Walter Isaacson on “Where Innovation Comes From”

Turing
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Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Walter Isacsson for the Wall Street Journal. He explains how and why today’s biggest innovations are coming from the combination of human inspiration and computer-processing power. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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The combined talents of humans and computers, when working together in partnership and symbiosis, will definitely be more creative than any computer working alone.

We live in the age of computers, but few of us know who invented them. Because most of the pioneers were part of collaborative teams working in wartime secrecy, they aren’t as famous as an Edison, Bell or Morse. But one genius, the English mathematician Alan Turing, stands out as a heroic-tragic figure, and he’s about to get his due in a new movie, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which won the top award at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month and will open in theaters in November.

The title of the movie refers to a test that Turing thought would someday show that machines could think in ways indistinguishable from humans. His belief in the potential of artificial intelligence stands in contrast to the school of thought that argues that the combined talents of humans and computers, working together as partners, will always be more creative than computers working alone.

Despite occasional breathless headlines, the quest for pure artificial intelligence has so far proven disappointing. But the alternative approach of connecting humans and machines more intimately continues to produce astonishing innovations. As the movie about him shows, Alan Turing’s own deeply human personal life serves as a powerful counter to the idea that there is no fundamental distinction between the human mind and artificial intelligence.

Turing, who had the cold upbringing of a child born on the fraying fringe of the British gentry, displayed a trait that is common among innovators. In the words of his biographer Andrew Hodges, he was “slow to learn that indistinct line that separated initiative from disobedience.”

He taught himself early on to keep secrets. At boarding school, he realized he was homosexual, and he became infatuated with a classmate who died of tuberculosis before they graduated. During World War II, he became a leader of the teams at Bletchley Park, England, that built machines to break the German military codes.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Walter Isaacson, chief executive of the Aspen Institute, is the author of biographies of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. His new book, published by Simon & Schuster on October 7, is The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. To learn more about him, please click here.

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