• 1923 November 11
    (b.) -
    2007 July 07


A British researcher in artificial intelligence, he worked for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park during World War II, contributing to the effort to solve "Tunny," a German teleprinter cipher. Born in Rangoon, Burma, he attended Rugby School and won a scholarship to study classics at Balliol College, Oxford. In the Spring of 1943, however, looking for some way to contribute to the war effort, he instead attempted to enroll on a Japanese language course in Bedford for intelligence officers. On arrival, it transpired that the course was full, and instead he trained in cryptography, displaying a natural aptitude for the subject. Six weeks later, he was recruited to Bletchley Park and was assigned to the "Testery," a section which tackled a German teleprinter cipher. During his time at Bletchley Park he worked with Alan Turing and Jack Good. Between 1945 and 1952 he studied at Balliol College, Oxford; he received his DPhil, in mammalian genetics, in 1953. In 1960, he developed the Machine Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine (MENACE), one of the first programs capable of learning to play a perfect game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Since computers were not readily available at this time, he implemented his program with about 300 matchboxes, each representing a unique board state. Each matchbox was filled with colored beads, each representing a different move in that board state. The quantity of a color indicated the "certainty" that playing the corresponding move would lead to a win. The program was trained by playing hundreds of games and updating the quantities of beads in each matchbox depending on the outcome of each game. He was director of the University of Edinburgh's Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception (previously the Experimental Programming Unit) from its establishment in 1965. The machine intelligence unit predated the university's computer science unit. He remained at Edinburgh until 1985, when he left to found the Turing Institute in Glasgow. Active in the research community into his eighties, he devoted the last decade of his life to the UK charity The Human Computer Learning Foundation, and worked with Stephen Muggleton, Claude Sammut, Richard Wheeler, and others on natural language systems and theories of intelligence. In 2007 he was completing a series of scientific articles on the Sophie Natural Language System and a book manuscript entitled "Jehovah's Creatures". He invented the memoization technique, a language feature with 'rote-learning' properties. Some of the many different groups in which he was involved were: British Computer Society (Fellow); Royal Society of Edinburgh (Fellow); American National Academy of Sciences (Honorary Fellow); Slovenian Academy of Sciences (Honorary Fellow); and the Human-Computer Learning Foundation, a charity registered in the UK (Founder and Treasurer).
  • Date of Birth:

    1923 November 11
  • Date of Death:

    2007 July 07
  • Gender:

  • Noted For:

    Developer of the Machine Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine (MENACE), one of the first programs capable of learning to play a perfect game of Tic-Tac-Toe
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