Two important articles by Alan Turing are discussed: On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem (1936) and Computing, Machinery and Intelligence (1950). The second article demonstrates the conviction of the unlimited possibilities of the “universal machine” to imitate human intelligence. But, paradoxically, the first article points out the limitations of such machines. The distance between the ability of machines and the intelligence of humans is to be found throughout the development of computer technology.


System Engineer Turing Machine Professional Knowledge Turing Test Universal Machine 
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    In his article, Turing refers to Charles Babbage when he says that the idea of computers is an old one. Charles Babbage, professor of mathematics at Cambridge from 1828 to 1893, planned such a machine, the so-called analytical engine, but it was never completed. Even though Babbage had understood the basic principles, at the time his design did not look particularly attractive. Turing also says that Babbage’s analytical engine, being exclusively mechanical in its working, helps us shake off the common prejudice of placing great importance on the fact that modern calculating machines are electrical, as is the human nervous system. As Babbage’s machine was not electric, and as, seen logically, all computers are equivalent, we realize that whether we use electricity or not can have no theoretical significance. In the nervous system, chemical phenomena are at least as important as electrical phenomena. David Bolton writes: “The artificial intelligence specialist is not interested in imitating the whole man. The very reason he regards intelligence (rational ‘problem solving’) as fundamental is that such intelligence corresponds to the new and compelling qualities of electronic technology. Today, as before, technology determines what part of the man will be imitated.” Bolton (1984) p 213.Google Scholar
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    It may be of interest to introduce a distinction between two main categories of computer applications. One group comprises software for simple calculations of the type previously done by manual calculation, while the other group comprises software intended for problems for which there were no manual calculation methods or which are too lengthy and cumbersome when done by these methods. Thus the two groups aim at either a quantitative improvement of the competence of an occupational group, or a qualitative improvement of the competence of an occupational group. Folke Peterson, professor of heating, water and sanitation technology at the Stockholm Institute of Technology, who introduced this distinction, now says that the use of software to improve qualitative competence requires: the staff to have a high degree of professional knowledge (in the case of heating, water and sanitation technology, they must have a good engineering qualification); and the ability to analyse the results of the calculations. Peterson puts particular emphasis on the second of these two factors. Without profound knowledge of the physical processes that underlie the software (the models), and the ability to analyse the calculations, they will give virtually none of the information it is possible to get. In addition to a thorough knowledge of heating, water and sanitation technology, the technicians of the future in this field will have to have a strong aptitude for analysis. The main use of the computer is to perform complex technical calculations.Google Scholar
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1991

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  • Bo Göranzon

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