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May 22, 2017
In the first week of our Technology Takedown, we pit the Father of Modern Computer Science against the Prophet of the Computer Age.
"Can machines think?" In a 1950 academic paper, Alan Turing asked that famous question, and only recently have we begun to answer it with any conviction.
Turing proposed way to evaluate a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human, now called the Turing Test. A pioneer in artificial intelligence, Turing was a jack of all trades, studying physics, quantum mechanics, biology, chemistry, neurology and cryptology.
Turing designed an early digital computer, which he prophesied would open unlimited applications, which we are seeing the result of today. His Automatic Computing Engine was never built, however.
Fun fact: Turing was a codebreaker in World War II, deciphering messages between Hitler and his generals. His work is credited with shortening the war and likely saving millions of lives.
Having died in 1852, Ada Lovelace shouldn’t have been the first computer programmer. But a conceptual invention for an “analytical machine” spurred some amazing foresight from the extraordinary Lady Lovelace.
Lovelace was ahead of her time in many ways. Society frowned on educating women in STEM fields in the early 1800s, but Lovelace’s aristocratic money and unconventional mother allowed her the opportunity to study advanced science and math. It also placed her in the path of Charles Babbage, the inventor of the original calculating and computing machines.
Here’s where Lovelace’s story takes a turn for the far-fetched: asked to translate Babbage’s notes, Lovelace added her own theories about how codes could be created to support symbols and letters—a major conceptual leap for a numerical calculating machine. Her theories about looping, or repeating a series of instructions, became the basic for the concept of programming.
Fun fact: Lovelace is the daughter of poet Lord Byron, famous for such romantic (and unmathematical) lines as She walks in beauty, like the night; Of cloudless climes and starry skies.
Which computing pioneer made a bigger impact? VOTE now!