Grace Hopper on Letterman! (video)

Grace Hopper & UNIVAC

I just came across this wonderful video clip of Rear Admiral (retired) Grace Hopper on the Letterman show. Who is she you ask? Grace Hopper is one of the most famous women in the history of computing. She programmed the Harvard Mark 1 during WWII. She discovered the first computer bug, literally a moth that had got caught in a relay. She programmed the UNIVAC after the war and developed the first high-level programming language, FLOW-MATIC, which was the basis for COBOL. As a necessity she also had to invent the first compiler to translate FLOW-MATIC code into machine code. Semi-retired she consulted for many computing companies and she has a US naval destroyer named in her honor. A truly remarkable woman.

from The Universal Machine


The cost of knowledge – 2

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article about the growing boycott of Elsevier by academics. Today there was a piece on the National Radio’s Nine to Noon with Kathryn Ryan about this same issue. To listen to the piece use the player below. I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t mention the boycott that over 10,000 academics have now joined, though it did raise some other interesting issues.

from The Universal Machine

The #Turing Test and a thought experiment

I just came across a beautifully written piece in the New Yorker from last year called, Alan Turing’s Apple. It does a lovely job of weaving Turing’s experience in and out of contemporary times along with the Snow White fairy tale. At its heart its author, Amy Davidson, asks us to consider a thought experiment: if, in a Turing Test, a computer was asked if Turing’s treatment that resulted in his death was fair, would a computer be as heartless as some people were in 1952?
    We tend to assume machines lack compassion and empathy, yet clearly some people do as well.

from The Universal Machine

Sebastian Thrun on #GoogleGlass & #GoogleCar

There’s a very interesting interview from The Charlie Rose Show with Sebastian Thrun. He’s the former director of SAIL (Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory), and was part of the team which won the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005 (a race involving driverless vehicles). Thrun now works for Google as the head of the Google X labs, and is responsible for the driverless Google cars and the Glass Project, which I blogged about recently.
   In this 20 minute interview he talks about the new Google glasses, which he’s wearing, the motivation behind driverless cars, the future of education, and other projects he’s currently working on.

from The Universal Machine

#Turing’s obituaries

Hollymeade in Wilmslow, the house where Turing died

Thanks to David Stutz for making some of the obituaries to Alan Turing available on his blog. His (and my) favourite is from Sherborne, Turing’s school.

“For those who knew him here [at Sherborne] the memory is of an even-tempered, lovable character with an impish sense of humour and a modesty proof against all achievement. You would not take him for a Wrangler, the youngest Fellow of King’s and the youngest F.R.S. [Fellow of the Royal Society], or as a Marathon runner, or that behind a negligé appearance he was intensely practical. Rather you recollected him as one who buttered his porridge, brewed scientific concoctions in his study, suspended a weighted string from the staircase wall and set it swinging before Chapel to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth by its change of direction by noon, produced proofs of the postulates of Euclid, or brought bottles of imprisoned flies to study their “decadence” by inbreeding. On holidays in Cornwall or Sark he was a lively companion even to the extent of mixed bathing at midnight. During the war he was engaged in breaking down enemy codes, and had under him a regiment of girls, supervised to his amusement by a dragon of a female. His work was hush-hush, not to be divulged even to his mother. For it he was awarded the O.B.E. He also adopted a young Jewish refugee and saw him through his education. Besides long distance running, his hobbies were gardening and chess; and occasionally realistic water-colour painting.
    In all his preoccupation with logic, mathematics, and science he never lost the common touch; in a short life he accomplished much, and to the roll of great names in the history of his particular studies added his own.” — The Sherbornian, Summer Term 1954

This obituary from his old school does seem slightly at odds with their opinion of him whilst he was actually a student there. His recently published school reports paint a slightly different picture. For example, in mathematics one master comments, “Not very good.  He spends a good deal of time apparently in investigations in advanced mathematics to the neglect of his elementary work.  A sound ground work is essential in any subject.  His work is dirty.” You can read his school reports on Alex Bellos’ blog.

from The Universal Machine

Travelling Salesman – A Movie About P = NP

Honestly a movie is being about about the travelling salesman problem. The plot of the movie is based on what would happen if a computer scientist proved that NP = P. If this happened, all public key cryptography would be useless  as the NP problems they are based on could be converted into problems in P and solved in a “reasonable” time. The movie called Traveling Salesman premiers on June 16 and according to the makers “is an intellectual thriller about four of the world’s smartest mathematicians hired by the U.S. government to solve the most elusive problem in computer science history — P vs. NP. The four have jointly created a “system” which could be the next major advancement for humanity or the downfall of society. As the mathematicians are about to sign documents that will give the government sole and private ownership of their solution, they wrestle with the moral dilemma of how their landmark discovery will be used.
   You can find out more information on the movie’s website, and you thought computer science was boring.

from The Universal Machine

How Alan #Turing invented the computer age

I’m very pleased to announce that Scientific American has published an essay I wrote titled, “How Alan Turing invented the computer age” in their Guest Blogs. The essay is 1,000 words long and gives a brief history of Turing’s from his 1936 paper “On computable numbers…” through his WWII code breaking, to his post-war work on machine intelligence, his conviction and tragic suicide. It was quite a challenge to get all that into 1,000 words.
   Scientific American has an interesting range of blogs, which I recommend to you.

from The Universal Machine