Turing Media Feast, Part I: Radiolab Goes Turing

“A Great science fiction detective story”
Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine

Luck and Death at the Edge of the World

Days to Centenary: 85

Just before we move on: The Turing Tenner Prize has yet to be claimed! See the previous post for details.  The deadline is March 31, 2012.

Today’s post is Part I of the Turing Media Feast, a three-day affair (not unlike Woodstock, but without the rain), with parts II and III being posted tomorrow and the day after.

Each installment features audio and video recordings related to Turing that haven’t appeared on this page before.  All of them have been carefully selected to be interesting and to include some element or approach that you probably haven’t come across before.

Today’s post focuses on an episode of Radiolab, a favourite podcast of mine hosted by Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad.

Krulwich is a veteran reporter whom New York Magazine has called “the man who simplifies without being simple.”  Abumrad studied both creative writing and music and in 2011 received a MacArthur Foundation grant, commonly known as a “genius” grant.

In each episode of Radiolab Krulwich, Abumrad, and their team take an idea — usually something with a scientific element to it, but also often with a philosophical, artistic, or other component thrown in — and they illuminate it.

By that I mean both that they metaphorically throw light upon it, thereby revealing its features, and that they illuminate it in the medieval sense: they illustrate it.

Unlike the medieval monks who painstakingly created detailed visual images, though, the folks at Radiolab use a combination of words, creatively employed sounds, and carefully selected music to create an aural portrait of the person or thing or phenomenon they’re profiling.

The Radiolab web site

The Radiolab web site

Recently they created an episode profiling Alan Turing, layering in music with selections of interviews they conducted with three writers:

Theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, author of the novel A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines;

Novelist and biographer David Leavitt, author of The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer; and 

Science writer James Gleick, author of The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood.

At just under 24 minutes, the episode is succinct.  It’s also substantial enough for a Turing-o-Phile while remaining accessible enough for a novice.

I recommend it highly except for its embed code, which either doesn’t work or isn’t compatible with WordPress — otherwise the audio would be embedded right here.

No matter — you can listen to it by clicking on the image above to go to the Radiolab web site and then looking for the March 19, 2012 episode.  Or you can go here in order to find it on iTunes and listen to it on your portable device.

And while the Radiolab Turing episode wouldn’t embed, the guys at the show were kind enough to link to a video of a Turing machine, constructed just as Turing himself described it, and that embedded just fine.  You can find it a little ways down the page.

And below that is a bonus that is not strictly Turing-related, but which you might enjoy nonetheless. This is a video of Robert and Jad joined by the wonderful avant-cellist, Zoë Keating.  They don’t typically make videos, just radio shows, but in this case they’re onstage at Google, doing their thing.

It will give you a more in-depth sense of what they do and may even help turn you into a regular listener, like me.

Don’t miss Part II of the Turing Media Feast tomorrow!

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