Reexamining The Death of Alan Turing

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Alan Turing, of Turing Test fame, would be 100 today. (Google has a clever animation to celebrate.) In conjunction with that anniversary, this story was posted which questions the usual story of his death:
Alan Turing, the British mathematical genius and codebreaker born 100 years ago on 23 June, may not have committed suicide, as is widely believed.At a conference in Oxford on Saturday, Turing expert Prof Jack Copeland will question the evidence that was presented at the 1954 inquest.

He believes the evidence would not today be accepted as sufficient to establish a suicide verdict. Indeed, he argues, Turing's death may equally probably have been an accident.

What is well known and accepted is that Alan Turing died of cyanide poisoning.His housekeeper famously found the 41-year-old mathematician dead in his bed, with a half-eaten apple on his bedside table.

It is widely said that Turing had been haunted by the story of the poisoned apple in the fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and had resorted to the same desperate measure to end the persecution he was suffering as a result of his homosexuality....
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18561092
 

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  • #2
tiny-tim
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Google has a clever animation to celebrate.
http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02257/google-doodle_2257006b.jpg
 
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We had https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?p=2888755 [Broken].
 
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epenguin
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We had https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?p=2888755 [Broken].
There is no algorithm that will make every thread terminate in a finite number of posts.
 
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Turing has been the inspiration for a large amount of literature, both biography and historical fiction:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-18472563

Andrew Hodges' late 1970s and early 1980s research into Turing's life, and the top secret work he did at Bletchley Park, burst open a groundswell of interest in a man whose story seems almost too tragic, and too poignant, to be true.


Derek Jacobi portrayed Turing in the BBC film Breaking the Code
No less than Ian McEwan, Richard Harris, Tom Stoppard, Neal Stephenson, Janna Levin, and Hugh Whitmore have each written historical fiction centred around Turing in one form or another.

Imagine my quaking with terror as I had to follow such an intimidating list when I began work on my own screenplay about Alan Turing. How does one add one's quiet voice to such a beautiful chorus?

It begs the question: Why the enduring fascination with Turing, not only as historical figure, but as a literary one?....
 
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Curious3141
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There is no algorithm that will make every thread terminate in a finite number of posts.
A repeated, escalating application of Godwin's law would ensure this.
 
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Q_Goest
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The story about Turing’s suicide, presumably because of the persecution he felt for his being gay, is sad enough. I think it is because he was so brilliant and contributed so much, that the story of Turing’s life becomes that much sadder yet.

Whenever I read anything about Turing now, I think of a paper written by Cowen and Dawson which puts so much of Turing’s struggle in life into a different perspective. It’s widely known that Turing was gay and that he was persecuted for it, but did you know it was thought he was also autistic or Asperger’s?

Cowen suggests that Turings most famous paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” which was the starting point of the famous “Turing Test”, had a secondary, hidden or subversive meaning which is widely unknown and underemphasized. Cowen suggests that Turing’s famous paper is as much about ethics and about Turing’s own experiences in British society as it is about computing machinery and intelligence. He suggests Turing trys to get a point across about how we treat each other that is largely overlooked.

From that paper:
”Inability to imitate does not rule out intelligence” is an alternative way of reading many parts of his argument. Turing was issuing the warning that we should not dismiss or persecute entities which we cannot easily categorize or understand.

In mainstream British society of that time, he proved unable to consistently “pass” for straight.

It also has been speculated that Turing was autistic or Asperger’s, which suggests his mind was of a very different nature, compared to most of the people he knew. Turing probably was not aware of these neurodevelopmental concepts as such, … but surely he knew, growing up, that he was in some ways very different from others. In public school he was judged to be “ludicrously behind” with “the worst” writing ever encountered, and he was singled out as “bound to be a problem for any school or community.” While we cannot be sure whether Turing was autistic, it is clear from published accounts that other people noticed he thought and acted in highly atypical ways. Again, Turing himself could not pass a test of imitation, namely that of imitating the people he met in mainstream British society, and for most of his life he was acutely aware that he was failing the imitation tests in a variety of ways.
Cowen concludes the paper:
So how does Turing close the paper and what does he see as the best path going forward? In Turing’s penultimate paragraph he presents two paths. The first is to increase the computational abilities of current machines, as we might do by improving their abilities at chess. An alternative is to “provide the machine with the best sense organs that money can buy, and then teach it to understand and speak English. This process could follow the normal teaching of a child.” Is turing implicitly – and with dry British humor – referring to the “normal teaching” he received as a child, and its unforeseen and atypical outcome? Turing writes that both approaches are required and that much needs to be done, presumably in both computer education and in human education.
Ref: http://www.gmu.edu/centers/publicchoice/faculty pages/Tyler/turingfinal.pdf
 
  • #8
Ryan_m_b
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The story about Turing’s suicide, presumably because of the persecution he felt for his being gay
He more than "felt" it. He was chemically castrated by the British legal system. Turing's story of how a great man who we all owe so much to could be treated so horrifically is one that should be more widely known so that we can endeavour to not repeat the mistakes of the past.
 
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I saw one recent wired article compare Turing to Galileo as another example of scientists long struggle with persecution. How many great scientists were persecuted precisely because they made such great contributions and would have otherwise been let alone to live their lives in peace if they had refrained from sharing their brilliant insights?

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/famous-persecuted-scientists/

Scientific objectivity cannot thrive in a close minded culture.
 
  • #10
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I saw one recent wired article compare Turing to Galileo as another example of scientists long struggle with persecution. How many great scientists were persecuted precisely because they made such great contributions and would have otherwise been let alone to live their lives in peace if they had refrained from sharing their brilliant insights?

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/famous-persecuted-scientists/

Scientific objectivity cannot thrive in a close minded culture.
Turing and Galileo were persecuted for very different reasons.

I agree with the criticism of then legal system but not so much with that Turing should have been placed above the then legal system because of his scientific contributions.
 
  • #11
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The actual test, as Turing laid it out:

1. The Imitation Game

I propose to consider the question, "Can machines think?" This should begin with definitions of the meaning of the terms "machine" and "think." The definitions might be framed so as to reflect so far as possible the normal use of the words, but this attitude is dangerous, If the meaning of the words "machine" and "think" are to be found by examining how they are commonly used it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the meaning and the answer to the question, "Can machines think?" is to be sought in a statistical survey such as a Gallup poll. But this is absurd. Instead of attempting such a definition I shall replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words.

The new form of the problem can be described in terms of a game which we call the 'imitation game." It is played with three people, a man (A), a woman (B), and an interrogator (C) who may be of either sex. The interrogator stays in a room apart front the other two. The object of the game for the interrogator is to determine which of the other two is the man and which is the woman. He knows them by labels X and Y, and at the end of the game he says either "X is A and Y is B" or "X is B and Y is A." The interrogator is allowed to put questions to A and B thus:

C: Will X please tell me the length of his or her hair?

Now suppose X is actually A, then A must answer. It is A's object in the game to try and cause C to make the wrong identification. His answer might therefore be:

"My hair is shingled, and the longest strands are about nine inches long."

In order that tones of voice may not help the interrogator the answers should be written, or better still, typewritten. The ideal arrangement is to have a teleprinter communicating between the two rooms. Alternatively the question and answers can be repeated by an intermediary. The object of the game for the third player (B) is to help the interrogator. The best strategy for her is probably to give truthful answers. She can add such things as "I am the woman, don't listen to him!" to her answers, but it will avail nothing as the man can make similar remarks.

We now ask the question, "What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?" Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original, "Can machines think?"
http://www.loebner.net/Prizef/TuringArticle.html

"The Turing Test" was represented to me by the person who explained it (not someone at PF) as a test of whether or not a machine was "intelligent". That's obviously not the case. Nor is it a test of whether a machine can think. Turing doesn't think that's a meaningful question:

The original question, "Can machines think?" I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.
It's always interesting to me to read the original source of a concept. They very often turn out not to be what they're represented as being.
 
  • #12
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I recently started to compare Turing to Von Neumann. They were two completely different kinds of people in terms of personalities and ended up very differently as well. But it is interesting that their offices used to be next to each other.
 
  • #13
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I just had a conversation with Cleverbot, and I think the Turing test has been passed as of a few minutes ago.
 

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