Kasparov on Alan Turing and his 'Paper Machine'

6/22/2012 – June 23, 2012 marks the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, arguably the most famous computer scientist of all time. The Turing Centenary Conference will be held in Manchester, where a large number of high-voltage speakers will gather, many Turing Award winners. One interests us in particular: Garry Kasparov will speak about the reconstruction of Turing's 'Paper Machine' for chess.

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The Turing Centenary Conference will be held in Manchester on June 22-25, 2012, hosted by the University of Manchester, where Turing worked in 1948-1954. The conference has the following aims:

  • to celebrate the life and research of Alan Turing;
  • to bring together the most distinguished scientists, to understand and analyse the history and development of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.


Alan Turing

Alan Turing was born in London on 23 June 1912. Educated at Sherborne School in Dorset and at King's College, Cambridge, he graduated in 1934 with a degree in Mathematics. Twenty years later, after a short but brilliant career, he died.

At the turn of the millennium, 45 years after his death, Time Magazine listed him among the twentieth century's 100 greatest minds, alongside the Wright brothers, Albert Einstein, DNA busters Crick and Watson, and the discoverer of penicillin, Alexander Fleming. Turing's achievements during his short lifetime were legion. Best known as the genius who broke Germany's most secret codes during the war of 1939-45, Turing was also father of the modern computer. Today, all who click to open are familiar with the impact of his ideas. To him we owe the brilliant innovation of storing applications, and the other programs necessary for computers to do our bidding, inside the computer's memory, ready to be opened when we wish. At a time when the term 'computer' meant nothing more than a human clerk who sat at a desk doing calculations with paper and pencil, Turing envisaged a 'universal computing machine', whose function could effortlessly be transformed from word processor to desk calculator to chess opponent – or anything else that we have the skill to pin down in the form of a program. Like many great ideas, this one now seems as obvious as the wheel and the arch, but with this single invention, the stored program universal computer, Turing changed the world.

In addition to his remarkable theoretical and practical contributions to the development of the computer, as well as to the new science of computer programming, Turing was also the first pioneer of the areas of computing now known as Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life. He also made profound contributions to mathematics and mathematical logic, philosophy, theoretical biology, and the study of the mind.

Source: Jack Copeland, Turing Centenary web site


There are a large number of very interesting speakers and dignitaries at the Turing Centenary, including many Turing Award winners. You can find a list of their lectures here. One of them is of particular interest to us:

Garry Kasparov: The Reconstruction of Turing's "Paper Machine"

It is an amazing fact that the very first chess program in history was written a few years before computers had been invented. It was designed by a visionary man who knew that programmable computers were coming and that, once they were built, they would be able to play chess. The man, of course, was Alan Turing, one of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived. Soon after the war he wrote the instructions that would enable a machine to play chess. Since there was as yet no machine that could execute the instructions he did so himself, acting as a human CPU and requiring more than half an hour per move. A single game is recorded, one in which Turing's "paper machine" lost to a colleague.

Garry Kasparov will sketch the historical context of Turing’s involvement in chess and then go on to describe how chess computer experts reconstructed the paper machine to run on a modern day computer. In the process they encountered a problem: the chess engine refused to duplicate all of Turing’s moves as recorded in the historical game. The debugging process, in which computer chess pioneer Ken Thompson was involved, left the programmers baffled. Then someone called Donald Michie, a colleague from Bletchley, who advocated debugging not the program but Turing! “Alan did not care about details; he was interested in general principle.” Kasparov’s lecture will discuss the points of deviation from the recorded game.

In the second part of the lecture Kasparov will describe a number of Turing Tests that have been performed for chess. For a while it was impossible to reliably tell computer games from those of humans. However, today the task has become simpler because of the ruthless precision of computer play, which has reached a level of many hundreds of Elo points above the best human players.

We will record and reproduce Garry's lecture in Manchester.

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