Alan M. Turing, B. Jack Copeland
Alan Turing was one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. In 1935, aged 22, he developed the mathematical theory upon which all subsequent stored-program digital computers are modeled. At the outbreak of hostilities with Germany in September 1939, he joined the Goverment Codebreaking team at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire and played a crucial role in deciphering Engima, the code used by the German armed forces to protect their radio communications. Turing's work on the version of Enigma used by the German navy was vital to the battle for supremacy in the North Atlantic. He also contributed to the attack on the cyphers known as 'Fish,' which were used by the German High Command for the encryption of signals during the latter part of the war. His contribution helped to shorten the war in Europe by an estimated two years. After the war, his theoretical work led to the development of Britain's first computers at the National Physical Laboratory and the Royal Society Computing Machine Laboratory at Manchester University. Turing was also a founding father of modern cognitive science, theorizing that the cortex at birth is an 'unorganized machine' which through 'training' becomes organized 'into a universal machine or something like it.' He went on to develop the use of computers to model biological growth, launching the discipline now referred to as Artificial Life. The papers in this book are the key works for understanding Turing's phenomenal contribution across all these fields. The collection includes Turing's declassified wartime 'Treatise on the Enigma'; letters from Turing to Churchill and to codebreakers; lectures, papers, and broadcasts which opened up the concept of AI and its implications; and the paper which formed the genesis of the investigation of Artifical Life.
a long overdue book
A long overdue book. Copeland collects together Turing's greatest papers. As in where Turing tackled the fundamentals of what is now called a Turing machine - ie. a universal computer. Plus other papers where Turing ruminated on artificial intelligence, and founded that field. Plus coming up with the Turing Test for AI.
Turing's papers are interleaved with chapters by Copeland that give extra context to the times in which Turing lived. Notably on Turing's crucial contribution to the Enigma project at Bletchley Park during World War 2. It is no exaggeration to say that his insight into decoding the German encryptions saved the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers.
Valuable also is a reprinting of Turing's "Treatise on the Enigma", which was only declassified in 1996. Though by then, its essence had been known for decades. Finally, the book lets you read Turing's words on Enigma.
A valuable addition in paraphrasing Turing
Copeland's "Essential Turing" reviews Turning's major writings and is a valuable source of knowledge for computer scientists and avid CS/Mathematics readers alike. Turing was a brilliant British mathematician, logician, and cryptographer and is widely considered to be the father of computer science. This book doesn't portray him merely as a code breaker but also provides commentary on his brilliant foundation work as on Artificial intelligence. Discussion on the ultimate Turing test (proposal for a test of a machine's capability to perform human-like conversation) and Entscheidungs Problem is worth reading.
I shelve this book next to Knuth's "The Art of Computer Programming" which may state what it's worth.
A collection of Turing's papers
Copeland's book is basically a collection of some of Turing's original papers, completed with a short introduction for each part of the book. I was disappointed by this book as (1) one can easily find copies of Turing's work on the web, (2) there is very little additional value in Copeland's comments, and (3) the papers are not reproduced in their original typeset and layout. Elsevier's "Collected Works of A. M. Turing" (4 volumes) does a much better job and offers Turing's complete work.
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