Quote from Turing


I am slowly making my way through Andrew Hodges’ biography of Alan Turing, which I bought electronically last year (the Turing centennial year). It’s a great book, and is simultaneously teaching me about the history of computing machines, the history of cryptography, and World War 2, as well as about the title character. Here’s a part that I read today:

In general the arrangement of the memory on an infinite tape is unsatisfactory on a practical machine, because of the large amount of time which is liable to be spent in shifting up and down the tape to reach the point at which a particular point of information required at the moment is stored. Thus a problem might easily need a storage of 3 million entries, and if each entry was equally likely to be the next required the average journey up the tape would be through a million entries, and this would be intolerable. One needs some form of memory with which any required entry can be reached at short notice. This difficulty presumably used to worry the Egyptians when their books were written on papyrus scrolls.

This is part of a talk by Alan himself, from February 1947.


2 Responses to “Quote from Turing”

  1. Awesome quote! I’ve read in the Scientific American that the fact that physical books seem to have advantages in memory retention, too. Their argument is, that you have many more physical clues than with ebooks. The corners give you nice pointers on where on the page you are and you will be able to remember where on a page you found some information. Moreover the thickness of the remaining pages might give you an additional clue, where in the book you are.

    I think I’ve talked to you about a comic about Betrand Russel’s life before. If you don’t know it, you should get it. It’s really well made and also touches a bit on his actual research. It’s called Logicomix.

  2. Oh yeah, I read all of Logicomix about a year ago! Aside from that it’s a comic book, which is awesome, and that it’s about math/CS history, which is also awesome, it was fantastic that it illustrated (approximately accurate) conversations between the various characters involved. That’s a kind of feeling for history that I don’t think I’ve been able to see for the sciences before.

    I also finally got through the rest of Turing’s biography. The whole book is an amazing piece of work. But if someone has 10 hours of free time instead of 100, I’ll definitely have to recommend Logicomix instead 🙂 Likewise, as for electronic books… I’m very glad I bought the Turing biography electronically – it is a beast of a book in terms of heft, and I was able to read part of it on my Kindle, part on my Android phone, and part on my laptop.

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