What Turing got wrong about computers | Neil Gershenfeld and Lex Fridman | Summary and Q&A

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June 1, 2023
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What Turing got wrong about computers | Neil Gershenfeld and Lex Fridman

TL;DR

The foundation of modern computing, including the architecture proposed by Turing and Von Neumann, is based on a physics mistake that separates the head and tape in a Turing machine. This mistake leads to issues and opportunities in computational scaling.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What physics mistake did Turing make in the foundation of modern computing?

In the Turing machine, Turing separated the head from the tape, overlooking the fact that persistence of information is interconnected with interaction with information, leading to a physics mistake in the foundation of modern computing.

Q: How did Von Neumann contribute to modern computing architecture?

Von Neumann incorporated Turing's architecture into the "first draft of a report on the edvac," but this resulted in the unnecessary movement of information from storage transistors to processing transistors, creating scaling issues in computing.

Q: What is the difference between computer science and physical science?

Computer science's distinction from physical science is not well-defined, and the foundation of computer science is built on fictions of computational models, while physics recognizes the physicality of computation involving space, time, and interaction.

Q: What were Turing and Von Neumann researching towards the end of their lives?

Both Turing and Von Neumann shifted their research towards studying the embodiment of computation and how software becomes hardware, with Von Neumann exploring self-reproducing automata and Turing studying morphogenesis and the relationship between genes and form.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Alan Turing, credited with modern computing architecture, made a physics mistake by separating the head from the tape in the Turing machine, leading to a separation between persistence of information and interaction with information.

  • Von Neumann built on Turing's architecture but also made mistakes in the "first draft of a report on the edvac," resulting in the unnecessary movement of information in computers today.

  • The distinction between computer science and physical science is not clear, and computational models in computer science are mere fictions compared to the only physical model, which involves space, time, and interaction.

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