Archive for Turing

Diamond age

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2011 by xi'an

Here is the one before last of my vacation reads! As obvious from several earlier posts, I am a big fan of Neal Stephenson’s books. e.g. Snow Crash is one of my preferred cyberpunk books (along with Neuromancer), and I consider Stephenson’s approach to the genre deeper and more scientific than Gibson‘s. So when in Lancaster I picked the Diamond Age, I was quite excited to have discovered an overlooked volume of his’! The more because the story was partly taking place in Shanghai. Alas, I am rather disappointed by the result. Indeed, the book does not read well: the “suspension of disbelief” does not operate.

The Diamond Age brims with (too many???) brilliant techno-societal ideas, colourful characters, literary references, and exciting settings, but the plot dries out much too quickly. The universe Stephenson depicts is a mix of cyberpunk centred on nanotechnologies and of steampunk with Victorian codes and attitudes. (In a sense, the Diamond Age is Dickens mixed with Gibson and van Gulik.) One of the great ideas in the Diamond Age is the “primer” that educates the central character, Nell, who has been neglected by her alcoholic mother. It is a quite compelling concept, the one of an interactive book backed by an AI and by real actors that turn Nell into a real scientist (the part about Turing machines is quite good) and cryptographer, as well as teach Chinese orphans (although it does not work so well in the latter case because of the lack of real actors).  The fact that the level of the story remains one of a fairy tale while Nell is growing up and maturing is a bit of a disappointment. What really put me off, though, half the book read, is the appearance of the Dreamers, an “unnecessary and monstrously tacky underwater sex cult” that doomed my “suspension of disbelief” for the rest of the book… (The criticisms are mostly positive, though.)

Apology to Alan Turing

Posted in Running, Statistics with tags , , , on October 17, 2009 by xi'an

In the Eurostar back from London, I read a paper in Le Monde about Gordon Brown’s posthumous apology to Alan Turing for the way he was prosecuted by English courtsfor homosexuality in 1952 and eventually driven to suicide in 1954… I just find almost impossible to believe that, till 1967 in England (980 in Scotland and 1981 in France!), homosexuality was a crime, open to prosecution and, in the case of Turing, to chemical castration! This, in addition, ruined his running abilities which were close to Olympic level of those days (his best time in the marathon was 2:46:3). In conjunction with his breaking of the Enigma code machine during the war at Bletchley Park, Turing developped notions of Bayesian information theory like Banburismus and bans. To think of how much he could have contributed to computational and foundational Bayesian statistics, as well as artificial intelligence and mathematical biology, had not he  been persecuted by a predjudiced society… The Prime Minister’s apology came as the result of a petition campaign started by John Graham-Cumming.

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