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Alan Turing Aged 16

Breaking the Enigma: Alan Turing and the Turing Machine

Very rarely do you find individuals that change the course of history purely through sheer brilliance. But, when you do find such individuals it is imperative to celebrate them. These individuals tend to produce magnificence through brilliance so effortlessly and with such fluency that it is hard not to remain awestruck. Alan Turing was one such individual. Alan Turing is the man who formulated many of the theoretical concepts that have enabled modern computation. He is widely regarded as the father of computer science, and, rightfully so.

About Alan Turing

Alan Turing was an English mathematician and cryptanalyst whose work in breaking the Enigma code and work in the development of computer science gained him a lot of recognition. He is also credited as being the father of Artificial Intelligence, which, is an exciting and promising field. He studied at King’s College, Cambridge and was widely considered to possess brilliance that was far beyond his age.


Turing Machine

Turing machine is a hypothetical simplistic machine that was created by Alan Turing as a solution to the decision problem. The simplicity of the Turing machine made it a phenomenon. The field of computer science was still in its initial stages and was a burgeoning field and the role of the Turing machine in its growth cannot be overstated. The contribution of the Turing machine was immense in the development and acceptance of computer science.

A Turing machine consists of an infinitely long memory tape that contains input characters or symbols. Upon reading a character on the memory tape, the state of the machine could change. There were operations such as read, write or modify that could be carried out on the tape. There also existed a set of rules that defined what would happen for a particular state and input symbol. These rules specified the effect of the character read from the tape on the current state. Each memory tape had a head. The head was responsible for carrying out either the operation of read, or, that of write. This head could also be moved either to the left or to the right.

This seems simple, right? This is where the beauty of the system lies. Without being overly complicated, the Turing machine had the potential of solving any problem. Alan Turing stated that this machine could solve any computational problem, given enough time and memory. This simplistic machine could solve everything!


An Enigma decryption machine called a “bombe.” This machine, made by National Cash Register of Dayton, Ohio, eliminated all possible encryptions from intercepted messages until it arrived at the correct solution. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Therefore, the Turing machine provided the basis for computational studies. In terms of solving computational problems, there is no computer more powerful than the Turing machine. Any computer that is considered to be as powerful as the Turing machine is considered to be Turing complete. Every modern computing system is considered to be Turing complete.

To answer the decision problem, Turing proposed a puzzle that is renowned as the halting problem. This problem aims to figure out whether there exists an algorithm that can determine if the machine will keep running, or, halt, given the input tape and description of the Turing machine.

This halting problem can be used to determine whether computer programs would halt or continue perpetually. Alan Turing was successful in proving that the halting problem was in fact unsolvable. Consider a Turing machine that takes the description of a program and certain inputs for its memory tape. Also, consider the output for this machine to be either Yes if the program halts or No if the program fails to cease. Now consider another Turing machine that is built on top of this machine. Now, if the output of the first Turing machine is Yes, which means that the program halts, then, we make the second machine run in an infinite loop. If the output of the first Turing machine is No, which means the program does not halt, then, we make the second machine output No and halt.

If you have followed carefully, you will notice that the second Turing machine does the exact opposite of the first one. Consider the combination of these machines as a single unified machine. Let’s call this machine, Alan. Now if we pass the description of the unified machine, Alan, as input to the same machine, Alan, then we are asking the system to evaluate itself. If the first Turing machine in Alan outputs Yes, the second machine goes into an infinite loop and it does not halt. If the first machine outputs No, the second machine halts.

So, the first machine cannot determine the solution to this problem. It results in a paradox. Since Turing proved that all computational problems can be solved on the Turing machine, the fact that this problem cannot be solved on it means that the problem does not have a solution. He, therefore, proved through contradiction that the halting problem is not solvable. By showing that the halting problem was not solvable, he proved that the decision problem had no solutions.

You may ask, what is the decision problem? Decision problem was put forth by David Hilbert. The problem asks for an algorithm that takes a sentence of first-order logic as input and produces either a Yes or a No according to whether the statement is universally valid or not.

Alonzo Church also proved that the decision problem had no solutions through his lambda calculus. This led to the formation of the Church-Turing thesis, which, says that lambda calculus and Turing machines are capable enough to solve all computational problems that have solutions.

Breaking the Enigma

Turing played a pivotal part in the Second World War in deciphering German codes that were created through the Enigma machine. This machine scrambled any text and transmitted the scrambled text. This scrambling was carried out by the Germans to ensure that nobody intercepts and understands their messages. The scrambling was not random, it was determined by the rotors of the Enigma machine, which meant that it could be descrambled on another Enigma machine. Thus, the Germans would transmit messages encrypted by one Enigma machine and receive messages decrypted by the receiving Enigma machine. The challenge for Turing was to crack the Enigma and understand the rotor configurations.

Alan Turing came up with the Bombe, which, was an enhancement of the Polish code breaking system that aimed to crack Enigma codes. Bombe predicted rotor settings of the Enigma machine more effectively than any other system. The Germans would periodically update the Enigma machine and add rotors to ensure that codes were not being encrypted by anyone else. Turing and his colleagues worked tirelessly to break this code and were appreciated for potentially reducing the duration of the war by several years.

Turing Test

Perhaps, the most promising contribution of Alan Turing was his contribution to Artificial Intelligence. Turing hypothesized that a computer can achieve intelligence equivalent to that of a human being, or at least, intelligence that is indistinguishable from human intelligence if it could successfully lead a human being to believe that the machine was human. The Turing test is renowned for being the basis for classifying machine as either intelligent or not intelligent.

The Turing test involves a human evaluator who is responsible for determining which of the two entities he is talking to is actually human. The evaluator is allowed to ask a series of questions to carry out this classification. These questions are asked to both the human being and the machine. If the human evaluator fails to determine which one is human, and which one is a machine, based on the responses, then, the machine is said to have successfully fooled the evaluator and is deemed to be intelligent.

Controversy regarding Alan Turing

Sadly, the greatness of this brilliant individual was marred with controversy. Alan Turing was homosexual in a time when homosexuality in the United Kingdom was illegal. When he was convicted of these charges, he was given the option of either imprisonment or chemical castration. He chose chemical castration so that he could continue his academic work. As a result, he spent much of his post-war life unable to conform to the changes that resulted in him due to chemical castration. He, unfortunately, took his own life at a very young age of 41.

Artificial Intelligence

The gift of Artificial Intelligence was provided to us by Alan Turing. Artificial Intelligence has shown immense potential and could soon be incorporated into everyday systems. Although one could say that Artificial Intelligence is still only a burgeoning field, the accomplishments of Artificial Intelligence are already so significant that it would be foolish to not consider it to be a powerful aspect of society in the not so distant future.

The genius, Alan Turing once said, “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done”. Alan Turing had tremendous dedication towards his work. He was even willing to undergo chemical castration to be able to continue with his academic work. That was the dedication that the man possessed.

There probably are not enough adjectives to describe the brilliance that Alan Turing possessed. Then again, it probably would be an injustice to the great man to express appreciation towards his intelligence through mere words. The potential the man possessed could not be, nay, should not be described through mere words constrained by the vocabulary. It is tragic how his story unfolded, but, his contributions to the field of computer science and artificial intelligence will forever live on. He was truly a rare gem.

optical storage

This tiny 5d disc can store 360 TB of data for 13.8 billion years

Today’s massive amounts of digital data have caused researchers worldwide to develop data storage technologies, such as DNA-based storage, that are meant to be capable of keeping data for the longest possible time.

Now, a new mini disc developed by researchers in the United Kingdom is said to be able to store up to 300 terabytes worth of information for billions of years without suffering any deterioration of its digital contents.
Using nanostructured glass, scientists from the University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) have developed the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional (5D) digital data by femtosecond laser writing.

The storage allows unprecedented properties including 360 TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1,000°C and virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature (13.8 billion years at 190°C ) opening a new era of eternal data archiving. As a very stable and safe form of portable memory, the technology could be highly useful for organisations with big archives, such as national archives, museums and libraries, to preserve their information and records.

“It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations,” said one of the researchers, Peter Kazansky. “This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

The researchers are presenting their work at the International Society for Optical Engineering Conference in San Francisco this week, and after that, they”re hoping to find industry specialists to partner with in order to develop the technology further, finally getting it to a stage where it could be used in commercial products.


new battery technology

Accidentally created new battery technology can last 400 times longer

Researchers in the US have created a battery capable of being recharged hundreds of thousands of times without showing signs of wear, spelling a potential end to electronics rendered useless by dead cells.

The batteries of today are mainly lithium, and over time that lithium corrodes inside the battery.
Instead of lithium, researchers at UC Irvine have used gold nanowires to store electricity, and have found that their system is able to far outlast traditional lithium battery construction. The Irvine team’s system cycled through 200,000 recharges without significant corrosion or decline.

The original aim of the experiment was simply to make a solid-state battery that used an electrolyte gel rather than a liquid to hold its charge – lithium batteries contain liquid, which makes them extremely combustible and also sensitive to temperature.

But when they started experimenting with gold nanowires suspended in this electrolyte gel, they found that the system was incredibly resilient. In fact, it was way, way more resilient than any other battery system.

Watch: How batteries work

The use of nanowires, which are thousands of times thinner than human hair, highly conductive and have a large surface area, in batteries is not new.

Lithium-ion batteries, used in most smartphones, are also made up of nanowires, but they are fragile and prone to breaking after repeated charges.

As such, batteries are currently designed to withstand a certain number of “cycles” – the equivalent of a battery fully draining.

By coating the nanowires in both a shell and the gel, the US researchers managed to prevent the nanowires from growing brittle.

During testing, it withstood 200,000 charges over three months. In that time the researchers failed to notice any decline in charge capacity or damage within the battery. Regular batteries currently on the market normally die after 7,000 charges at most, the study claimed.

The study was published in the American Chemical Society’s Energy Letters on April 20.

Anatomy of eye

Thanks to a bionic eye, this woman is able to see for the first time in years

It might seem like something out of a Philip K. Dick story, but bionic eyes are no longer pure figments of writers’ imaginations! For the first time in years, a woman has been able to see again with the help of a bionic eye!

The bionic eye is an implant that works together with a pair of glasses

Carmen Torres began to lose her eyesight when she was eighteen years old because of a genetic disease called retinitis pigments which causes the patient to lose his or her eyesight over time. Torres who is now 58 years old, has been completely blind since she was 45 years old.

Last November Torres underwent surgery to have the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System installed. According to Torres’ doctor, the surgery was as one might have guessed reasonably complicated. Dr. Nina Gregori said:

It’s a meticulous technique, one that requires exact, precise measurements of where to place these components on the eye and we really took our time.”

The way the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System works is, the patient wears special glasses which are equipped with a miniature camera that captures what is being seen. The images are then deciphered by a small wearable computer, which sends the images back to the glasses and is then transmitted to the eye implant.

Torres is one of about a hundred patients worldwide who have had the surgery and the first in the state of Florida. Torres needed to learn how to understand the images which were being transmitted to her, and stated it was like learning a new language. Now, nine months later Torres has been fully rehabilitated and has said she can even see the stars when she gazes at the night sky.

Source: https://www.sciencedump.com

cicret wristband

Cicret wristband turns your arm into a touch screen

Paris based design company Cicret aims to turn your arm into a tablet device promising a great future for wearables. Coined as “a tablet on your skin”, the Cicret bracelet will project your phone onto the skin of your arm.

It will use a tiny ”pico projector” and eight miniature proximity sensors to project an image of your device screen on to your arm.

Low energy Bluetooth will communicate with your mobile device. A Wi-Fi component will connect you to the network. It will have a vibration function and a micro USB charging port.

Touching your arm with your finger will interact with the sensors and return the instructions back to the processor of the bracelet.

cicret bracelet

Image: Cicret

Flicking your wrist will turn on the display on your arm. The Cicret bracelet will be water resistant and durable. Flick, swipe, pinch and zoom functionality will be supported along with tap to text. You will even be able to answer the phone with a flick of your wrist.

Related VideoThe Cicret Bracelet: Like a tablet…but on your skin.