Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dear Sylvan, we can thank world wars for our career paths

Hi Sylvan,

It's interesting how classes having nothing to do with one's computer science major can serendipitously lead to a discovery about its origins. I know neither of us are really into code breaking or machine learning, but did you know that Alan Turing's work in World War II influenced the birth of cognitive science and artificial intelligence? This Stanford lecture talks about it, but this movie is more entertaining. I found both because we had to study the twentieth century on our own too.

In general, though, it's looking more and more to me like the engines of war are, if not responsible for the technological advances that make software engineering fields so interesting, at least responsible for accelerating them to how advanced (cough) they are at this particular time. Besides Mr. cryptographer and the influence of his mathematics on the theoretical side of computer science, I also watched some more of a television show I found a while back called Da Vinci's Demons. How funny that the 'Renaissance man' responsible for the intellectual well-rounded superhuman ideal lived and died long before the Renaissance, nor was he really affiliated with the Greek/Roman traditions that the Italians revived.

According to the series's writing, he believed that war research was the best way to fund advances in science that wouldn't have happened any time soon otherwise, and that was how he spent much of his public time/career. I seem to recall a documentary explaining the same thing, but cognitive psychology has a thing or two to say about memory's accuracy! :)

It's a convincingly plausible theory to me. Would you and I even have compilers if computers weren't built in a standard way starting from influencial government prototypes? Would we have the internet as we know it anymore (also government) if encryption didn't advance from ancient Caesar ciphers to the kind of theoretical and practical guarantees of security international relations 'encouraged'?

I don't think so, but you know I value your contrarianism (lay it on me!). Sorry if you just don't care, but hey, we can't all work in ethically justifiable jobs. Whatever that means.


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