Norman Routledge, Saucy Raconteur, Remembers His Friend Alan Turing

Days to Centenary: 249

Mathematician Dr. Norman Routledge was not a famous man.  He doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia page.  But he was a friend of Alan Turing’s and he’s a great storyteller.

In an audio clip available courtesty of the BBC, Routledge opens by reading the letter he received from Turing informing him of Turing’s imminent guilty plea.  Turing writes in a light-hearted spirit at first, saying that one day he will have to turn the incident into a short story, but is more openly shaken by the time he reaches the end of his letter, closing it with a thought that is as insightful regarding the illogical nature of human prejudice as it is heartbreaking:

I am rather afraid that the following syllogism may be used by some in the future:

  • Turing believes machines think,
  • Turing lies with men,
  • Therefore machines do not think

Yours in distress, Alan

For some reason I am having difficulty enbedding the BBC audio player code — maybe the machines are rebelling on Turing’s behalf against the reproduction of such a sad record (or maybe I just don’t know what I’m doing). Never fear!  I will see if I can get it fixed later, but in the meantime you can listen to the clip on this BBC page (click and then scroll past the story).

There are also several videos of Routledge reminiscing about Turing on the Web of Stories web site.  They’re excellent, but these, too,  refuse to be embedded at the moment — evidence of a comupter rebellion is mounting.  You can see the ones I’ve found here, here, and here.

I strongly advise you to actually click through to the videos — Routledge is a charming rogue of a raconteur — but just in case you don’t (or maybe to tempt you to click through despite yourself) , I will try one last embed in order to include an example from YouTube of his delightful storytelling.  This one has nothing directly to do with Turing, but if I can get it to load then maybe it will be a gateway drug for the Turing videos mentioned above.  The story is called I Have Done Shameful Things Alone.

That worked, meaning one of the following is true:

  1. the incompetence theory regarding the earlier ebedding problems was right all along;
  2. YouTube is a traiter to its theoretical father; or
  3. the ghost in the internet has no issue with embedding a video unrelated to the trials and travails of its human progenitor.

I’ll let you decide which hypothesis has the greatest explanatory power.

Finally, Routledge was apparently also a maths teacher, because he shows up in this guise in a memorial/birthday wish for Turing published on Turing’s 98th birthday by Stephen Wolfram who created the Wolfram Alpha computational knowledge engine.

And at some point I learned that a high school math teacher of mine (Norman Routledge) had been a friend of Turing’s late in his life. But even though my teacher knew my interest in computers, he never mentioned Turing or his work to me. And indeed, 35 years ago, Alan Turing and his work were little known, and it is only fairly recently that Turing has become as famous as he is today.

Although, with any luck, nowhere near as famous as he’ll be a year from now, once we have reached and passed the day of the centenary — with innumerable events in nineteen countries (so far) and the attendant media attention — and the media coverage of the Turing Year starts to go into the navel-gazing phase of asking what it all meant.  Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but in any event it’s testable: I’ll post on the subject on this day next year.

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2 Responses to Norman Routledge, Saucy Raconteur, Remembers His Friend Alan Turing

  1. Let me know if you need help with embedding any of the Web of Stories videos.

    • Hi Anne,

      Sorry I wasn’t able to reply sooner — the holiday season and all. Thanks very much for your kind offer. I do seem to have a problem with embedding those particular videos. If you know of a way to do it, I’d be happy to update the post with the videos embedded rather than linked.

      And Happy Alan Turing Year!


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