the inspiration behind Stevie Ronnie’s animation, ‘The Unit Of Attention’, and poem, ‘Unix Is A Drug’
When I learned to programme my Acorn Electron as a young child I had no idea of the influence that Turing’s machines and ideas were going to have on my life and the lives of just about every human on the planet. Ever since then computers have permeated every aspect of my existence. I’ve studied them, programmed them, played with them, been frustrated beyond belief by them and sat in awe of their power to evolve and adapt at a pace which Turing himself would surely have found surprising.
I was introduced to Turing in the mid-90’s whilst studying at Notingham University as a first year undergraduate Computer Science student. At the time most people had never even heard of the Internet but to anyone who’d used a computer, it seemed obvious that we were on the brink of a major technological revolution. There was a compulsory module on the course called ‘The History of Computing’. Most of my fellow students turned their nose up at the idea, after all there wasn’t an algorithm or line of code in sight and what did it matter where all of this began? I felt differently about it, the means by which humans had dreamt up these intriguing machines and how they might harness their power was fascinating to me. Turing was, of course, at the centre of it all and this continued as I worked my way through the course, his named cropping up all over the place.
I found the course tough going as I was much more interested in the human side of computing than the hard coding, which comprised the bulk of the course content. I could do it but I never seemed to be able to with the same gusto as the true coding geeks who could speak with passion about a semi-colon. It was some of Turing’s ideas that kept me going through all of this as I latched onto the area of Artificial Intelligence. C++ bored me but I would sit up at night dreaming of a machine which could pass the Turing Test. Here was the stuff of science fiction and I was a part of it now. I hung on in there finished the course. Everything I learnt there has shaped my life’s work, from the years I spent developing software through to the ideas and forms which my writing and art inhabit today.
A few years later I crossed paths with Turing again through the Neal Stephenson novel Cryptonomicon. The novel introduced me to Turing as a man and a code-breaker. I wanted to know more and discovered the tragedy that surrounded his early death. Here was a genius that had inspired me in many ways. I’m not usually one for worshipping figures from the past but celebrating him seems important; even if only to remind ourselves that true visionaries are often undervalued during their own lifetimes.
- Posted in: Inspiration behind the work