Once the Machine Thinking Method Had Started, It Would Not Take Long To Outstrip Our Feeble Powers

Alan Turing? Sara Turing? Stuart Russell? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A pioneering mathematician and computer researcher in the 1950s believed that an intelligent computer system could be built, and “it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers”. Would you please tell me the name of this person and help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Alan M. Turing was a major figure in the field of computer science who died in 1954. His mother Sara published a book about his life in 1959, and she included a draft of a lecture he delivered in Manchester, England in 1951. Turing’s address titled “Intelligent Machinery, A Heretical Theory” explored the consequences of building computer systems capable of displaying intelligence. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]2012 (First Edition 1959; Second Edition 2012), Alan M. Turing: Centenary Edition by Sara Turing, Chapter 14: Computing Machinery, Section: Intelligent Machinery, A Heretical Theory, Start Page 128, … Continue reading

There would be plenty to do in trying, say, to keep one’s intelligence up to the standard set by the machines, for it seems probable that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers. There would be no question of the machines dying, and they would be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. At some stage therefore we should have to expect the machines to take control, in the way that is mentioned in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 2006 David Leavitt published the biography “The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer”. Leavitt reprinted the excerpt given previously, and he stated that the words were from a 1951 Manchester lecture by Turing.[2]2006, The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer by David Leavitt, Series: Great Discoveries, Chapter 7: The Imitation Game, (Footnote at bottom of page 239; see the … Continue reading

In 2021 Professor of Computer Science Stuart Russell of the University of California at Berkeley delivered “The Reith Lectures” on BBC Radio 4. In the fourth and final lecture Russell mentioned Turing’s remark:[3]Website: BBC Sounds, Release Date: December 22, 2021, Lecture Series: The Reith Lectures, Lecture Series Title: Living With Artificial Intelligence, Lecture Number 4, Lecture Title: AI: A Future for … Continue reading

… as predicted by Alan Turing in 1951 when he said, “Once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers. At some stage therefore we should have to expect the machines to take control”.

In conclusion, Alan M. Turing deserves credit for the quotation under examination. It appeared posthumously within a lecture draft in a book by his mother Sara Turing in 1959.

Image Notes: Abstract illustration of a computer system from geralt at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

References

References
1 2012 (First Edition 1959; Second Edition 2012), Alan M. Turing: Centenary Edition by Sara Turing, Chapter 14: Computing Machinery, Section: Intelligent Machinery, A Heretical Theory, Start Page 128, Quote Page 132, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England. (Verified with scans)
2 2006, The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer by David Leavitt, Series: Great Discoveries, Chapter 7: The Imitation Game, (Footnote at bottom of page 239; see the source note on page 296 that points to the book by Sara Turing), Atlas Books: W. W. Norton Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
3 Website: BBC Sounds, Release Date: December 22, 2021, Lecture Series: The Reith Lectures, Lecture Series Title: Living With Artificial Intelligence, Lecture Number 4, Lecture Title: AI: A Future for Humans, Speaker: Stuart Russell (Professor of Computer Science at University of California, Berkeley), (Quotation starts at 2 minute 31 seconds of 58 minutes 12 seconds) (Accessed on bbc.co.uk on January 8, 2022) link
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