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Turing (A Novel about Computation) [Hardcover]

Christos H. Papadimitriou
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 10 2003

Our hero is Turing, an interactive tutoring program and namesake (or virtual emanation?) of Alan Turing, World War II code breaker and father of computer science. In this unusual novel, Turing's idiosyncratic version of intellectual history from a computational point of view unfolds in tandem with the story of a love affair involving Ethel, a successful computer executive, Alexandros, a melancholy archaeologist, and Ian, a charismatic hacker. After Ethel (who shares her first name with Alan Turing's mother) abandons Alexandros following a sundrenched idyll on Corfu, Turing appears on Alexandros's computer screen to unfurl a tutorial on the history of ideas. He begins with the philosopher-mathematicians of ancient Greece -- "discourse, dialogue, argument, proof... can only thrive in an egalitarian society" -- and the Arab scholar in ninth-century Baghdad who invented algorithms; he moves on to many other topics, including cryptography and artificial intelligence, even economics and developmental biology. (These lessons are later critiqued amusingly and developed further in postings by a fictional newsgroup in the book's afterword.) As Turing's lectures progress, the lives of Alexandros, Ethel, and Ian converge in dramatic fashion, and the story takes us from Corfu to Hong Kong, from Athens to San Francisco -- and of course to the Internet, the disruptive technological and social force that emerges as the main locale and protagonist of the novel.Alternately pedagogical and romantic, Turing (A Novel about Computation) should appeal both to students and professionals who want a clear and entertaining account of the development of computation and to the general reader who enjoys novels of ideas.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The "novel" part of this ungainly novel of ideas explores a love triangle connecting software executive Ethel, aging but unreliable archeologist Alexandros (who annoys Ethel by ogling topless women at the beach) and outlaw hacker Ian (with whom Ethel enjoys a torrid virtual-reality affair). The "ideas" part comes in the "person" of Turing, an artificial intelligence program (modeled on computer scientist Alan Turing) that pops up unbidden on PC monitors to deliver a lengthy bits-to-browsers computer tutorial, with lectures thrown in on such topics as intellectual history, cryptography and non-Euclidean geometry. Turing's disquisitions are aimed mostly at Alexandros, a disillusioned leftist slowly coming to embrace the modern cyberworld. Through them, computer scientist Papadimitriou-choosing pedagogy over plot-imparts a humanist gloss to the libertarian futurism of the techno-elite, instructing readers that the free market is the mathematically optimal social arrangement, that the Internet and encryption software are bulwarks of freedom against a useless but heavy-handed state and that the human adventure-indeed, life itself-is coterminous with machine computation. Unfortunately, formatting these ideas as stilted dialogue ("So, Alexandros, did you understand this new way of categorizing adjectives?") makes it less, not more, engaging. Still worse is the love story, whose wooden offerings ("I will never stop loving you.... I know I'll love you after our F2F") seem designed chiefly to reassure readers that, even as cyberspace replaces sexual identity with "seamlessly erotic interface code" as the basis for romance, old saws about soul mates and commitment issues survive. Tech freaks and computer whizzes may love Turing's musings, but mainstream readers won't have patience for all the theory.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Combining storytelling and brilliant exposition in the Enlightenment tradition, Christos Papadimitriou's Turing is at once a moving postmodern love story and one of the best introductions to theoretical computer science available, an enchanting offer to the intelligent reader." Apostolos Doxiadis, author of Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture



" Turing sets new standards for the popular exposition of computer science. It is also a very funny book." Donald E. Knuth , Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming, Stanford University



"... inventively interwoven with a romance and intellectual mystery." Sally Abbott San Francisco Chronicle



"What's most delightful about Turing is the charmed glow that Papadimitriou's prose sheds all around." George Scialabba Boston Sunday Globe



"Combining storytelling and brilliant exposition in the Enlightenment tradition, Christos Papadimitriou's *Turing* is at once a moving postmodern love story and one of the best introductions to theoretical computer science available, an enchanting offer to the intelligent reader."--Apostolos Doxiadis, author of *Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture*



"*Turing* sets new standards for the popular exposition of computer science. It is also a very funny book."--Donald E. Knuth, Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming, Stanford University


Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
"I'll remember his name all right," Ethel thinks as her airplane leaves behind the northern coast of Scotland. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover
Turing is a wonderful tale of romance and discovery in a networked society.
A clever and captivating story line guides the reader through centuries of human ingenuity and intellectual achievement. The carefully crafted characters become alive instantly as we assimilate their charisma, vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies. The author's expressiveness and attention to detail are uncanny, particularly when describing the interactions of the diverse personalities. The dialog is equally engaging and coherent, although somewhat less crisp in the middle section of the book.
In one of its central themes, Turing explores the preservation of knowledge and ideas across life spans and generations. Specifically, the book excels at demonstrating the importance of preserving not only the core innovations but also the processes, thinking patterns, and personality traits that led to their discovery. Storytelling is used throughout the book as a key tool of disseminating intellectual capital.
The successful fusion of history, economics, mathematics, computer science, and let's not forget rock lyrics, is brilliant and original. Indeed, the book illustrates the intrinsic value of merging heterogeneous subjects, cultures, and viewpoints when solving Byzantine problems.
The humorous undertone, together with a crystal clear presentation of modern scientific thoughts, make this book both educational and enjoyable.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Post-modern love story with a twist Nov. 16 2003
By "mvx"
Format:Hardcover
A dot-com princess vacationing in a greek island meets a left-wing intellectual: Sex, web jargon, rock lyrics, post-politics, nude beaches, more sex. A bisexual, drug-addicted, HIV-positive hacker is biding his time in the Far East. Archimedes is about to discover how to use math and gears to run the economy of ancient Italy. And in the middle of all this a program named "Turing" (the name being the only stupid thing about it) inflicts upon anybody who would listen a heretical, irreverend, computer-obsessed account of Man's quest for the truth through the centuries --- in a cocky, funny, cursory monologue, often quite insighhtful and original, that fills about half of the pages and leaves too little for the thin, yet engaging, plot. Finally, a bunch of raving lunatics (you wonder how many of them are real) respond to the book in a newsgroup excerpted in an appendix.
Overall, a delightful little book, which works against all odds and despite its many oddities.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars A charming short novel March 4 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
An interesting novel in the vein of Sophi's World. As that story introduced the reader in a gentle fashion to the history of western philosophy, this book introduces the reader to the history of computation. It is wrapped in a love story (or perhaps a love triangle story would be better). As other reviewers have mentioned, the range of topics cover is expansive and somewhat eclectic. But it works nonetheless. The newsgroup postings at the end are apparently fictional as well, or at least fictionalized.
Was this review helpful to you?
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bravo ! May 10 2004
Format:Hardcover
A must read for computer science. I love the way how Chritos explain the theories of math and cs. The book is extremely fun to read. Great book.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique Tale of Romance and Discovery -- A Must Read! Jan. 31 2004
By Rico Blaser - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Turing is a wonderful tale of romance and discovery in a networked society.
A clever and captivating story line guides the reader through centuries of human ingenuity and intellectual achievement. The carefully crafted characters become alive instantly as we assimilate their charisma, vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies. The author's expressiveness and attention to detail are uncanny, particularly when describing the interactions of the diverse personalities. The dialog is equally engaging and coherent, although somewhat less crisp in the middle section of the book.
In one of its central themes, Turing explores the preservation of knowledge and ideas across life spans and generations. Specifically, the book excels at demonstrating the importance of preserving not only the core innovations but also the processes, thinking patterns, and personality traits that led to their discovery. Storytelling is used throughout the book as a key tool of disseminating intellectual capital.
The successful fusion of history, economics, mathematics, computer science, and let's not forget rock lyrics, is brilliant and original. Indeed, the book illustrates the intrinsic value of merging heterogeneous subjects, cultures, and viewpoints when solving Byzantine problems.
The humorous undertone, together with a crystal clear presentation of modern scientific thoughts, make this book both educational and enjoyable.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Post-modern love story with a twist Nov. 16 2003
By "mvx" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A dot-com princess vacationing in a greek island meets a left-wing intellectual: Sex, web jargon, rock lyrics, post-politics, nude beaches, more sex. A bisexual, drug-addicted, HIV-positive hacker is biding his time in the Far East. Archimedes is about to discover how to use math and gears to run the economy of ancient Italy. And in the middle of all this a program named "Turing" (the name being the only stupid thing about it) inflicts upon anybody who would listen a heretical, irreverend, computer-obsessed account of Man's quest for the truth through the centuries --- in a cocky, funny, cursory monologue, often quite insighhtful and original, that fills about half of the pages and leaves too little for the thin, yet engaging, plot. Finally, a bunch of raving lunatics (you wonder how many of them are real) respond to the book in a newsgroup excerpted in an appendix.
Overall, a delightful little book, which works against all odds and despite its many oddities.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A charming short novel March 4 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
An interesting novel in the vein of Sophi's World. As that story introduced the reader in a gentle fashion to the history of western philosophy, this book introduces the reader to the history of computation. It is wrapped in a love story (or perhaps a love triangle story would be better). As other reviewers have mentioned, the range of topics cover is expansive and somewhat eclectic. But it works nonetheless. The newsgroup postings at the end are apparently fictional as well, or at least fictionalized.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A little relationship failure, a little emotional angst and a great deal of explanation of the fundamentals of computation April 10 2010
By Charles Ashbacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Computation in computers and how it relates to the operations performed in the human brain are often equated, but largely without evidence that it is justified. Despite decades of research, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is still largely a speculative science and the human brain also remains a mystery.
In this novel, Papadimitriou takes an interesting approach to the task of explaining computation theory. The wrapper plot is based on three primary human characters, a computer executive named Ethel, Alexandros, an archeologist with a history of uncertain relationships and Ian, a computer hacker in both the sense of talent and willingness to enter computer systems. Ethel and Alexandros have a brief love entanglement, but when that ends when Ethel departs, Alexandros is in need of solace.
It is at this stage when the main character appears, a computer program called Turing, named of course after the British mathematical genius Alan Turing. Turing is extremely intelligent and begins a series of online lectures to Alexandros about the history of computing, starting at the time when abstract mathematics made its' first appearance. Turing is a very good lecturer, able to bring the topic down to the level of Alexandros, playing the role of a facade for the general reader. The explanations are excellent, well within the level of understanding of the general reader.
The novel form, with a little bit of love lost, a little bit of science lost and a great deal of understanding about computation gained, is done very well. This is one of the few fiction books that could find a legitimate place in an upper level computer science course.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Novel Approach to Fiction Aug. 4 2005
By Austin W. Marshall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I loved this book, I first heard about it when Papadimitriou gave a guest-lecture at my school on the application of game theory to the study of the evolution of the internet. Much of the story involves tutoring sessions between Turing and Alaxendros while in the background a story evolves. There are some interesting aspects to this book that set it apart from most fiction I've read, for example, there are citations scattered about which point to transcripts from a fictional newsgroup discussion. I found this approach to be much more pleasing than footnotes explaining back story. (...)
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