the inspiration behind Christos Christodoulopoulos’ short story, ‘Entscheidungsproblem’
The main inspiration behind Entscheidungsproblem comes from Turing’s solution to David Hillbert’s original ‘Decidability problem’ — whether any proposition of First-Order Logic can be proven to be true or false with a finite number of steps. The Halting problem, which Turing proved is undecidable, tells us of an algorithm that can check whether any algorithm will halt after a finite number of steps. Turing’s proof consisted of feeding the code of the checking programme back to itself and proving that the algorithm would be stuck in an eternal loop (therefore unable to tell if the programme will halt). I had already come across a brilliant (yet accurate!) poetic treatment of this problem in Geoff Pullum’s poem ‘Scooping the Loop Snooper’.
I decided to tell the story from the point of view of the processor running that checking algorithm, in an attempt to portray how the elegance and simplicity of the self-reference that is key to Turing’s proof, becomes disturbing through an anthropomorphic lens.
I couldn’t think of a better backdrop for my story than the WW2 decoding efforts. I wanted to pay homage to another part of Turing’s life: his involvement in the creation of the first computers that helped with the deciphering of the Enigma machine.
There is a final element of the story, related to Turing’s imitation game as a test for consciousness — what is now known as the Turing test — but only via one the most famous attempts to refute it. In 1980 John Searle proposed the ‘Chinese room‘ argument against the validity of the Turing test. The central point of the argument was that if a person sitting in a sealed room were fed incomprehensible symbols (in this case Chinese characters) and had instructions on how to manipulate the symbols to produce an output, then an outside observer could mistake the person in the room for understanding Chinese. John, the protagonist, is trapped in the Chinese room with no one but himself to decipher his output.
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