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Humanist Archives: Aug. 22, 2021, 7:06 a.m. Humanist 35.198 - Turing's shadow and foretaste

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 198.
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    [1]    From: Dr. Herbert Wender <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.196: Turing's shadow and foretaste (19)

    [2]    From: Willard McCarty <>
           Subject: shadows (75)

        Date: 2021-08-21 15:25:30+00:00
        From: Dr. Herbert Wender <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.196: Turing's shadow and foretaste

Or some kind of commonplace?

The Coalition of the Beast of the Apocalypse and His Ten ... - Page 6 › books Edward FLOWER (of Jersey.) · 1856 Found inside – Page 6 The
abolition of the Christian Religion by the National Convention foreshadowed the
actions of the Beast who will open his mouth in blasphemy against God ...

William Pitt (Chatham) und graf B́ute: Ein beitrag zur ... - Page 25 › books · Translate this page
Albert von Ruville · 1895 Found inside – Page 25 Die Zukunft warf ihren Schatten
voraus . Ohne daß der Thronfolger vorerst activ eingegriffen hätte , übte schon
die allgemeine Rücksichtnahme auf seine ...

Geschichte des preußischen Staats von Felix Eberty: 1815-1871 › books · Translate this page
1873 Found inside – Page 554 Die großen Ereignisse der Zukunft warfen auch diesmal
ihren Schatten voraus ! Ueberall im Lande vernahm man mit Genugthuung , daß
Preußen in der Person ...

        Date: 2021-08-21 07:55:59+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: shadows

Apologies for the numerous typos in my initial posting about Turing's
quotation on the £50 note. To answer Jim R's question, my "on1y" was due
to an OCR error that I did not spot. The other typos were due to my own
hurried typing. But let me say a bit more about the circumstances and
the resonances of Turing's words.

Prior to his quotation of the remark now on the £50 note, Hodges sets
the stage with a discussion of the Lister Oration, "The Mind of
Mechanical Man",* delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons, 9 June
1949, by Sir Geoffrey Jefferson, Professor of Neurosurgery at Manchester
(pp. 509ff). The Oration was reported in The Times on the following day,
"No mind for mechanical man". According to Hodges, "Their reporter
telephoned Manchester, where Alan rose to the bait and chatted away
without inhibition"; Turing's reference to sonnet-writing refers
directly to Jefferson's declaration that, "Not until a machine can write
a sonnet or compose a concerto because of thoughts and emotions felt...
could we agree that machine equals brain -- that is, not only write it
but know that it had written it." (p. 1110)

My reading of Turing's response is that he lept away from the endless
and rather tedious question of whether a machine can be creative all on
its own to a question I find much more interesting: how machines might
talk to each other in ways beyond what the Shannon/Weaver "Mathematics
of Communication" allows for.

The resonances of 'shadow and foretaste' I read not so much as an
allusion but in the manner of an allusive state of mind that, reaching 
(more than a little mischievously, perhaps) for an expression of the 
wait-and-see type, draws on a fund of prophetic language. Given 
Turing's education during the early 20th Century, this language would be 
biblical as well as literary, and so indirectly biblical as well. Consider the 
following from the Bible (King James Version), with whose language he 
would have been more than a little familiar:

> Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily: and sweetly doth
> she order all things... If a man desire much experience, she knoweth
> things of old, and conjectureth aright what is to come... (Wisdom of
> Solomon 8.1,8)
> Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of
> an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a
> shadow of things to come... (Colossians 2.16-17)
> For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very
> image of the things (Hebrews 10.1)

Again, I'm not saying Turing was specifically alluding to these or any
other passages but speaking in a prophetic mode, perhaps mischievously,
perhaps seriously, perhaps somewhere in between.

I particuarly like the response of one Times reporter who in "Umbrage to
parrots" (16 June 1949) wrote of parrot-lovers responses to Jefferson's
remark in the Oration that, "It was not enough... to build a machine
which could use words; it would have to be able to create concepts and
find for itself suitable words in which to express them. Otherwise... it
would be no cleverer than a parrot." The reporter responds:

> Those who have never loved a parrot can hardly appreciate the
> vehemence of the emotions aroused by these thoughtless words in the
> breasts of those who have made of this sagacious bird a close and (as
> far as can be ascertained) devoted companion.

Perhaps that's enough?


British Medical Journal 1.4616 (1949): 1105-1110.

Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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