Turing (A Novel about Computation) (MIT Press)

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9780262162180: Turing (A Novel about Computation) (MIT Press)

Our hero is Turing, an interactive tutoring program and namesake (or virtual emanation?) of Alan Turing, World War II code breaker and father of computer science. In this unusual novel, Turing's idiosyncratic version of intellectual history from a computational point of view unfolds in tandem with the story of a love affair involving Ethel, a successful computer executive, Alexandros, a melancholy archaeologist, and Ian, a charismatic hacker. After Ethel (who shares her first name with Alan Turing's mother) abandons Alexandros following a sundrenched idyll on Corfu, Turing appears on Alexandros's computer screen to unfurl a tutorial on the history of ideas. He begins with the philosopher-mathematicians of ancient Greece -- "discourse, dialogue, argument, proof...can only thrive in an egalitarian society" -- and the Arab scholar in ninth-century Baghdad who invented algorithms; he moves on to many other topics, including cryptography and artificial intelligence, even economics and developmental biology. (These lessons are later critiqued amusingly and developed further in postings by a fictional newsgroup in the book's afterword.) As Turing's lectures progress, the lives of Alexandros, Ethel, and Ian converge in dramatic fashion, and the story takes us from Corfu to Hong Kong, from Athens to San Francisco -- and of course to the Internet, the disruptive technological and social force that emerges as the main locale and protagonist of the novel.

Alternately pedagogical and romantic, Turing (A Novel about Computation) should appeal both to students and professionals who want a clear and entertaining account of the development of computation and to the general reader who enjoys novels of ideas.

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About the Author:

Christos H. Papadimitriou is C. Lester Hogan Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of many books on computational theory.



David L. Levy is Professor in the Department of Management at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. His research examines the intersection of business strategy and politics in the development of international governance, and he has published widely on the topic. Recently, he has studied the response of multinational corporations in the oil and automobile industries to the emerging greenhouse gas regime, and is currently examining prospects for the renewable energy industry in Massachusetts.



Peter J. Newell is Professor of Development Studies at the University of East Anglia. He has published widely on the political economy of the environment, including the books Climate for Change (2000), The Effectiveness of EU Environmental Policy (2000), co-authored with Wyn Grant and Duncan Matthews, Development and the Challenge of Globalisation (2002), co-edited with Shirin M. Rai and Andrew Scott. He currently works on issues of corporate regulation and accountability and the politics of GMO regulation.

From Publishers Weekly:

The "novel" part of this ungainly novel of ideas explores a love triangle connecting software executive Ethel, aging but unreliable archeologist Alexandros (who annoys Ethel by ogling topless women at the beach) and outlaw hacker Ian (with whom Ethel enjoys a torrid virtual-reality affair). The "ideas" part comes in the "person" of Turing, an artificial intelligence program (modeled on computer scientist Alan Turing) that pops up unbidden on PC monitors to deliver a lengthy bits-to-browsers computer tutorial, with lectures thrown in on such topics as intellectual history, cryptography and non-Euclidean geometry. Turing's disquisitions are aimed mostly at Alexandros, a disillusioned leftist slowly coming to embrace the modern cyberworld. Through them, computer scientist Papadimitriou-choosing pedagogy over plot-imparts a humanist gloss to the libertarian futurism of the techno-elite, instructing readers that the free market is the mathematically optimal social arrangement, that the Internet and encryption software are bulwarks of freedom against a useless but heavy-handed state and that the human adventure-indeed, life itself-is coterminous with machine computation. Unfortunately, formatting these ideas as stilted dialogue ("So, Alexandros, did you understand this new way of categorizing adjectives?") makes it less, not more, engaging. Still worse is the love story, whose wooden offerings ("I will never stop loving you.... I know I'll love you after our F2F") seem designed chiefly to reassure readers that, even as cyberspace replaces sexual identity with "seamlessly erotic interface code" as the basis for romance, old saws about soul mates and commitment issues survive. Tech freaks and computer whizzes may love Turing's musings, but mainstream readers won't have patience for all the theory.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Christos H. Papadimitriou
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