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Machines Like Us

Living with the legacy of Alan Turing

Saturday, 16 June 2012

New book The Universal Machine describes how technology has transformed our lives.

The computer is a radical invention. In less than a single lifetime it has transformed economies and societies like nothing before. In the future, artificial intelligence and ubiquitous, quantum and molecular computing may even make us immortal – part of the universal machine.

Unlike other innovations, computers are universal machines: You can use a computer for many tasks: writing, composing music, designing buildings, creating movies, living in virtual worlds, communicating, etc. A new popular science history by Ian Watson, The Universal Machine, introduces the fascinating characters behind the computer’s development. They include a Victorian steam punk pioneer, an aristocratic lady whose talents and lifestyle were quite scandalous, the tragic Alan Turing, whose genius helped win WWII, and a rag-tag bunch of dropouts who not only shaped the PC, but gave birth to the counter-culture that drives Silicon Valley today: Apple’s Wozniak and Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. This story is about these people, and many more, and the profound changes computers have brought about.

To understand the pivotal role that computers play in our lives, you must get to know these people—to see how their innovative thinking changed the world irrevocably, and made and lost fortunes overnight. The book also tracks some of the more intriguing (if not baffling) developments, from hacking to social networking and ubiquitous computing.

In the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth, Ian Watson explains, “Celebrations and commemorations are taking place worldwide through 2012. I’m happy to say that finally Alan Turing is getting the recognition he deserves—not just for his work in WWII, but also for inventing the computer, the universal machine, that has already transformed the modern world and will profoundly influence our futures.”

Ian Watson is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He has published two textbooks and over one hundred scientific papers on various aspects of artificial intelligence, and is a regular speaker at computer science and technology conferences worldwide. He also makes regular contributions to the popular NZ computer magazine NetGuide and is a prolific blogger.