Also from Enzensberger's book Mausoleum is this vivid but tone deaf account of Alan Turing, indicative of the homophobia evident in much of the secondary literature on Turing. The scientist was “shrill” but also silent, fainted inexplicably, didn't want to touch people, and “inadvertently” drank poison. “Evidently he was out to delete himself,” was Enzensberger's dry assessment. As an antidote I would recommend reading this along side Jacob Gaboury's “A Queer History of Computing.”
A. M. T. (1912-1954)
It's certain that he never read a newspaper; that he knitted his gloves himself; that he always kept losing trunks, books, coats; and that, whenever he broke his stubborn silence at meals, he fell into a shrill stuttering or a cackling laugh. His eyes were a radiant, inorganic blue, like stained glass.
Very well then. Let us imagine a universal automaton A, which is capable of simulating any other automaton. An. A is a black box fed with an endless strip of paper; this band is the outer world of the machine. It is divided into fields, each single one of which is either blank or marked. We now imagine that A patiently reads one field after another, moving the strip one field forward or backward, and/or writes a mark and/or erases a mark, and we name this apparatus, after its inventor, a Turing machine.
We know moreover that he carefully isolated himself; that he wore rags, sailed in steerage, slept in flea-bags. Evidently he was out to delete himself. One night in his villa, a broken-down house, he inadvertently, as in an Agatha Christie novel, poisoned himself with cyanide. Any similarity with persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Furthermore we may state that every special automaton, whether calculating satellite orbits, writing mazurkas, or producing other automatons, is merely a state An of A. This holds even for the case that An is twice as large or many times as complicated as A.
He cut his own gears, on a lathe in his potato cellar. Fed up with public transportation he would walk for miles overland. He could fix radios and other devices with string. The secret service appreciated him because he could break any code. However, he readily fainted, even for no apparent reason.
We realize that it is impossible to predict fully what solutions the automaton can or cannot provide. In every closed and sufficiently extensive system there are indeterminable propositions. It may sound funny, but the fact is that the proof can only be supplied by the proof. In addition, we must establish that the universal automaton is infinitely indolent, and that it has never been constructed.
Aside from that, he used to bike through the rain; whereby he found it practical to strap an alarm clock to his belt and to put on a gas mask; the former, in order to be always punctual, the latter to coddle his hayfever, for he suffered from asthma; nevertheless, this is a human trait that puts our minds at ease. We do not know why he always avoided contact with the skin of other people of either sex.
In regard to the Turing machine, however, we propose an experiment. One of us, let us call him B, takes up contact with it (by means of a data processing machine or a teletype). C, a censor, is to supervise the dialogue. A simulates a human being, and so does B; and now C must decide which of the two is the human being and which the machine. Let us call this experiment a Turing game, after its inventor.
One can invent masterpieces in the art of automata without even building or working a single machine, just as one can devise methods for reckoning the movements of a star that one has never laid eyes on. (Condorcet)
Whenever the machine betrays itself (either by making or, on the contrary, by not making, a mistake), it improves its program. It learns and learns. This raises the question as to when the match will end. We do not answer this question, but we do maintain that the game can last for a very long time and that it has never been played.
At any rate, there is no quelling the rumor that sometimes, especially on damp October days, in the environs of Cambridge, one can see him, or his simulacrum, on mowed stubblefields, hiking in the fog across country, unpredictably doubling back.
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Source: Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Mausoleum: Thirty-seven Ballads from the History of Progress, trans. Joachim Neugroschel (New York: Urizen 1976), 138-140.