Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Daniel Barnes, Final Blog Post 3, Sect. 8 Group 2

Alan Turing Blog Post 1

Choosing a single philosopher to write a biography on turned out to be a very difficult task.  Personally, I’m not really impressed with philosophers whose only contributions were abstract ideas that didn’t really have any physical manifestation.  Some of them, such as Pyrrho, had ideas that I felt were more ridiculous than useful.  I was very happy to find a familiar name after flipping through our Little History text, Alan Turing.  I knew of him because of his role in breaking the German Enigma Code during WWII, and was aware that he played a role in the creation of the first computers.  I learned that he was also responsible for his philosophy on artificial intelligence. 
            The following blog post will be the first in a series of three focusing on Turing’s upbringing and formal education. The second will detail his role in breaking the Enigma Code during WWII, and the last will dive into his philosophy on artificial intelligence.

  Alan Turing was born on June 23, 1912 in Paddington, London.  He was a successful mathematician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, as well as an endurance athlete who competed in many competitions. From a very young age, Turing showed signs of being a genius.  He had natural mathematical comprehension that had him understanding very complex calculus before even taking the course.  By age 16, he was studying and understanding the works of Albert Einstein.  This did not win him favor among his peers or teachers.  His teachers felt that he needed to place more emphasis on the classics of education such as ancient art and literature. Turing continued studying Mathematics at Cambridge and was instrumental in the invention of problem solving machines that could solve any problem through the use of complex algorithms. Turing received his Ph.D. at Princeton University where he was also studied cryptology.  It was the combination of his brilliance in these two subjects that would cause the British government to call on him for a very special task.

Blog Post 2
A clip from the movie "The Imitation Game"
Portrays Turing's quirky personality.
Alan Turing took part as a key proponent in breaking the German Enigma Code during WWII.  He joined a team of experts who worked at Bletchley Park with the GC&CS, the British code breaking organization.  Turing was once again somewhat out casted by his colleagues because they found him to be eccentric. 
            He eventually designed The Bombe.  It was an electromechanical device that was able to decipher German messages encrypted through the use of their Enigma Machine.  Turing went on to  contribute to several crypto graphical developments throughout the war. 
            While a Bletchley Park, Turing took part in several endurance marathons.  It has been noted that he occasionally ran the 40-mile trip from where he worked to London when he was needed for meetings.  His times were comparable to those of world-class marathon runners. 
            They began work march 18, 1940 and by late 1941 were becoming frustrated with the lack of financial backing they were receiving from the British government.  On October 28 they wrote a letter directly to Winston Churchill explaining their situation.  They mentioned how underfunded they were, and tried to prove how valuable their assistance would be to the war effort.
            After the war, Turing worked on designing machines that would be the framework for the design of modern computers.  He believed that computers were capable of being programmed so intelligently that they could be considered intelligent. 

            My final blog post will be the most philosophical of them all.  In it, I will address the idea of artificial intelligence.  I will detail Turing’s views on it, and then I will give my opinion on whether or not I believe artificial intelligence exists or will exist.  I will examine the Turing Test, and see if it still holds up to the more advanced computers of modern times.

Artificial Intelligence and The Turing Test  Blog Post 3

For my final blog post installment I will continue exploring Alan Turing and his ideas, namely his thoughts on Artificial Intelligence. Turing believed that not only was AI possible, but some machines could already be capable of exhibiting it.  He devised a test that would reveal if a machine was capable of convincing another person that it was human.  It has been called the Turing Test.

The way the Turing Test works is you have a computer and an actual person answer questions textually asked by another person.  The idea is that if the person asking the questions cannot differentiate machine from man, the computer passes.  I feel that many machines nowadays are capable of passing this test.  This means that they exhibit Artificial Intelligence to an extent.  But what is the limits of a machine's intellectual capabilities?  Could Turing have foreseen the advancements in technology in just the last 50-60 years?

Tesla Motor Company's vision of self-driving car.
So how smart is too smart for a machine?  Obviously, advancements in technology have changed the way we live our lives today.  Most of us have access to encyclopedias worth of knowlege simply by pulling our phones out of our pockets.  Those same phones will respond to voice commands with responses that could conceivably pass the Turing Test.  But, I don't feel that we consider our phones to be intelligent per say.  As technology progresses, people welcome it.  It makes our lives easier, allows communication on a worldwide scale in matter of seconds.  It even seems that self-driving cars are just around the corner.

Will there be a point of no return when it comes to society trying to make smarter and smarter machines?  Many movies have explored this issue by choosing a futuristic setting in which the person-machine dynamic has switched.  Machines rule the world, and it seems impossible for people to make it back to what we have always thought was our rightful place at the top of the food chain.  Could this happen?  Machines are programmed to never make mistakes, something that even the most diligent person could never hope to achieve.  I don't know if Turing ever thought this deep into the idea of Artificial Intelligence, but it seems like mankind is marching at an unstoppable pace towards the answer as to just how smart machines can become.

Personally, I believe it is the inevitable evolution of our species, and we should embrace the advancements of technology.  I feel that technology can be the key that opens all the answers that our species has been asking since the beginning of history.  It has already allowed us to leave our planet, the place where all history and everyone whom we've ever known to have existed lived.  If that means that machines become more than just a development of man, possibly even turn into a new form of life, the answers and opportunities will be worth it.
Image of Earth taken from Cassini spacecraft near Saturn.


  1. Thanks for including all of your posts here, Daniel. (I'll not keep repeating that, everybody, but do keep doing it please.)

    Interesting: if AI is "the inevitable evolution of our species" then it's not a matter of us against them, but us becoming them. Or assimilating them. Or them us. Anyway, if it's really "inevitable" then resistance is futile, but attempts to preserve the best parts of our carbon-based humanity is definitely not.

    Glad you included that image from Cassini, this generation's "pale blue dot." An inspiration, and motivation to make something wonderful of our species and its technologies.

    For a different view, read Bill McKibben's "Enough: Staying Human in a Technological Age."

    1. P.S. Look what Microsoft is up to. Maybe the Star Trek future is not entirely fiction. http://time.chtah.net/a/hBVR1ZOBASRffB84oq1Nu3o14oj/time5

  2. I've had a few friends recommend McKibben's book too. I'll definitely check it out. I'm a big Star Trek fan, but I hope that the insides of starships are as colorful as they were in The Original Series though.