Turing on Stage

525b1cb1082fff039aa6ef05da0aa820_1 Melinda Wenner in Scientific American:

In a new play, Alan Turing turns to a colleague in a moment of epiphany. “Mathematics,” he says triumphantly, “is a landscape riddled with holes and paradoxes. It is a chaos filled not with reasons and whys, but with contradictions and why nots.”

The mathematician may never have uttered these exact words, but his character did in Friday’s New York City workshop performance of Pure. The new play, by A. Rey Pamatmat, explores the mysterious parallels between Turing’s work and his personal life, suggesting that the chaos Turing finds in mathematics is actually a reflection of his own complexities.

Called the father of modern computer science, Turing is most famous for conceptualizing the Turing machine, an abstract machine or primitive computer that has the ability to reduce any mathematical process to a series of simple steps, and then perform it. As the play reveals, however, this is only one of a number of Turing’s contributions to science. He also devised the Turing Test to explore the limits of artificial intelligence (a machine “passes” the Turing test when it fools a person into thinking, based on its conversational skills, that it is human); he helped England break German naval codes in World War II; and he modeled biological processes such as plant structures using mathematical formulas like the Fibonacci sequence. The play communicates his complex ideas through Turing’s character as he tries to convince his colleagues of the importance of his work.