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April 25, 2012

GETTING TESTY OVER TURING Simson L. Garfinkel’s review on the legacy of Alan Turing (“Turing’s Enduring Importance,” March/April) drew an immediate—and sometimes vehement—response from readers. “The article’s thesis—that his work made computing possible decades before it otherwise would have happened—isn’t even close,” declared dtutelman in an online comment. “Turing’s contribution was not in the early development of computers so much as in the understanding of what they can and can’t do, and the theoretical underpinnings of these pragmatically designed machines.”

Soma had even harsher criticism, calling the piece “drivel.” “There is a growing mentality that due to his having been treated atrociously by the British government he deserves to be elevated to the echelons of Newton or Leibniz, as if Turing were the only intelligent person in mathematics during the World War II era.”

Elroch, on the other hand, felt that ­Garfinkel’s appreciation was completely justified: “The notion of computability and the notion of a universal computer are tremendously important and powerful ideas for which Turing has to be given a great deal of credit. His work pointed the way to a sort of architecture for a general computer (central processor plus storage) which may seem utterly obvious now, but which was a radical departure from the architectures of computing machines before his time. I can’t see why anyone would wish to downplay the significance of this pivotal work.”

LEADING FROM BEHIND Our chief correspondent, David ­Talbot, traveled to Africa to investigate how local startups were tapping the vast promise of cell phones to improve local health care (“Kenya’s Mobile Prescription,” March/April). “Great article!” wrote Navi ­Radjou, coauthor of Jugaad Innovation, a new book suggesting that Western companies should take inspiration from entrepreneurs in emerging markets. “Grassroots entrepreneurs have learned to do more with less by leveraging ‘human networks.’ What counts is the resilient and frugal mind-set of these entrepreneurs, who see scarcity as an opportunity to innovate rather than a constraint.” 

NET MINDER In March/April’s “A New Net,” IT editor Tom Simonite took a closer look at how a TR50 company, Nicira, hopes to solve one of network computing’s most intractable problems: its weak security. Such a solution is “long overdue,” felt ­olinhyde. “It is awesome to see Nicira create an elegant solution to the problem of network security. The simplicity of Martìn Casado’s approach underscores the pathetic state of network security and the absence of innovation from incumbents like Cisco, Juniper, etc. Yet again, we see that the entrenched interests of the status quo prevent the possible from becoming reality. Let’s hope Nicira can break through the barriers.”

HEAL THYSELF An Internet pioneer named Larry Smarr turned himself into a pioneer of a different sort by mining data about his own health—and using that information to improve it (“The Patient of the Future,” by Jon Cohen, March/April). “Interesting,” wrote colne. “Good to get extensive baseline data, but what we really need is data from people in specific clinical populations. Then we could start to correlate outcomes and figure out optimum practice. Frustrating that it’s taking so long to get this going. The same is true of lifestyle and prevention. We are not going to get the total cost of health care down by focusing on chronically ill patients; we need to motivate large numbers of people to get as excited about being fit as they are about preserving the environment, for example.”

CORRECTION The world’s carbon dioxide emissions from electricity and heat production rose from 9.1 billion metric tons in 2000 to 11.8 billion metric tons in 2009. Our Graphiti in March/April erroneously gave the figures in millions.

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