Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

A Retrospective on Alan Turing’s Influence

May 24th, 2012 / in awards, resources / by Erwin Gianchandani

Ahead of the Alan Turing Centenary next month, SD Times has published an interesting retrospective describing Turing’s influence on the field:

A.M. Turing [image courtesy ACM].Turing’s birthday — June 23, 1912 — will be marked by worldwide celebrations. The Association for Computing Machinery is hosting its Turing Centenary Celebration on June 15 and 16 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco…


The Turing Award, first given in 1966, is handed out each year to one or more individuals for their contributions of a technical nature to the computing community. The award also includes a US$250,000 prize.


In speaking with past winners of the Turing Award and others who have used his research as a starting point for their own, it is clear that each has been touched by Turing’s research in a different way [more following the link].


Stephen Wolfram, scientist, inventor, author and business leader, said Turing’s work on universal computation is perhaps the most important work in the field of computing over the last 100 years…


Science, Wolfram said, is built on layers, so it is hard to trace a single innovation back to the work of a single thought leader. But he said that Turing’s work can be shown to have influenced modern thought on a variety of computing topics. Turing, he said, motivated many to push past what was known.


Wolfram said Turing was the first to clearly understand and explain that software should be possible, that an individual machine could be programmed to do more than one computation…


This year’s winner, Judea Pearl, a professor of computer science at UCLA, will speak on a panel about human and machine intelligence at the Turing Centenary Celebration. Pearl agreed with Wolfram, adding that the belief that computers can think did not directly influence any one particular innovative computer or software concept; instead, it spawned other technology.


Artificial Intelligence is a very rich field, according to Pearl, adding that it is just in its infancy. There is language translation and speech recognition, but beyond that, AI is not fully developed, in his mind. His work is motivated by his belief that machines can be programmed to think autonomously, so that a computer can “talk” about its own wishes and decisions.


Pearl does believe that “We [in the field of computer science] have come a long way,” but also [believes] that “we still have a lot to accomplish.” The fact that the industry is reviewing the Turing test of universal computation, and understanding that it is not the end of the road, is a sign that the industry understands that Turing’s legacy is one of constant discovery, he said.


Joseph Sifakis, a winner of the Turing Award in 2007, a professor at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, andHazards, Sifakis said, can be anything from a hack into the system, an environmental disturbance or even a hardware issue — any “unknown threat.” Solving this problem, he said, is crucial for the development of embedded systems, which, he explained, break with traditional computing systems such as desktops and servers.


“Embedded systems must jointly meet technical requirements such as reactivity, that is, responding within a known and bounded delay. Systems must also display autonomy, that is, providing continuous service without human intervention and dependability that is invulnerability to threats including attacks, hardware failures, and software execution errors,” Sifakis explained.


Further, he believed, “In the near future, another anticipated, important landmark will be the advent of the Internet of Things as the result of the convergence between embedded technologies and the Internet (with every object corresponding to a different virtualization, an idea popularized at the end of the 1990s. It is thought that the concept will come to pass once RFID devices have matured). The idea is to use Internet technologies to integrate services provided by hundreds of billions of embedded systems. This will require an upgrade of the Internet infrastructure to make it more secure, safer and reactive.”


All of these thought leaders have been influenced by Turing, as have countless others. Their research, the research of their colleagues, and the research of others in the field of computer science will continue to influence the way systems are created and the way the software industry evolves.


As Wolfram said, it is not in knowing where Turing fits exactly in the puzzle of the birth of the software industry, it is in understanding where the industry has to go beyond his research in order to evolve and, ultimately, survive…

Read the full story here.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)

A Retrospective on Alan Turing’s Influence

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