By Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, president
The Imitation Game, based on the real-life story of Alan Turing and his team of code-breakers at England’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School in World War II, garnered eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Benedict Cumberbatch.
Turing built a digital computer that broke Nazi Germany’s most closely guarded encryption code, the Enigma code. That story was superbly told in The Imitation Game, which ended with the filmmakers’ revelation that Turing committed suicide in 1954. An open-minded gay man, Turing was a victim of the discriminatory laws of the day.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that “Turing’s work was one of the most important factors in the victory for the Allied forces and had probably shortened the war by as much as two years.” In 1945 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his services to his country and in 1951, Turing was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society.
However, we knew nothing about this war hero and mathematical and engineering genius until the 1970s, and not until 2012, 100 years after his birth, were his wartime papers declassified. What is now known is that Turing’s brilliant work proved essential to the development of computers and today’s machines rely on his seminal insight. He brought cryptology to the modern world and invented the concept of the programmable computer.
In 1936, while reading mathematics in Cambridge, England, the 24-year-old Turing made an extraordinary discovery: a universal “computing” machine. Turing called this theoretical entity the “automatic machine,” or a-machine; today we call it the Universal Turing Machine. Turing proved that the a-machine could solve any computing problem capable of being described as a sequence of mathematical steps. In 1938 he completed his Ph.D. thesis at Princeton, providing a formalization of the concepts of “algorithms” and “computation.” More importantly, he proved the notion that “software,” a word not coined yet, was capable of encompassing “every known process” as evidenced by today’s world of computers.
Turing’s interest in the human mind, even from 1936, centered on modeling the brain; in the 1940s he developed ideas for artificial intelligence (a term attributed to John McCarthy from the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-1950s). In the early 1950s Turing founded a completely new field: mathematical biology (today’s computational biology, without which we would not have been able to decipher the human genome). In 1952, he developed a chess program for a computer that did not yet exist but which he simulated by hand. It was his fascination with the human brain that led him to develop a test for machine-based intelligence; he called it the imitation game, published in his extraordinary paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” It is now known as the famous Turing Test.
The hardware does not look the same, but the mathematical model of today’s computers is identical to the Turing machine. Proving again that he was way ahead of his time, Turing showed indirectly that we cannot automatically detect machine viruses or other malicious code, which explains why cyber-security is one of the most intractable problems of the 21st century.
The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) A.M. Turing Award is an annual prize that honors an individual “for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community.” It is generally recognized as the highest distinction in computer science, the “Nobel Prize in Computing,” now carrying a $1 million prize.
This is a fitting tribute to Turing, who was grossly misunderstood during his lifetime, but today is remembered as a true science and engineering pioneer, and a hero of the theory and practice of computer science.
And while The Imitation Game did a superb job of chronicling Turing’s heroic work during World War II, the film told just a portion of his story. As I left the theater I couldn’t help but wonder how much further ahead computing would be today if Turing had lived longer.
By day, Penn Yan resident Carol Sackett manages the circulation desk at Lightner Library, a post she has held for 32 years. But through March 7, visitors to Keuka College can glimpse a different side of her, as seen in three oil paintings gracing the walls of Lightner Gallery.
Sackett’s paintings are on display alongside numerous other works from members of Keuka’s faculty and staff, whose job titles may not necessarily disclose the individuals as creative “artists-in-residence.”
Beyond 9 to 5: The Hidden Talents of Keuka’s Faculty and Staff runs through March 7 in Lightner Gallery,located in Lightner Library. It features a range of artistic mediums, including painting, photography, ceramics, glass work, digital art, and film. More than 20 faculty and staff members submitted work for the show, including President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera.
During a special artists’ reception – open to the public – Thursday, Feb. 21 from 4:30 – 6 p.m., the exhibit will also feature select culinary art from four members of the faculty and staff. The exhibit remains open daily during library hours, available online at: http://lightner.keuka.edu
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said “a full pocketbook groans louder than an empty stomach.”
Professor of Psychology Dr. Drew Arnold contends that FDR’s statement rings truer today than it did in post-Great Depression America.
“It seems that poverty hardly enters our national discourse,” said Arnold, who delivered the keynote address at the annual academic convocation today (Aug. 28). “The word poverty is seldom used by politicians. President Obama has been using the term ‘vulnerable’ instead of ‘poor.’ It’s become the ‘p’ word.”
Saying that “we are obliged to reconsider a liberal arts education in a digital, connected world,” Keuka College President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera today (May 4) set the College on a path to become “the cradle for the next generation of scientists and humanists.”
In remarks after being invested as the College’s 19th president, Dr. Díaz-Herrera encouraged the faculty of this “great institution to create the liberal arts curriculum for the 21st century.
“What if we were to integrate computational methods seamlessly across the curriculum?” said the president, a native of Barquisimeto, Venezuela. “What if we were to produce criminal justice experts who solved cybercrime, nurses proficient in medical informatics, and English majors fluent in digital storytelling?”
Reaffirming the College’s historical commitment to the liberal arts, the president disagreed with those who question the value of a liberal arts education because graduates can’t find jobs.
“A liberal arts education provides its own rewards and combined with our Field Period innovation is a superb preparation for the world of work and service,” he said. “A liberal arts foundation is good for the economy and for democracy.”
Even highly technical jobs require a high degree of intellectual skills and contextual understanding, said the president, who pointed to Google, which is hiring 6,000 new employees this year, 5,000 from the liberal arts or humanities.
“As the late Steve Jobs said, ‘Technical skills are not enough,’” said Díaz-Herrera, contrasting what Daniel Pink, chief speechwriter for former Vice President Al Gore, calls conceptual workers vs. knowledge workers. “Conceptual workers are anchored in the liberal arts—strong in science, math, and humanities, plus technology.”
An education with a liberal arts base “allows us to be able to address difficult, global, complex issues by allowing us to place this knowledge in context without compartmentalization,” said Díaz-Herrera. “This is an education that unique places like Keuka can provide, and it’s one of the reasons that drew me to the job.”
Although the president has spent a good deal of time “ascertaining the hopes, dreams, and concerns” of the College community, he also spearheaded a campus-wide, long-range strategic planning effort. One of the first outcomes of that work is a new mission statement:
Keuka College exists to create citizens and leaders to serve the world in the 21st century.
Among the many topics being discussed during the on-going strategic planning process is the arts.
“We must bring the arts back to Keuka College,” said the president. “Conversations are under way with the Eastman School of Music to see what we can do together. Another exciting project is the potential reviving of the Sampson Theatre in downtown Penn Yan. We should be part of this effort and also participate wholeheartedly in the Penn Yan 20/20 planning effort. The Finger Lakes Museum is another project that plays in this arena.”
Díaz-Herrera pledged to “enthusiastically give my full dedication to the College in the only way I know: with passion and firmness. You can be sure that I will put my heart and soul toward moving this institution to the next level.”
But the president said a team effort is required to reach that level.
“Resilient academic institutions succeed because their faculty, staff, students, and friends are strongly committed to them,” he said. “I will need your total commitment, and I will work hard on building confidence and trust to achieve the solidarity needed to address difficult and changing times.”
In the discussions he has had with members of the College community during his 10 months on the job, Díaz-Herrera said one thing resonates loud and clear.
“Our community is passionate about this place,” he said, “and I must confess that the enthusiasm is contagious. I am fired up!”
To view a brief album of photos from the Inauguration, click HERE.
Jorge Díaz-Herrera’s mother knew her son could handle first grade, and she wasn’t going to let an age requirement or piece of furniture prevent him from attending.
“I could read and write, but there wasn’t any room at the school and you had to be 7 to enter first grade; I was 6 1/2,” recalls Díaz-Herrera, who grew up in the Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto, located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. “My mother talked to the teacher, who was a friend of the family, and she said that if I brought my own chair, they would take me as an auditing student.”
So, little Jorge Luis trudged off to school, chair in tow.
“It was only three blocks but it looked like 30,” he recalled.
But he made it and did so well that “before the year was over, they admitted me and I sailed through sixth grade passing ‘eximido’—exempted from taking finals every year.” (more…)