Thursday 12 July 2012

Alan Turing, my Commodore 64, and a trip down memory lane

On June 23, 2012, I started my browser which immediately went to my default home page, the Google opening search screen, and was presented with a Google Doodle celebrating the 100th birthday of Alan Turing. Google's write-up about the man stated that he was a completely original thinker who shaped the modern world, but many people have never heard of him. (Google Doodle: Alan Turing's 100th Birthday) Yes, if one is not acquainted with the history of computers or is not a history buff familiar with the breaking of the Nazi's secret codes of the Enigma machine during WWII, the name Turing is anything but a household name. I thought to write about how I first met not the man but his ideas.

The year was 1982. I purchased my first computer, a Commodore 64 with monitor and external floppy disk drive. Compared with what we have today (MacBook Pro's just released the Retina display), this was very primitive computing. But for all us techno-nerds, this was a joyous period of discovery. Gee, it would be more than a decade before the Internet as we know it arrived. The Dark Ages indeed.

In amongst the zillion of programs copied and passed around from one programming aficionado to another, I discovered an amusing bit of software written in BASIC called ELIZA. The premise was simple: you are talking with a Rogerian therapist. You type in a phrase and the computer talks back to you. Obviously it seemed as if the computer talked back to you as this was merely a Commodore 64, not some honking big super computer capable of Artificial Intelligence. Intrigued by this, I delved into the code to find out just how "Eliza" could have a conversation with me.

It didn't take long to discover what was behind the curtain. The code would parse (Wikipedia: Parse) or analyse my inputted text then cleverly substitute words like "I" and "me" with "you" and rework statements into questions. The results were very uncanny.

ELIZA: Hello! I am ELIZA. How may I help you?

Me: I feel tired today.

ELIZA: Tell me more about such feelings.

Me: I did not sleep very well.

ELIZA: Say, do you have any psychological problems?

Me: I am concerned about the future.

ELIZA: Do you believe it is normal to be concerned about the future?

As I said, the "trick" of the application was to restate statements as questions and replace "I" with you. Even though it's a trick, there were times when using the program; I almost thought I was talking with something intelligent and not just a piece of software.

I found this so amusing; I got other members of my family to try out ELIZA. The first thing my younger brother typed was, "F**k off." *I roll my eyes* Of course that inspired me to modify the code to look for profanities and respond accordingly. "My, my, such language." "And why do you want me to f**k off?" Ha, ha. Way to hop, bro!

Some research into the program led me to discover that the author, Joseph Weizenbaum, created this amusing interactive computer program back in the mid-sixties responding in part to The Turing Test. Apparently it was a success as Weizenbaum later reported that people using ELIZA became emotionally involved with it refusing to show transcripts of conversations or asking him to leave the room saying it was an invasion of privacy. It seems pretty wild but having played with the program I know that sometimes you can be fooled into thinking there is intelligence behind the screen. (Try it yourself. See below for links.)

The Turing Test
Alan Turing was thinking ahead of his time. While the technology was decades away, he was already speculating on how computers could lead to artificial intelligence. The use of the word "speculate" reminds me of the alternative interpretation of SF: instead of "science fiction", some say "speculative fiction". Yes, Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon may have been to some wildly fanciful dreaming about the future but how would anyone from a hundred years ago look at today and what we accept as commonplace and think we are now living "in the future"?

In a nutshell, Alan Turing proposed in a 1950 paper a test by which a human interacts with a machine. If the human cannot tell if the machine is human or not, the machine has passed the test. Now at this time, Turing's test only conceived of an interaction at a keyboard so he wasn't yet thinking in terms of audio or pushing the envelope as far as Isaac Asimov in "I, Robot" and having a machine with a human appearance, an android.

Online Eliza
I discovered that others have continued this idea into the new millennium with online resources. The following interactive system does pretty much what I saw in 1982 the simple BASIC version of ELIZA for the Commodore 64.

Eliza Chat bot: Is she a Rogerian psychotherapist, a semi intelligent chat bot, or just a toy?
ELIZA is a computer program and an early example of primitive natural language processing. ELIZA operated by processing users' responses to scripts, the most famous of which was DOCTOR, a simulation of a Rogerian psychotherapist. Using almost no information about human thought or emotion, DOCTOR sometimes provided a startlingly human-like interaction. ELIZA was written at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum between 1964 and 1966. (Wikipedia: ELIZA)

A.L.I.C.E. Artificial Intelligence Foundation
A.L.I.C.E. (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity), also referred to as Alicebot, or simply Alice, is a natural language processing chatterbot—a program that engages in a conversation with a human by applying some heuristical pattern matching rules to the human's input, and in its online form it also relies on a hidden third person. It was inspired by Joseph Weizenbaum's classical ELIZA program. (Wikipedia: A.L.I.C.E.)

Fake Kirk
This amusing interaction has a fake Captain Kirk not just responding but talking back to you all with an image of Kirk which has some movement.

Uploaded by aimlinstructor on Oct 29, 2009
Fake Kirk Interview 1
Pandorabots SpellBinder scanned publicly available fan-compiled transcripts of 72 episodes of the original Star Trek TV series. In those 72 episodes, Captain Kirk has about 9000 lines of dialog. Pandorabots SpellBinder read these lines and created a Captain Kirk chat bot with about 2000 unique categories and 6000 responses (a category is the basic unit of knowledge).

Charles Babbage
Alan Turing was thinking ahead of his time. This reminded me of another visionary, Charles Babbage (1791-1871), an Englishman who originated the idea of the programmable computer. While Babbage's designs for his "difference engine" and "analytic engine" were not realised during this gentleman's lifetime apparently due to the limitations of engineering methods during the Victorian era, modern methods have been used to recreate these machines proving that Babbage's ideas did in fact work. We may think of Star Wars or Star Trek as merely science fiction entertainment but are they too ahead of their time and will we one day see these worlds come into being?

There is one very, very sad part of the Turing story. He was homosexual. In 1952, he and another man were charged with "gross indecency" as homosexual acts were illegal at that time in the United Kingdom. He was given the choice of imprisonment or chemical castration and he chose the hormone treatment. Unfortunately, his homosexuality led to him losing his security clearance and being barred from working for the government. This was a time when anxiety was high about anyone becoming a target of entrapment by Soviet spies due to several high profile cases of British double agents. Alan Turing committed suicide two years later at the age of 41.

I mention this startling and poignant end to a brilliant career by asking whether we are collectively making any progress. Debates rage on about gay marriage, about allowing gays to serve in the military and even whether homosexuality is some sort of psychological disorder which can be "cured". While it seems in some circles to be far-fetched to mention such ideas as they are patently absurd, I would bring up the positions of such notable politicians as Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum or even the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope, who represent an ingrained religious fundamental Conservative element of our society. A brilliant man is ostracized and vilified by his own society for his homosexuality.

In 1952, when the American Psychiatric Association published its first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, homosexuality was included as a disorder.
In recognition of the scientific evidence, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the DSM in 1973, stating that "homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities." (Wikipedia: Homosexuality: Psychology)

On September 10, 2009, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown accepted a petition asking for the British government to posthumously apologise to Alan. Brown described the treatment of Turing as "appalling":

Final Word
To paraphrase the opening of the original Star Trek: "Artificial Intelligence, the final frontier"? On May 11, 1997, an IBM computer called Deep Blue won a chess match against world champion Garry Kasparov. Take this any way you would like but we all have to face the inevitability that if humans can already build machines that can do what a human being can't do, sooner or later thinking may end up being one of those things. (airplane = flying; submarine = diving)

Back in the mid-1800s a social movement in England called the Luddites protested the Industrial Revolution by destroying mechanised looms which they perceived as replacing them with less-skilled, low-wage labour and leaving them without work. The word luddite now refers to anyone opposed to the changes of new technologies. Economists have pointed out that the changes brought about by such technologies freed workers from simple manual work but created new better paying jobs requiring more specialized skills. Of course, how long does it take society to adapt? More schools, better schools? A different education system?

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. But without a doubt, they are always inevitable times. Whether we like it or not, change happens and we better adapt because if we can't adapt, we'll be left behind. And what do we call anybody who is out of date and going with the current flow? Oh yeah, a dinosaur. (see video below)


Wikipedia: Alan Turing
Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954), was an British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of "algorithm" and "computation" with the Turing machine, which played a significant role in the creation of the modern computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.

Wikipedia: Turing machine
A Turing machine is a device that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a table of rules. Despite its simplicity, a Turing machine can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer algorithm, and is particularly useful in explaining the functions of a CPU inside a computer.

Wikipedia: Retina display
Retina display is a brand name used by Apple for displays claimed to have pixel density so high that the eye would not be able to notice pixelation at a typical viewing distance.

Wikipedia: The Turing Test
The Turing test is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour. In Turing's original illustrative example, a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with a human and a machine designed to generate performance indistinguishable from that of a human being. All participants are separated from one another. If the judge cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test. The test does not check the ability to give the correct answer; it checks how closely the answer resembles typical human answers. The conversation is limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so that the result is not dependent on the machine's ability to render words into audio.

Wikipedia: Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity
A.L.I.C.E. (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity), also referred to as Alicebot, or simply Alice, is a natural language processing chatterbot—a program that engages in a conversation with a human by applying some heuristical pattern matching rules to the human's input, and in its online form it also relies on a hidden third person. It was inspired by Joseph Weizenbaum's classical ELIZA program.

my blog - April 22/2012
The Commodore 64 is making a comeback. What!?!
A company by the name of Commodore USA has purchased the trademarks to both Commodore and Amiga. Its flagship product is a "reincarnated" Commodore 64, an exact replica built with modern components. It apparently has all the features of modern computers being able to load Windows 7 and having a built-in DVD Blue Ray disk drive however, the flick of a switch can give you the "classic mode". For anybody who's nostalgic, this would seem like a dream come true. I must say it's tempting, but then again, do I look back or do I move forward?

"Rogerian therapist"= Wikipedia: Carl Rogers
Carl Ransom Rogers (January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) was an influential American psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology.

Google Doodle - June 23, 2012
Alan Turing's 100th Birthday
Alan Turing was a completely original thinker who shaped the modern world, but many people have never heard of him.

Before computers existed, he invented a type of theoretical machine now called a Turing Machine, which formalized what it means to compute a number. Our doodle for his 100th birthday shows a live action Turing Machine with twelve interactive programming puzzles (hint: go back and play it again after you solve the first six!).

Wikipedia: Charles Babbage
Charles Babbage, FRS (26 December 1791 – 18 October 1871) was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer who originated the concept of a programmable computer. Considered a "father of the computer", Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex designs

Published on Mar 30, 2012 by zerog2010
Was Not Was - Walk The Dinosaur
"Walk the Dinosaur" is a hit single recorded and released by the band Was (Not Was) in 1987, later featured on their hit 1988 album, What Up, Dog?


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1 comment:

BigLittleWolf said...

The brilliant, and the tragic.