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Author: Shelley Howe
Title: Christo H. Papadimitriou's Turing: A Novel About Computation
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 2004

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Source: Christo H. Papadimitriou's Turing: A Novel About Computation
Shelley Howe

vol. 7, no. 2, August 2004
Article Type: Book Review

Turing: A Novel About Computation

Shelley Howe

Collections Manager/Curator
Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave

Papadimitriou, Christos H. Turing: A Novel about Computation. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2003.

This novel is a grand tour of the heart, soul, body and mind. Can computers think? Can life exist beyond time? Is love all encompassing? The novel Turing by Christos H. Papadimitriou reaches out to those of us who are interested in these ideas concerning life and the world as it exists in the realm of computation. I personally would not recommend it to anyone who is looking for a quick read. This book is only for the knowledge-craving guru who doesn't mind a twist of a bit of fun in their novels. As I understand it, this is strictly a work of fiction, however, a great bit of historical information to digest. It will appeal to a wide variety of people who are thirsty for knowledge about just about anything!

It is a narrative that incorporates a love triangle interwoven with text that tutors the reader on the historical search for the truth. The author of this novel had the right idea when he decided to make the text appealing to all genders as well as intuitive for like minds. This is not just a dry text on the history of computation. It draws the reader into the web of ideas that make up what advanced methods of technology are all about. The computer has come a long way as we learn from this novel, evolving basically in this ever-growing world of technology. We are taken on a journey into this process of the growth in computation through the character of Alexandros. He is fun to follow on his adventures after his breakup with Ethel who just so happens to be one of those computer geeks (sorry, didn't mean to offend anyone). They are connected through cyberspace by Turing, a configuration of Alan Turing, the mathematician who was the father of the first computer and codebreaker in WWII.

We follow Alexandros as he takes in the sessions that appear to him on his computer screen by a mysterious programme, which the reader becomes aware of as almost human. The reader mirrors Alexandros' and his thoughts, as he becomes mesmerized by what this self proclaimed programme that calls itself "Turing" teaches him. Its almost as if Alexandros is throwing himself into his work with the knowledge of his replacement in the realm of love interest for Ethel, Ian Frost, who just so happens to be a world famous computer hacker, or runner as they refer to people of his kind in this future world. The novel is set in the near future that could very well be a possibility in advancement of computers and AI or Artificial Intelligence. As we continue on this computational journey in the book, we realize that the quest for knowledge has been a part of humankind's chemical make-up since the beginning. "Turing" takes on a character in itself, making it almost seem humanlike as an esteemed professor who teaches the meaning of life through computation. These lessons develop into a tutoring on the quest for the truth, ancient philosophers, mathematics, genetic code, the beginning of life for mankind as well as the Net, and finally AI.

As a museum professional, I think it is an interesting commentary on how a narrative including a story can bring together so many ideas to create a web of data, much like the computers that the text is teaching about. We strive to design interesting exhibits that will catch the viewer's intellect. In the same way, this book grabs the reader and pulls them into its magical web of knowledge until we are begging for more. All in all, Turing: A Novel About Computation is a fascinating read.