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Alan Turing: The Enigma
 
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Alan Turing: The Enigma [Format Kindle]

Andrew Hodges

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Alan Turing died in 1954, but the themes of his life epitomize the turn of the millennium. A pure mathematician from a tradition that prided itself on its impracticality, Turing laid the foundations for modern computer science, writes Andrew Hodges:

Alan had proved that there was no "miraculous machine" that could solve all mathematical problems, but in the process he had discovered something almost equally miraculous, the idea of a universal machine that could take over the work of any machine.

During World War II, Turing was the intellectual star of Bletchley Park, the secret British cryptography unit. His work cracking the German's Enigma machine code was, in many ways, the first triumph of computer science. And Turing died because his identity as a homosexual was incompatible with cold-war ideas of security, implemented with machines and remorseless logic: "It was his own invention, and it killed the goose that laid the golden eggs."

Andrew Hodges's remarkable insight weaves Turing's mathematical and computer work with his personal life to produce one of the best biographies of our time, and the basis of the Derek Jacobi movie Breaking the Code. Hodges has the mathematical knowledge to explain the intellectual significance of Turing's work, while never losing sight of the human and social picture:

In this sense his life belied his work, for it could not be contained by the discrete state machine. At every stage his life raised questions about the connection (or lack of it) between the mind and the body, thought and action, intelligence and operations, science and society, the individual and history.

And Hodges admits what all biographers know, but few admit, about their subjects: "his inner code remains unbroken." Alan Turing is still an enigma. --Mary Ellen Curtin

Revue de presse

"One of the finest scientific biographies I've ever read: authoritative, superbly researched, deeply sympathetic and beautifully told" (Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind)

"Andrew Hodges' book is of exemplary scholarship and sympathy. Intimate, perceptive and insightful, it's also the most readable biography I've picked up in some time" (Time Out)

"A first-rate presentation of the life of a first-rate scientific mind" (New York Times Book Review)

"One of the finest scientific biographies ever written" (New Yorker)

"A first-rate presentation of the life of a first-rate scientific mind.it is hard to imagine a more thoughtful and warm biography than this one" (Douglas Hofstadter New York Times Book Review)

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Amazon.com: 4.0 étoiles sur 5  78 commentaires
203 internautes sur 206 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 One of the few books on my 'keep forever' list 7 avril 1999
Par Thomas D. Jennings - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Without this book, the real Alan Turing might fade into obscurity or at least the easy caricature of an eccentric British mathematician. And to the relief of many, because Turing was a difficult person: an unapologetic homosexual in post-victorian england; ground-breaking mathematician; utterly indifferent to social conventions; arrogantly original (working from first principles, ignoring precedents); with no respect for professional boundaries (a 'pure' mathematician who taught himself engineering and electronics).
His best-known work is his 1936 'Computable Numbers' paper, defining a self-modifying, stored-program machine. He used these ideas to help build code-breaking methods and machinery at Bletchley Park, England's WWII electronic intelligence center. This work, much still classified today, led directly to the construction of the world's first stored-program, self-modifying computer, in 1948.
Computers were always symbol-manipulators to Alan, not 'number crunchers', the predominant view even to von Neumann, and into the 60's and 70's. He designed many basic software concepts (interpreter, floating point), most of which were ignored (he umm wasn't exactly good at promoting his ideas). By 1948 Alan had moved on to studying human and machine intelligence, as a user of computers, again with his lack of social niceties and radical thinking, some of his ideas were baffling or embarrassing until 'rediscovered' decades later as brilliant insights into intelligence. His 'Turing test' of intelligence dates from this period, and is still widely misunderstood.
Poor Alan; his refusal to deceive himself or others and "go along" with the conventions of the time regarding sexuality caused him (and other homosexuals then) great problems; early Cold War England was not a good time to be gay, or a misfit, especially one with deep knowledge of war-time secrecy (he was technical crypto liason to the U.S., and one of the few with broad knowledge of operations at Bletchley, since he defined so much of it, in a time of extreme compartmentalization). His sexual escapades eventually got him in trouble, and his increasing isolation and the fact that he simply couldn't acknowledge some of his life's work due to secrecy, probably influenced his suicide at the age of 42.
I first discovered Turing-the-person in A HISTORY OF COMPUTING IN THE 20TH CENTURY (Metropolis, Howlett, Gian-Carlo Rota; Acedemic Press, 1980), where I.J. Good wrote, "we didn't know he was a homosexual until after the war... if the security people had found out [and removed him]... we might have lost the war". This led me to look for books on Turing, and then the Hodges book magically appeared on the shelf.
I am grateful that Hodges researched his life as well as his work, as far as the data allows. Knowing the whole is always important, but I think critical in Alan Turing's life.
My only complaint with the book is that it makes a number of assumptions or implications that seem to require knowledge of British culture, both contemporary and of the period, which I still didn't pick up on a re-reading. But it barely detracts from the book.
Clearly, I rate this one of the most important books I've ever read.
86 internautes sur 87 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Classic Biography of the Computer's Progenitor 25 octobre 2000
Par Martin D. Davis - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
It is a pleasure to see that the wonderful biography of Alan Turing by Andrew Hodges is once again available. With loving care, Hodges follows Turing's life from the clumsy child whose largely absentee parents were caught up in maintaining the British imperial presence in India, to the mathematically precocious adolescent facing teachers for whom mathematics imparted a bad smell to a room, finally coming into his own at Cambridge University where he wrote the paper that provided the conceptual underpinnings of the all-purpose computers we all use today. Hodges carefully explains Turing's crucial contributions to breaking the secret codes that the German military used all through the Second World War, confident in the security provided by their "Enigma" machines. Turing's highly successful war-time practical work known only to a few, his efforts after the war to enable the construction of a general purpose electronic computer were frustrated by bureaucratic mismanagement and by a lack of appreciation of the value of his ideas, many of which came to the fore much later. A burglary of his house that a prudent man would have kept to himself, led to Turing's homosexuality coming to official notice when he reported the crime to the police. He was prosecuted for "gross indecency" and sentenced to a course of injections of estrogen intended to diminish his sex drive. We will never know how much this barbaric treatment contributed to his suicide or what he might have accomplished had his life not been cut short. This is a book that will fascinate readers interested in the history of the computer, in the story of how the German submarine fleet threatening to strangle England was defeated, and in the tragic story of the persecution for his sex life of a man who should have been prized as a national hero.
69 internautes sur 71 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 One of the most important books I've ever read 18 février 2001
Par Thomas D. Jennings - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Without this book, the real Alan Turing might fade into obscurity or at least the easy caricature of an eccentric British mathematician. And to the relief of many, because Turing was a difficult person: an unapologetic homosexual in post-victorian england; ground-breaking mathematician; utterly indifferent to social conventions; arrogantly original (working from first principles, ignoring precedents); with no respect for professional boundaries (a 'pure' mathematician who taught himself engineering and electronics).
His best-known work is his 1936 'Computable Numbers' paper, defining a self-modifying, stored-program machine. He used these ideas to help build code-breaking methods and machinery at Bletchley Park, England's WWII electronic intelligence center. This work, much still classified today, led directly to the construction of the world's first stored-program, self-modifying computer, in 1948.
Computers were always symbol-manipulators, to Alan, not 'number crunchers', the predominant view even to von Neumann, and into the 60's and 70's. He designed many basic software concepts (interpreter, floating point), most of which were ignored (he wasn't exactly good at promoting his ideas). By 1948 Alan had moved on to studying human and machine intelligence, as a user of computers, again with his lack of social niceties and radical thinking, some of his ideas were baffling or embarrassing until 'rediscovered' decades later as brilliant insights into intelligence. His 'Turing test' of intelligence dates from this period, and is still widely misunderstood.
Poor Alan; his refusal to deceive himself or others and "go along" with the conventions of the time regarding sexuality caused him (and other homosexuals then) great problems; early Cold War England was not a good time to be gay, or a misfit, especially one with deep knowledge of war-time secrecy (he was technical crypto liason to the U.S., and one of the few with broad knowledge of operations at Bletchley, since he defined so much of it, in a time of extreme compartmentalization). His sexual escapades eventually got him in trouble, and his increasing isolation and the fact that he simply couldn't acknowledge some of his life's work due to secrecy, probably influenced his suicide at the age of 42.
I first discovered Turing-the-person in A HISTORY OF COMPUTING IN THE 20TH CENTURY (Metropolis, Howlett, Gian-Carlo Rota; Acedemic Press, 1980), where I.J. Good wrote, "we didn't know he was a homosexual until after the war... if the security people had found out [and removed him]... we might have lost the war". This led me to look for books on Turing, and then the Hodges book magically appeared on the shelf.
I am grateful that Hodges researched his life as well as his work, as far as the data allows. Knowing the whole is always important, but I think critical in Alan Turing's life. Clearly, I rate this one of the most important books I've ever read.
36 internautes sur 36 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Definitive biography of an uncommonly interesting subject 18 janvier 2001
Par Michael Bilow - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
One could make the case that Alan Turing was neglected by the historians of science because much of his most important work was kept secret. One could also make the case that Turing's relatively open homosexuality, culminating in conflict with the law, led to some reluctance among biographers. There would be some truth to either claim, but it seems to me that the main reason why Turing has been ill treated by historians is simply that he was a half-century ahead of his time, and that only now is the significance of his work becoming generally understood.
The turning point in the greatly increased apprecation for Turning was the publication of this biography by Hodges, originally in 1983. Lapsing out of print until recently, it would be no exaggeration to say that this book sparked a widespread reappraisal of Turing in an age more able to understand him, both professionally and personally. (It would be difficult, for example, to cite any other scientific biography which inspired a play that was performed in London and on Broadway in New York: "Breaking the Code," written by Hugh Whitemore in 1988, and which was made into a 1997 television play that is available on VHS.) It is difficult to imagine that this biography will be allowed to go out of print again.
Turing's key contribution to computer science was in realizing that computers are not merely number crunchers, but were capable of manipulating general purpose symbols. Certainly, it is natural to represent numbers with symbols inside computing machines, especially because there is such a universally accepted habit of working number symbols with pen and paper. In achieving this critical insight that the symbols inside computers are perfectly general, Turing tied computer science into a large body of traditional work in mathematics reaching back centuries to the work of Leibniz and encompassing the more recent work of such logicians as Boole, Frege, Russell, and Godel. Less widely understood is that it is this same general purpose representational characteristic of computers which has made possible the applications of computers which matter to people, from e-mail and the web to digital music and the little box that decides whether to deploy the airbag in your car.
Contemporaries of Turing tended to see the computer as a sort of automatic adding machine, suitable for calculating ballistics tables and little else. Yet Turing had completed most of the underpinning for his Theory of Computation before the onset of the Second World War, when he was called upon to build a secret computer for cryptanalytic purposes. The very fact that Turing wondered how to decide if a machine could be said to "think," which was the subject of his famous "Turing Test," was itself a revolutionary idea, the question being more significant at the time than any answer.
To a large extent, the ideas first articulated by Turing, regardless of how directly or indirectly their influence has been felt, are at the root of a changed perception of the world which we now all share at the beginning of the 21st Century. This view of the world as a kind of computer has replaced the industrial era view of the world as a kind of clockwork machine. We are all, in effect, on a quest to find out which propositions are "computable" and "decidable."
Combined with this substantial reassessment of Turing's professional contributions, there has been an enormous change in the way British and American society have come to perceive homosexuality. Viewed as a psychological disease and a criminal act at the time of Turing's difficulties with the law, Britain would decriminalize private consensual homosexual relations a few years after his death and begin recognizing a civil liberties interest emerging at about the time of the initial publication of Hodges' book. This gulf of decades has come to reinforce a view of Turing as a man very much outside of his own time, almost constitutionally incapable of thinking as convention would dictate about anything at all.
It is a great irony that the Allied war effort -- and perhaps the Cold War effort -- could not abide a man whom it viewed as a security risk, despite the undeniable fact that his work at a minimum saved a great many lives and quite probably shortened the war. Indeed, it is a great tragedy that the democratic state he helped to save then turned and ungratefully persecuted him, likely driving him to his death.
Few scientific biographies possess the massive sweep of human drama in the crucible of history, and few biographical subjects warrant such treatment. Turing and his definitive biography by Hodges are emphatic exceptions.
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A tale of incredible triumph and terrible tragedy 9 janvier 2002
Par Charles Ashbacher - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This is a book that should be read by anyone with an interest in the history of mathematics, computer science or the second world war. Alan Turing, the inventor of the abstract Turing machine, was an incredible individual who is still underappreciated for his accomplishments. The Turing machine is an abstract device that "consists" of an infinite paper tape and a read head that can move forwards and backwards altering what is on the tape. However, despite its' simplicity, so far it has been found to be a model for all aspects of computing. It may prove to be a model for all actions that can be performed by a computer, but that problem is as yet unsolved. It is amazing that he invented it before computers as we know them really existed.
However, his most significant accomplishment was as a principal of the British group who broke the "unbreakable" German codes during the second world war. When people speak about how the British prevailed in that war, the first person mentioned is always Winston Churchill and there is no question that he did more than anyone else to lead them to victory. However, given the limited resources the British had compared to the Germans, the precise knowledge of German intentions allowed the British to concentrate those resources so that they could achieve local superiority. Which was the only way they could win some of the battles. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that Turing's contribution to victory ranks as high as that of anyone else other than Churchill. That story alone would have been a fascinating tale, and although we may not be getting the whole story, it is complete enough to understand how valuable his contribution was. That portion of the book is very well done and worthy of being read by anyone interested in how the British managed to hang on long enough for the United States to enter the war.
Unfortunately, Turing came to a tragic end, apparently dying by his own hand after it became known that he was a homosexual. This was after the war and despite his amazing talents and previous contributions, his homosexuality caused him to be branded as a security risk. The cold war was just starting, with the increase in paranoia and baseless accusations. It is very saddening to read about how this incredible genius was hounded to destruction by agents of a nation that owed him so much.
A tale of incredible triumph followed by disturbing tragedy, this is one of the most interesting biographies ever written. Genius is often misunderstood, but it is rarely hounded to destruction. It happened to Alan Turing and this book contains lessons about what can go wrong when people are judged by stereotypes. Given some of the debates that have occurred in the U.S. military recently, it is a lesson that has not yet been completely learned.
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