Alan Turing at the Turing: 100 years old

It’s 100 years since the birth of Alan Turing, and I’m attending the eponymous annual lecture given in his honour under the joint auspices of the British Computer Society (BCS) and the Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET). The lecturer, Prof. Ray Dolan of UCL, intends to review cognitive neuroscience as “hidden legacy” of Turing’s definition, and investigation, of “computable numbers”.

As my wife is a Counsellor with an interest in the working of the brain, this may be of interest beyond the full-house IT constituency currently gathered.

Well, the lecture theatre was crowded so it would have been antisocial to blog as we went. Just a short retrospective, then, and I’ll link to the video replay when it’s available.

Judging from the comments prefacing audience questions after the lecture, I may be in a minority: but to me this was an opportunity missed. We certainly heard an erudite lecture on brain function. And at the start we had a short treatise on Bayesian logic. This deals with the unravelling of uncertain data.

If I understand it correctly, you start with observations which, with a degree of uncertainty, represent the state of what’s being investigated. In the case of Turing’s work at Bletchley Park, they had observations of intercepted coded messages, and were attempting to infer the settings on the coding machine that had created them. In neurobiology, they observe the areas of brain activity with the intention of figuring how the brain works.

This seems like a fruitful parallel, though one of the experiments which Prof Dolan described turned out to have a non-Bayesian interpretation. There’s certainly a computational problem here, described as “Start with a theory of how certain parameters give rise to the data you observe, and attempt to go from the data to the parameters”. I can identify with that: as a spectroscopist, I used least-squares analysis to infer the component absorptions in both Mossbauer and infrared spectra of minerals. But by this time the parallels with Turing had been lost, apart from occasional references back to the original scene setting.

Which was a pity, since I guess most of the people at the lecture were IT people, not neurobiologists. I’d have appreciated a lecture following both threads at once. I still wonder if it’s possible to pursue the parallel, so that Turing’s work and this undoubtedly fascinating field could be explored, as it were, in a “twisted pair” of threads.

But make your own mind up. Follow the link below to the IET’s page for the lecture, and click the link to “Play webcast”.

• From cryptanalysis to cognitive neuroscience – a hidden legacy of Alan Turing: the BCS/IET Turing Lecture, IET 20 Feb 2012

Insight coverage: Consumerisation

Tomorrow I’m part of the team delivering the Corporate IT Forum’s Consumerisation Summit in London. That’s prompted me to create the latest InformationSpan insight services Coverage Report.

Coverage Reports identify the major, second tier and niche insight providers who can effectively support enterprise IT in their strategy, decision making and operational management. In the case of consumerisation, a review of our database of over 400 IT insight providers is revealing.

There’s a strong tendency for consumerisation (or, in North American coverage, “consumerization”) to be equated to the use of smart endpoint devices. Certainly the movement began with enabling cheaper, consumer-side PCs rather than corporately procured devices with a tailored enterprise desktop; and the use, now, of smartphones, tablets and other Bring Your Own devices is a key part of the topic. With, of course, its attendant concerns for appropriate use, security, information protection and so on.

But consumerisation, properly understood, must encompass the wide range of consumer-end online services and applications: freeware (such as the Open Smalltalk which I use for programming); consumer cloud services (where Google Apps started); replacements for conventional technologies (such as the fax-to-email service which provides my rarely-used fax reception capability); and much, much more. I surveyed these in a presentation a couple of years ago; see the link below.

So I define consumerisation as the use, in the enterprise, of technologies provisioned directly by users through the open consumer marketplace – or, at the least, technologies also commonly purchased and used directly by end consumers. I categorise these into: collaboration platforms; communications; research; contact management; and infrastructure.

This Coverage Report identifies who covers what, based on what I can see on their websites. While, as mentioned, a lot of coverage is confined to smart devices, there are providers who look well beyond this and take a more positive attitude (as opposed to lock-down-everything). Forrester Research, of the majors, has been looking for some years at the impact of Generation Y on the workforce and the end-user experience they bring, and this informs their coverage. Horizon Watching, as always, punches above its weight.

CSC’s Leading Edge Forum were probably the first to fully identify this trend, and have around ten years’ well developed coverage. The surprise in the survey is a second-tier provider called Info-Tech Research, who also have a range of strategy starters, tools and other resources.

For a bit more information about the report, visit InformationSpan, below. Other links to providers are in the report which costs £150 from

• Coverage report: Consumerisation. InformationSpan, Feb 2012 (brochure)
• Can Web 2.0 run your Business? InformationSpan presentation, BCS Consultancy SIG, Jan 2010 (free download)
• Consumerisation Summit, Corporate IT Forum, 22 Feb 2012