Alan Turing On Software Engineers

From Alan Turing’s lecture to the London Mathematical Society in 1947. For context, he had more or less invented the theoretical construct behind computation in 1936, but actual computers barely existed (the very primitive ENIAC was made public in 1946). This lecture was given while he was working on developing ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) the British answer to the ENIAC.

Roughly speaking those who work in connection with the ACE will be divided into its masters and its servants. Its masters will plan out instruction tables for it, thinking up deeper and deeper ways of using it. Its servants will feed it with cards as it calls for them. They will put right any parts that go wrong…As time goes on the calculator itself will take over the functions both of masters and of servants…The masters are liable to get replaced because as soon as any technique becomes at all stereotyped it becomes possible to devise a system of instruction tables which will enable the electronic computer to do it for itself. It may happen however that the masters will refuse to do this. They may be unwilling to let their jobs be stolen from them in this way. In that case they would surround the whole of their work with mystery and make excuses, couched in well chosen gibberish, whenever any dangerous suggestions were made.


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