Turing Sources

Conference on Information theory,
26-29 September 1950

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A notable conference took place in London, at the end of September 1950, on those subjects which were often referred to as 'Cybernetics', although the conference took the title of 'Information Theory'. Claude E. Shannon was a major participant. Besides his theory of communication, he had written on computer-programmed chess-playing (download here). Alan Turing was not a scheduled speaker, but made two extended contributions which are recorded in the extracts shown below. They are both concerned with the question of artificial intelligence.

The list of speakers and titles is shown on another page.

The first Turing contribution was in response to A. M. Uttley's talk on 'Information, Machines and Brains'. It is noteworthy that in the first paragraph, Turing expands on the idea of 'a machine altering its own instructions', distinguishing this concept from that of conditional branching. In the second paragraph Turing comments on the Shannon theory of information that it takes no account of computational cost — something that Bletchley Park procedures would have made very vivid. In the third section, Turing expands on concepts of random search and what would now be called genetic algorithms.

The second contribution was in response to the talk of Eliot Slater on 'Statistics for the Chess Computer and the Factor of Mobility.'

The faint typewriting here reads: '...I mean laying down a definite set of rules governing play and then obeying them, or in other words 'programming oneself as a chess machine'. Anyone can do this: the only apparatus required is board and men, and perhaps pencil and paper. Both Dr. Shannon and I have many others. I recommend it as easy, instructive and entertaining. Similar experiments can be made with 'paper learning machines.'

Programme of speakers and titles


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