Turing and the Computer: The Big Ideaby Paul Strathern
Turing and the Computer offers an encapsulation of the groundwork that led to the invention of the computer as we know it and an absorbing account of the man who helped develop it. Eccentric and principled, Alan Turing would lay aside a brilliant career in mathematics to serve his country by breaking German codes during the Second World War. Openly homosexual, he… See more details below
Turing and the Computer offers an encapsulation of the groundwork that led to the invention of the computer as we know it and an absorbing account of the man who helped develop it. Eccentric and principled, Alan Turing would lay aside a brilliant career in mathematics to serve his country by breaking German codes during the Second World War. Openly homosexual, he would later be put on trial on indecency charges and forced to undergo hormone treatments that wrecked his body and his spirit. But the modern machine he helped create lives on. Just a few of the big ideas included in this riveting book are how Turing mapped out the theory of computers before a single computer had been conceived, how Turing's Colossus broke the German Enigma codes, and Turing's proof of the existence of artificial intelligence.
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This book is good for a quick superficial sequential knowledge of events and their historical impacts over time, yet what the narrative lacks is analysis. Strathern goes through the entire history of computer from before the Common Era to the 20s in fewer than 50 pages, hitting just about every major innovation and their implications for the entire technological timeline. While this is an admirable feat, it feels a little rushed and is very much written in the style of “this is what happened, this is what it caused, okay let’s move on.” The same is true for the section devoted to Turing’s life and achievements. Again, Strathern gives a very good account of events, their sequence, and their implications, but he doesn’t really delve into what exactly the technology was. Yes, Colossus was a code-breaking machine, but how did it break codes? Yes, Turing was a forefather of Artificial Intelligence and his senior thesis on it was revolutionary in its own right, but what exactly did it say? The book doesn’t offer any explication or analysis in this way. Naturally, because it’s only a 100 page book primarily aimed at a younger audience I wouldn’t expect a break down of the intense and complicated mathematics and theory involved in these innovations, but some understanding of the workings of these machines is just as important as understand how they were important. Generally, this is a great jumping off point for more independent research and establishing a timeline for Turing’s life, from his Cambridge work until his untimely death.
A neat little introduction to the birth of the computer and one of the men who was instrumental in its development. After providing the reader with a brief history of the development of the computer; the author sketches some highlights of Turing's life: Cambridge days, development of the theory of computers, breaking the Germany Military Enigma Code which hastened the end of WW II, and Turing's ground breaking work on artificial intelligence. Finally, the author portrays Turing's arrest and trial for homosexuality which subsequently led to his suicide. If you are looking for a succinct introduction to one of the most brilliant but misunderstood geniuses of the 20th century, read this book.