George Dyson on Turing's Cathederal (ETech 2005)


Ester Dyson introduces her brother George. She says that his job as a historian is to determine what is worthy of our attention. George talks about the "prophets" of the computer age. People who saw things long before their time.

George recounts some of the early 20th century thinking about artificial intelligence. In contrast to some of these earlier ideas are ideas about collective intelligence.

Alfred Smee defined ideas about bit-mapping and search engines in the mid 19th century. Thomas Hobbes, in 1651 posited automata and the question of whether they have a life of their own (in addition to inventing recursive functions).

Leibniz proposed a marble and track based binary computer in the mid 17th century. Von Neumann used his work in making the first binary shift registers.

Godel contributed the key idea that any mathematical function can be given a number and manipulated before computers even existed. Ross Ashby's

George shows some of the original papers that start to develop the language of computing. von Neumann taught his wife, Klara to code before ENIAC was even done and she became one of the first computer programmers.

George makes an interesting comment relative to some early comments by Barracelli that the numbers were just numbers. George says that the numbers were a genotype looking for a phenotype. Software developers by applying programming to problems have given them a phenotype by allowing them to affect the physical world.

The meaning is less and less in the code and more and more in the data: links, as an example.

Ross Ashby's design for a human brain (old book) is the architecture for Google. We don't have to understand an intelligent machine in order to build one. This reminds me of something Alan Kay said about engineers being successful at building things long before science had anything to say about it. We might eventually realize that we've been building search engines, but at some point they became intelligent. Turing said that intellectual activity consists mainly of various kinds of search.