Posted: November 12th, 2022

Response Paper on “The Military Use of Alan Turing” by Andrew Hodges

Response Paper on “The Military Use of Alan Turing” by Andrew Hodges

Alan Turing was critical in deciphering German communications during World War II. His unique mathematical skill and abilities made him special to the war. The mathematical abilities would lead Turing to champion the development of digital computer and artificial intelligence. Mathematical logic would become the artificial intelligence running the digital computer such that the computer would be like Casabianca, the boy on the burning deck who carries orders relentlessly. Despite Turing’s involvement in championing the development of the modern-day digital computer and his advances in artificial intelligence through mathematical logic, he was not involved in the development of the computer and artificial intelligence. This leads to the question of what was Turing’s place in mathematics and war and why was he not involved in processes of developing the digital computer and the advancement of artificial of intelligence.
Hodges (2003) argued that it was Alan Turing’s homosexuality and innate rebellion, softly regarded as creative will by Hodges, that resulted in the sidelining of Alan Turing in the important process of the developing the digital computer. While Turing’s homosexuality and interplay of rule-following duty versus creative will may have resulted in his sidelining, the interaction between cryptographic ciphering and creating user-friendly universal digital computer and belief in superiority of mathematics over engineering were more important considerations in his sidelining.
Argument 1
The digital computer and associated artificial intelligence was an idea greater than mere cryptographic ciphering. Cryptographic ciphering during the Second World War mainly entailed creating ciphers that would make military communications impenetrable. Having strong mathematical abilities, Alan Turing was able to decipher what he would refer to as messages form the unseen world. However, he did not only work on cracking the mathematical codes behind those messages. Rather, he got transfixed on the development of impenetrable systems and computer logic. In the process he ignored the important role of ensuring the creation of universal digital computers and computer logic that would be accessible in any language provided it was an exact language. Quite literally, it suffices to indicate that Alan Turing was focused more on creating a digital computer for military use but not for any other purpose yet the idea of a universal digital computer and artificial intelligence was much greater than war applications.
Argument 2
Alan Turing comes out as a strong-willed believer in the superiority of mathematics over engineering. In the article Hodges (2003) stated that engineers were often overlooked and accorded a low social status and that they did not take kindly to being treated as mere technical assistants when in fact they have contributed immensely skilled and creative solutions. The perspective on the rivalry between mathematics and engineering, and Alan Turing’s hard stance on the superiority of mathematics would definitely make him inappropriate for a project that required the creativity and skill of the engineer as much as the mathematical skill and ability of Turing was required. Arguably therefore, the team working on the first digital computer needed to have mutual respect for each other such that engineers and mathematicians felt equally important. Since Alan Turing did not appear to fit such a classification it explains why he would not squarely fit into the digital computing developments.
In concluding, Alan Turing contributed immensely in championing for the digital computer and artificial intelligence. However, he was eventually not involved in the actual development of the computer not because his sexuality or his innate rebellious personality. Rather, he was sidelined because he got transfixed on developing impenetrable computers only for military use and he did not recognize the importance of mathematicians and engineers working together.
Hodges, A. (2003). The military use of Alan Turing. In Mathematics and War (pp. 312-325). Birkhäuser, Basel.

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