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Alan Turing’s ‘Imitation Game’ paper on artificial intelligence sells for £1,250


Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

An academic journal from 1950 containing a seminal essay on computer intelligence by British codebreaker Alan Turing has sold for £1,250 (approx $1,970) on AbeBooks.co.uk. Turing, who cracked the German secret code in World War II, is currently being played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie, The Imitation Game.

Turing wrote a paper titled ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence’ that appeared in the October 1950 issue of Mind, which reviews developments in philosophy and is still published today. Turing basically asks if machines can think.

The October 1950 issue of Mind containing Alan Turing’s paper on ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence’

The paper details the so called ‘Turing Test’ which measures a machine’s ability to show intelligence equivalent to that of a human. Based on a party game, Turing called his test ‘the Imitation Game’ where two contestants – a man and a woman – both try to convince an observer, via typed messages alone, into thinking that they are actually the woman.  Turing allows for the replacement of the male contestant with a computer program, which is classified as intelligent if it performs as well as the man in fooling the observer.

Turing’s essay goes on to examine the major objections against the advancement of artificial intelligence.

The journal was sold by Rudi Thoemmes Rare Books from Bristol. Collectors have been fascinated with Turing’s work for some years – another copy of this particular issue of Mind was sold by AbeBooks for £1,400 in 2012 – but the film, starring Cumberbatch, is once again putting his work into the spotlight.

More expensive rare Alan Turing items can be found on AbeBooks.co.uk. Another of his paper’s, The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis, is available from a bookseller in Denmark for more than £24,000. This paper, which examines how patterns are formed in biology, was published in 1952 in a journal published by Cambridge University Press.

A third paper, On Computable Numbers, is available for £18,500. Published in 1936 by the London Mathematical Society, this paper – arguably his most famous – serves as the foundation for modern computing.

Turing worked at Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre, during World War II. It is believed Turing’s work to decipher the German secret code shortened the war by several years.

Born in London in 1912, Turing was prosecuted for being homosexual in 1952 and accepted chemical castration instead of a prison sentence. He died the same year from cyanide poisoning, in what is believed to have been suicide. In 2009, then-prime minister Gordon Brown apologised for Britain’s treatment of Turing. Not least from helping to end World War II, the mathematician’s work in computer science makes him one of the founding fathers of artificial intelligence.

The Imitation Game movie, directed by Morten Tyldum, also stars Keira Knightley and Charles Dance. It opened in the UK on Friday and opens in the USA on November 28.

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