The Turing Machine: A Chris Merritt Tribute to Computer Science’s Godfather


So, let’s get you up to speed, in case you don’t know how to use Wikipedia: Alan Turing was the father of computer science. Before computers even existed, he was writing chess programs, hypothesizing about AI, and – on top of it all – decoding the Nazi Enigma and saving us all from the German menace during WWII.

In the early 1950s, the British government chemically castrated Turing – Turing the genius, Turing the war hero – for being homosexual. Shortly thereafter, Turing committed suicide at the age of 41.

Today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, after the circulating of an online petition, has finally apologized for the government’s role in Turing’s misfortunes.

Chris Merritt’s recently released album features a final track about Turing’s life, work, and decline.

I’ve been obsessed with the man for a while.  I first read about him in other physics literature, specifically referring to his (most important) work on computable numbers.  Lately I’ve been reading specifically about his papers and achievements, his stranger-than-fiction adventures cracking the Nazi Germany’s Enigma Machine (which, arguably, saved more lives than any single act in World War II), his superhuman-like foresight into the idea of a computer and A.I., and his incredibly tragic last years.  I thought the human drama contrasted with the logical and mathematical genius of Turing would make an interesting song, and also feed my strange hunger to write music about important physics.

Check out the rest of his blog post about it, listen to this amazing song, and BUY THE ALBUM for just $6. Lyrics below.

The Turing Machine

spending his vacation at a drinking station
performing calulations to the adoration

of a beautiful face that would later be kissed red
far away from where you can’t sleep in your own bed

solving any system, it was simple with him
but try putting algorithms into alan’s rhythms

the universe, it comes all the way ’round
it’s irrational, but if it’s not, you’ll find out

from my brain is a new brain

any brain can calculate any brain’s calculations

humans are a tragic and beautiful mess,
sometimes the rest
hurt the best

so if it will pass the test
when asked of its father’s death
with denial and distress suppressed heartbreak suggests,
it’ll simulate the smell of whiskey on its breath,

and say, “i didn’t even notice he was gone, no I didn’t even notice he was gone.  I didn’t even notice you were gone, father, i didn’t even notice you were gone…”

5 thoughts on “The Turing Machine: A Chris Merritt Tribute to Computer Science’s Godfather

  1. Check out a story of Joe Desch @ NCR. Being of German decent, he had to let his boss live with him. There were other restrictions as well. Turning was a genius but insecure. The pressure guy for breaking the German codes was Desch. His designs were better than the English machines.
    WWII had several genius brains on the allied side: Garand (developed the M1), RJ Mitchell (designed the best fighter in wing design – Spitfire)


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