinating insight to what appears to be an outstanding and talented man who meets a tragic end. If you're even mildly interested in history then this seems like an excellent quick read.

Recommended.

+ Well laid out book, links beginning and end well.
+ Great insight into some of Turing's achievements...
+....as well as the governments mistreatment of him in a bad era.

-Book title may fool people it's about the Enigma code breaking rather than about Turing's life.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Informative for a short read, 1 Jan. 2015
By 
Sam Quixote - See all my reviews
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Alan Turing was a notable philosophical/mathematical figure in the advancement of computers and artificial intelligence. Known for his contributions at Bletchley Park (Britain’s codebreaking headquarters) during World War 2, Turing worked on cracking the Nazi’s Enigma code which was used in transmissions between the U-Boats and Nazi command. At Bletchley, he developed enhancements to a Polish bomb machine, which decrypted messages, to create the bombe, a machine that found the settings of Enigma.

Following the end of the war, Turing pursued his fascination with machines further and began conceptualising the modern computers that we use today. He also worked on the design of the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) and came up with The Turing Test, which was a method to set a standard to determine if a machine was intelligent or not. The idea was that if the user couldn’t tell whether who they were talking with was a computer or a human, then a computer could be said to be intelligent.

Turing was also an unashamed homosexual at a time in Britain where, under the Labouchere Amendment, homosexuality was illegal (this same law also sentenced Oscar Wilde to 2 years hard labour). Turing was arrested in 1952 after talking about his boyfriend during a burglary and sentenced to oestrogen injections (chemical castration) that caused him to physically change (he grew breasts) and disrupt his thinking.

In 1954, at the age of 41, Alan Turing committed suicide by swallowing cyanide, perhaps as a result of his persecution as a gay man. A half-eaten apple was found alongside him and it was believed that the apple was the delivery method of the poison – Turing was obsessed with the Disney film Snow White where the apple sends Snow White into a deep sleep. The Labouchere Amendment was repealed in 1967 and it was only in 2013 that Queen Elizabeth II gave Turing an official pardon for his “crime”.

David Boyle’s Unlocking the Enigma is a brief, but informative, look at Turing’s life and work that covers all of the above, as well as many other things, in more detail. It also focuses on theories surrounding Turing’s death, that, perhaps because of his Intelligence work during the war and proclivity to take holidays abroad in countries near the Iron Curtain (where homosexual behaviour was more permissive), Turing was killed to keep him from giving away secrets – if that was what he was doing (unlikely).

Boyle also mentions that Turing’s death was perhaps accidental given the dangerous experiments he was conducting with chemicals at the time, especially as his hormone punishment had ended and his friends claimed he wasn’t depressed at the time (though this theory is also unlikely).

Boyle does also heavily emphasise Turing as a gay martyr, which is fair given the harsh treatment all gay people suffered under the Labouchere Amendment, but especially as Turing didn’t hide his sexuality. He was years ahead of his time not just in his work with computers but with his social thinking too.

Unlocking the Enigma is a fine introduction/summary of Alan Turing’s work and life for readers unfamiliar with him and not looking for an in-depth study or lengthy biography of the great man.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Short but excellent overview of Turing's life and work, 27 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
This new biography of Turing is short, the length of a long article or essay rather than a full book. If you want a detailed exploration of the life and work of Turing, you'll have to look elsewhere, but this is a good overview that's well worth reading. It's well balanced on coverage of his personal life, his work at Bletchley Park, and his academic work, tying them all together so you can see how one element affects the others. It also brings the story up to date as I write this, having been prompted by the campaign for a posthumous pardon, and there's some interesting material about that which won't be in the older biographies.

It's well written and edited, solidly grounded in known facts but enhanced by the author's clearly marked interpretation of some of those facts to make it more than a dry recital, and I found it a very enjoyable read. If you're looking for something a little more in-depth than the online articles without diving into the full length works, this is an excellent introduction to Turing. I think it will also serve well as a synopsis volume for those who want an outline in addition to the full length studies.

The Kindle Single is currently priced at 99p, and excellent value for money at that price, even if a significant chunk of the stated page count is a preview of another book by the author. It's also available in a paper edition, although I'm not convinced that most readers would find it value for money unless they're die-hard completists, unable to use Kindle format ebooks, or looking for a gift for a Turing fan. There's also an audiobook version.
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