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The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine Paperback – Jun 16 2008
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From the Back Cover
Before digital computers ever existed, Alan Turing envisioned their power and versatility...but also proved what computers could never do.
In an extraordinary and ultimately tragic life that unfolded like a novel, Turing helped break the German Enigma code to turn the tide of World War II, later speculated on artificial intelligence, fell victim to the homophobic witchhunts of the early 1950s, and committed suicide at the age of 41. Yet Turing is most famous for an eerily prescient 1936 paper in which he invented an imaginary computing machine, explored its capabilities and intrinsic limitations, and established the foundations of modern-day programming and computability.
This absorbing book expands Turing's now legendary 36-page paper with extensive annotations, fascinating historical context, and page-turning glimpses into his private life. From his use of binary numbers to his exploration of concepts that today's programmers will recognize as RISC processing, subroutines, algorithms, and others, Turing foresaw the future and helped to mold it. In our post-Turing world, everything is a Turing Machine — from the most sophisticated computers we can build, to the hardly algorithmic processes of the human mind, to the information-laden universe in which we live.
About the Author
English mathematician Alan Turing (1912–1954) is the author of the 1936 paper "On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem" that introduced the imaginary computer called the Turing Machine for understanding the nature and limitations of computing. His famous 1950 article "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" introduced the Turing Test for gauging artificial intelligence.
American writer Charles Petzold (1953–) is the author of the acclaimed 1999 book Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, a unique exploration into the digital technologies of computers. He is also the author of hundreds of articles about computer programming, as well as several books on writing programs that run under Microsoft Windows. His Web site is www.charlespetzold.com.
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Top Customer Reviews
I didn't realize just how revolutionary the idea behind the Turing Machine was. It has profound implications beyond just the notion of the modern day computer. It truly presents a new way of thinking and with philosophical overtones. The original work is something that without equivocation can be called true genius. It makes me wonder just what exactly the rest of us have been doing with our time (just kidding, sort of).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
For me, Charles Petzold's The Annotated Turing falls into that last category (as well, of course, as the informational category). It's a book worth reading not only for the topic itself but the way it's presented.
Petzold provides the necessary background before working through Turing's famous 1936 paper "On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem" with rich annotations at every stage, including biographical details.
If you are interested in the foundation of mathematics, computability, Turing's work, or even just ways of explaining mathematics in a historical context, I highly recommend this book.
So imagine my surprise when I see a book with title "Annotated Turing" and by none other than Charles Petzold who I've known as author who normally writes programming books. That surprise was only a start. I was simply shocked when I opened the book. It was as-if someone read your dream and made it a reality with absolute precision with zero compromises. If there is one such book like this for all of the milestone scientific papers, there would be a revolution in learning.
Let me put out some points what makes this book so perfect. Not just wishy-washy "near perfect", I'm saying SO PERFECT.
*First, the book contains explanation of every single line in Turing's paper. Literally. The format of the book is a line quoted from Turing's paper in bold and a paragraph or so of explanation and discussions for that line. Author's claim is that you can actually cut out all those lines and stitch them to recreate the Turing's paper in its entirety complete with page numbers! Now that's what I call precision.
*The book also includes all encompassing big picture overview, historical situation, importance, consequences and so on - nicely preparing reader for the journey.
*The book is so readable that I usually forget I'm reading a very technical book that goes in to very core of computer science. It's like nicest computer science professor reads you the paper line by line and answers all your questions, even those completely stupid ones.
*As I'd doubted many times, there are lots of errors in Turning original paper. This book amazingly points them out and corrects even the minor misprints. I'm just surprised how author even know so much "insider" details about those trivial misprints and errors.
*Turing's paper is full of obscure strange symbols (have you seen old gothic German font?) that are common in scientific literature today. Author explains all these symbols, what they mean, where they came from, what are the subtle differences and so on. Just amazing.
*Turing's paper have lot of omissions for explanations and steps which he probably left out as "exercise for reader" to keep his paper short. Sometime you might get stuck in those exercises and if you are not in academia you probably have no external help. This book deals with all these omissions and expands so beautifully on them that I can't imagine if there any better way to describe them.
*Apart from omissions, there are lot of shortcuts that Turing employs with rather flitting explanations or sometime absolutely none. This book covers you 100% for these shortcuts.
*A big part of understanding Turing's paper is actually mentally running his machine's step by step for all the examples he puts out. This book actually does this step-by-step run explanation making it so easier to read and understand quickly.
Anyway, some of you might think why one should even bother about reading this ancient computer science paper in first place? Answer is huge changes in the way we have started viewing universe recently. While Seth Lloyd's book "Programming the Universe" does good job of explaining this thinking, the summary is that the universe can be seen as computing machine rather than particle and energies in the realms of physics. There was even a paper that proposed that even a simple system consisting of billiard balls interacting in space is Turing complete! That means by setting billiards balls in some initial points in space and velocity can computer anything that your laptop can compute in theory. To understand advances in this area you have to fully understand what is Turing's machine and what it means to be Turing complete and how one can prove that a certain system is computationally Turing complete. That's where the paper comes in. Text books just don't do justice.
Part 1 - Foundations
This Tomb Holds Diophantus
The Irrational and the Transcendental
Centuries of Progress
Part 2 - Computable Numbers
The Education of Alan Turing
Machines at Work
Addition and Multiplication
Also Known as Subroutines
Everything Is a Number
The Universal Machine
Computers and Computability
Of Machines and Men
Part 3 - Das Entscheidungsproblem
Logic and Computability
The Major Proof
The Lambda Calculus
Conceiving the Continuum
Part 4 - And Beyond
Is Everything a Turning Machine?
The Long Sleep of Diophantus
In order to give the reader a better understanding of Turing's paper on computing machines, Petzold takes each section of the original paper and adds commentary and background. The parts of the actual Turing paper are set off in shaded areas with a different font, preserving the line breaks, formatting, and even the typos when possible. By the time you're done with the book, you have a complete copy of Turing's original work. Petzold does a very good job in laying the foundations for concepts and conclusions in the paper. For instance, he provides a concise explanation of rational, irrational, real, and transcendental numbers in a way that most people can follow. It's important to understand those ideas, as they quickly come into play when the dissection of the paper begins. He also provides historical background on Turing and his counterparts. This is important because you should understand that back in the 1930's, the idea and concepts of automated computing were still in their infancy. If you try and judge his work based on what we know today, you may not get the full implication of how radical this was back in his time.
So is this a book that everyone will enjoy? In a word, no. This book deals with some heavy math theory, and to get the most out of it you'd have to either have a solid background in math or be willing to spend a lot of time trying to understand it. I'll admit that most of the details were far over my head, and as such I missed a significant amount of the impact of this book. Having said that, I can also see how Petzold did a very good job in breaking down a complex subject and making it attainable to a reader that isn't at the same level of Turing. In fact, I'd venture to guess that without a book like this, many would not have the opportunity to dig into Turing's work with any degree of depth or success.
The Annotated Turing exceeds even the best undergraduate textbooks in explaining these concepts clearly yet concisely, and in doing so sets up the historical context that Turing worked in. When there is an interesting story to tell about Hilbert or Russell, he tells it. (Russell's life was, after all, sufficiently fascinating to be the subject of a recent comic book, Logicomix.) Those with a more extensive mathematical background will want to skim the early sections, but shouldn't skip them entirely.
What Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach did for Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem--a crucial discovery that was poorly understood outside of the domain of professional mathematicians--Petzold's book does for Turing's universal computer. If you have any interest whatsoever in the theory of computing, make this the first book you read.
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