Welcome to the Jun 23, 2012 issue of
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|TODAY'S TOPIC: Alan Turing, Father of Computer Science||
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Today marks the 100th birthday of Alan Turing, often considered to be "the Father of Computer Science." He formalized the concepts of "algorithm" and "computation" with the "Turing machine," which played a significant role in the creation of the modern computer. But his most famous achievement was building an electro-mechanical machine that broke the German "Enigma" code during World War Two.
Turing was conceived in Chhatrapur, Orissa, in British India, the first son of a British civil servant. His parents wanted their children to be brought up in England, so they returned to London, where Turing was born on June 23, 1912. His father was still in the civil service, requiring him to return to India, so the parents left their two sons with a retired Army couple. As the Wikipedia article states, his natural ability in mathematics and science won him no respect with some of the teachers at the private ("public" in British English) school he attended, where more emphasis was placed on the classics. His headmaster wrote to his parents: "I hope he will not fall between two stools. If he is to stay at public school, he must aim at becoming educated. If he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a public school."
The death of a close boyhood friend from tuberculosis caused Alan Turing to reject his childhood faith and become an atheist, although he continued to believe in life after death. At age 16 he began reading Albert Einstein's work; not only did he grasp it, but he extrapolated Einstein's questioning of Newton's laws of motion, even though this was never made explicit in the text. He went on to study at King's College, Cambridge. He was an undergraduate there from 1931 to 1934, graduating with first-class honors in Mathematics. In 1935, at the age of 22, he was elected a fellow at King's College on the strength of a dissertation in which he proved the "central limit theorem," states Wikipedia.
Wikipedia continues: "Turing reformulated Kurt Gӧdel's 1931 results on the limits of proof and computation, replacing Gӧdel's universal arithmetic-based formal language with what became known as 'Turing machines,' formal and simple hypothetical devices. He proved that some such machine would be capable of performing any conceivable mathematical computation if it were representable as an algorithm." Two different times he studied mathematics and cryptology at Princeton University (where one of my ancestors, Jonathan Edwards, was its second president).
Back at Cambridge, "he attended lectures by Ludwig Wittgenstein about the foundations of mathematics. The two argued and disagreed, with Turing defending formalism, and Wittgenstein arguing that mathematics does not discover any absolute truths but rather invents them. He also started to work part-time with the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS)." This led him to join the effort to break the German "Enigma" code at Bletchley Park in a secluded village in the English countryside during the war.
"Formalism" teaches that mathematics and geometry can be considered as statements about the real-world consequences of certain string manipulation rules. For example, some might contradict this, saying that because a perfectly straight line or curve cannot exist in the "real world," therefore these concepts are merely the creation of human minds. But formalism would reply that without understanding and striving to adhere to these concepts as closely as humanly possible, the sciences ranging from architecture to space flight would be inconceivable. This indicates Turing's continuing belief in something beyond our mortal, material existence.
Perhaps part of the reason that Turing as a teenager rejected belief in God was his homosexuality, which led to his "criminal prosecution in 1952, when homosexual acts were still illegal in the United Kingdom. He accepted treatment with female hormones (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. He died in 1954, just over two weeks before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined it was suicide; his mother and some others believed his death was accidental. On 10 September 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for the way in which Turing was treated after the war because of his sexual orientation." (Wikipedia)
It is a huge tragedy that such geniuses as Turing and Chaikovskii were hounded and punished for their homosexual orientation. The criminalization of certain behaviors that are considered immoral in the "Christian world" points out a logical trap that many people fall into, thinking what is immoral is or should be illegal, and what is legal is therefore moral. But this is a logical fallacy: not everything that is immoral is therefore necessarily illegal, nor is everything that is legal therefore moral. For example: several behaviors such as lying, gluttony, laziness, anger, drunkenness, greed, lending money for more than six years, homosexual acts, adultery, etc. are considered immoral by historical Christian teaching; it would be a big mistake, however, to throw people in jail for telling a "white lie" or being lazy, overeating, being greedy, or getting drunk or angry.
Yet, just because such acts may be legal, it doesn't mean they are morally right. All these - not just homosexual acts or adultery - are actions that, according to Bible teaching, can condemn a person to hell. But in John 3:17 we read - "God didn't send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him." If God loved the whole world so much that He sent His only Son so believers in Him should not perish but have eternal life, Christians should do the same - be less judgmental and more loving.
In my last issue, on free Distance Education, I must have had a premonition of what was to come: just a few days later, our governor in Wisconsin together with leading educators at the University of Wisconsin announced a low-cost online "Flexible Degree Program" that gives university credits for life experience and free courses taken through institutions like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, thus significantly reducing the cost of higher education. This is the first such program in the world by a state-sponsored university. Check it out!
The Security Blurb:
In the Forbes magazine article The Vulnerabilities Market and the Future of Security, security expert Bruce Schneier explains that many hackers have now gone "black hat" and are searching for software vulnerabilities so they can sell them for big money to crooks who develop exploits to harvest personal or financial information from people's computers.
In the past. "white hat" hackers would discover vulnerabilities and warn the software companies of these security holes. If a software company didn't patch the hole in a reasonable time period, the hackers promised they would disclose the security holes to the public. This threat of "transparency" has led to better, more secure software. In fact, this is one of the virtues of free, open-source software: anyone can inspect the computer code to make sure that it is secure. But if "black hat" hackers peddle their discoveries to crooks, not only these "bad guys" endanger the public: the lack of security hole disclosure to software companies removes a powerful incentive for them to control the quality of their software... until it's too late.
The goal of our CN.Net-News is to share information that we think you'll find helpful as you wrestle with that little monster on your desk or at your side, your computer. And we aim to present this information from a Christian worldview. Thanks for your time!
"Dr. Bob the CompuNerd"
Robert D hoskEN
See the "nerd" in my name? (It helps if you're a little dyslexic!)
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