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Customer Review

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Computers with sexual tensions..., 25 Aug. 2011
This review is from: The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the invention of computers: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (Paperback)
This is a disappointing biography of an interesting figure in the history of computing (though not, perhaps, quite as important as Leavitt seems to think). For Leavitt, Turing's configuring feature is his homosexuality, and as such it features prominently and insistently as the driving creative force of his life and achievements. The evidence for this isn't quite so clear, but it becomes fairly ridiculous when Leavitt applies modern sexual mores to Turing on a regular basis ('a friendship with benefits' is the description of one of his relationships), whilst damning the hypocrisy of the fifties (fair enough) and suggesting, quite ludicrously, that even today there is something of a prejudice against his legacy because of it (utter nonsense). This creates a partial view of Turing, visible only through his sexuality, and does his subject an injustice (and in the process throws up serious errors...Alec Guiness, whose character in the The Man In The White Suit [DVD] provides a central metaphor for the book, wasn't gay as Leavitt maintains at the outset, and being homosexual at Cambridge in the Thirties was de rigueur, surely). Turing's more defining characteristic seems to be an overwheening arrogance about the application of logic (fairly useful in a proto-computer scientist), and his unbending application of it to every situation must have made him quite insufferable as a person. Leavitt's focus on sex makes him blind to the limitations of Turing's ideas: the Turing Test, so influential on the development of AI, contains such a limited view of intelligence it is hard to take it seriously. It has sent that discipline in the wrong direction for years, based, as it is, on Turing's one-dimensional perception of what constitutes humaness: a mastery of text in a logic game of call and response, no different to the crosswords he was so adept at completing). Certainly his life shows the limits of logic, but its tragic end may have something more to say about Turing's own perceptions of the value of his humanity than as the result of the stigma and dilemma of his sexual preferences.
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