Alan Turing – the Father of AI

If you ask any AI specialist who the “Father of AI” is they will readily say “Alan Turing, of course!” Others may recall his story pictured beautifully in the 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” portraying the nail-biting race against time by Turing and his team cracking the Nazi Enigma code during the darkest days of World War II. 

During the Second World War, Alan Turing built one of the first computers. It had just one goal: to crack the secret Nazi code for their submarine attacks on ships of the British and Allies in the Atlantic Ocean. Turing played a pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements and in doing so helped win the war. It has been estimated that this work shortened the war in Europe by more than two years and saved over fourteen million lives.

Fig. 1.1 Alan M. Turing, considered to be the father of Artificial Intelligence

Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. In 1950 Alan Turing published his famous paper, popularly called the “The Imitation Game.” He started with the basic question, “Can machines think?” By discarding traditional means of answering this he developed the ‘Turing Test’ as the best way to determine if a machine can successfully imitate a human thinker. Turing put forward the idea of an ‘imitation game’, in which a human being and a computer would be interrogated under conditions, where the interrogator would not know which was which, the communication being entirely by textual messages. Turing argued that if the interrogator could not distinguish them by questioning, then it would be unreasonable not to call the computer intelligent, because we judge other people’s intelligence from external observation in just this way.

Later in the paper, he expands the basic AI question “Can machines think?” to “Can a machine learn?”, linking the ability to independently think to the ability to learn. If a machine can learn, what is the best way to teach a machine? One of his propositions is precisely what has become successfully adopted today as “deep learning”. In his words, “This process could follow the normal teaching of a child. Things would be pointed out and named”. The machine, like a child, can be taught by examples. The more variation of examples, the better the learning and subsequently better are the decisions the machines makes.

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