The most recent “Short” episode released by the wonderful Radiolab radio program tackles the life and work of Alan Turing. In The Turing Problem, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich describe Turing’s tragic life and his contributions to computer science and artificial intelligence in this, the 100th anniversary of his birth. (You can find AHP’s previous post on the Turing centenary here.) As described on Radiolab’s website,
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Turing lived his whole life with machines. He built the machine that deciphered the German “Engima Code” during World War II. He imagined a day when machines would flirt with us, joke with us, listen to our problems and, above all, think for themselves. He even thought up a way to test whether machines had become indistinguishable from humans (for more on the Turing Test, check out our episode Talking to Machines).
The idea that machines would become our equals was unsettling for many of Turing’s peers. (Frankly, it still unsettles a lot of folks today, just ask Robert!) But to Turing, it was just the natural extension of his fundamental belief that we, all of us, are machines ourselves in a way. And he worried that society might judge the computers of the future as harshly as it judged him.
Alan Turing was arrested and convicted in 1952 for activities that are no longer illegal in England. Janna Levin and David Leavitt help explain how Alan Turing’s personal life may have shaped his relationship to machines. And James Gleick muses about how profound Turing’s contributions to math and computing really were.