“Alan Turing: The First Digital Humanist?” HASTAC Scholars Forum

I have helped organize and co-author a new HASTAC Scholars forum on Alan Turing, posthumanism, and gender and sexuality:

Alan Turing, an unsung hero, mathematician, code breaker, and first generation computer scientist.  Turing is most known for his work helping to break the German Enigma codes during World War I and his provocative 1950 essay “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” where he posits artificial intelligence, the universal machine digital computer, and the now oft-cited “imitation game” or “Turing Test.”  Unfortunately, all of Turing’s brilliance, achievements, and technohistorical importance are overshadowed by another thing for which he is known: his homosexuality.  In 1952, Turing was convicted of committing acts of “gross indecency” with a man and sentenced to chemical castration rather than imprisonment.  Two years later, in 1954, Turing committed suicide leaving behind a legacy of questions, titillations, frustrations, and theorizations about technology, cybernetics, identity and embodiment, and posthumanism.

How might we read, configure, and imagine Turing as one of the first posthumanists, one of the first digital humanists?  How might Turing be emblematic of the interventions, explorations, and interrogations raised by posthumanism, code studies, queer theory, cultural studies, and the digital humanities?  And how might Turing’s own fraught personal and political life limn the boundaries, limitations, silences, excesses, and exclusions of these flights of inquiry?  Turing hoped at the end of “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” that “at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.  I believe further that no useful purpose is served by concealing these beliefs” (442).  Now that the end of his century and the beginning of our new century has come to pass, finally, how might Turing provide new directions and open new possibilities for our disciplines, departments, and individual work?

The forum is hosted by me and Margaret Rhee, Ethnic Studies and New Media Studies, UC Berkeley, Jarah Moesch, American Studies, University of Maryland, Elliott Hauser, Information Science, UNC-Chapel Hill, Elaine Gan, Film and Digital Media, UC Santa Cruz, and Melissa Chalmers, School of Information, University of Michigan.  The forum will feature special guest contributers and respondants including: David Bates, Professor of Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley, Jack Halberstam, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Gender Studies and Comparative Literature, University of Southern California, Jacob Gaboury, Ph.D. candidate, Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, Jennifer Rhee, Assistant Professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University, Rudy Rucker, Computer Scientist, Science Fiction author, and a founder of the cyberpunk literary movement, and my dissertation chair Tom Foster, Professor of English, University of Washington.

For the full forum post: http://hastac.org/forums/alan-turing-first-digital-humanist

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