He was not a Jew, knew nothing about Judaism and never visited the Jewish state,
which was founded six years before his tragic suicide by cyanide poisoning in
1954. But Israeli lovers of computers and technology have enough of a fond spot
in their hearts to build and appreciate a long-term exhibit at Jerusalem’s
Bloomfield Science Museum to Alan Turing, the British “father” of computer
science and artificial intelligence.
As Israelis are leading
entrepreneurs in computer software and hardware, it seemed almost mandatory that
an exhibit to mark the centennial of Turing’s birth be established here as a
testament to the man who had so many talents and suffered such a tragic
The exhibit, due to remain as a showcase at Bloomfield near the
Israel Museum for a few years and suited for children aged eight and up, is
titled CAPTCHA. This stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell
Computers and Humans Apart. This is similar to online human verification, where
web pages ask users to type in letters and numbers to verify that they are human
and not an automated program trying to use a service without
The idea for an Israeli centennial exhibit was originally
suggested by a computer scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science and Tel
Aviv University, and as it took time to build it, it has opened closer to
Turing’s 101st birthday.
The CAPTCHA exhibit at Bloomfield is open from
Monday to Thursday between 10:00 a.m. and 6 p.m.; Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.;
and Saturday from 10 a.m.
to 3 p.m.
The exhibit, on an upper floor
on the museum’s newer wing, was opened recently by a VIP audience which included
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; Harry Bloomfield, who with his now-disabled mother,
Neri, financed the museum; Bloomfield Museum director Maya Halevy; Intel Israel
general manager, Kiryat Gat Fab 28 plant manager and Intel Corporation vice
president Maxine Fassberg; and former Hebrew University president and Einstein
expert Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund.
The museum was opened to the public in the
Givat Ram quarter in the summer of 1992. The museum was created at the
initiative of HU Prof. Peter Hillman, who served as its founding director. Its
establishment was made possible through close collaboration with HU and the
Jerusalem Foundation through a generous donation from the Bloomfield family in
From the outset, the museum’s goals were to increase interest
among the general public in science and technology in the world around us,
promote excellency in sciences among youth and present science and technology as
an integral part of human culture.
About 120 guests were present at the
ceremony in the museum’s auditorium.
THE ELECTRONIC computer was invented
seven decades ago – although came into common use less than 30 years ago – and
has already pushed its way into every aspect of our lives. It is so
all-encompassing that we often forget to ask ourselves what the meaning of this
amazing device is, what the scientific basis for it is, and how it affects
scientific thought in the present and future.
At the main entrance to the
exhibit, the visitor has to make a choice – either walk through a passageway,
causing his body to trigger a vote on the question of whether computers will
some day fall in love or walk through another that rejects this idea. The second
clearly seemed to be the majority view of the seemingly unromantic
Turing, a mathematician who foresaw the computer already in 1936,
did ask these questions, and he understood then, at a time before there were
computers, that the device would serve as a mirror with which we can examine the
essence of the brain and our consciousness. This philosophical breakthrough
places computer science at the front of modern science and allows computer
science to deal with challenging and fascinating problems.
to be huge, requiring a whole room to carry out the functions that any cellphone
or laptop does today.
Although we’ve advanced incredibly in
miniaturization and improving their power, it’s not so clear whether we’ve
stopped to think about the their impact on us and society.
museum’s special exhibit is dedicated not to the technical nuts and bolts of how
computers function but to philosophical questions surrounding computer usage,
all of which have daily practical applications. These “thinking machines”
produce powerful coding that enables banking and commerce on the Internet; new
research tools used in all fields of human endeavor; global communication
networks that have changed the face of society, politics and relationships and
medical technologies that save and improve lives. As Israel is such an important
center in the research and development of all these, CAPTCHA presents the
Israeli achievements in these fields.
There are dials with Hebrew, Arabic
and English characters for creating and decoding encryptions, teasers such as
whether a washing machine is a computer and a variety of puzzles in which
colorful geometric figures have to be sequenced on a board. The rooms are very
colorful, with red and metallic colors predominant and a large amount of shiny,
“What are the limits of computers’ abilities, and
what will it never be able to compute?” is one of the questions posed by the
exhibit. Will the computer surpass us in its wisdom and will it ever reach a
level of consciousness similar to ours? Can a computer be creative? What does
all of this say about us and our thoughts? What is the scientific basis on which
the meaning of the computer stands? What is the computer’s impact on scientific
thinking? Are there limits to a computer’s ability to calculate? Are computers
creative? Do they cultivate wisdom or foster self-awareness, or the opposite?
How does all this impact our minds? Turing formalized the concepts of algorithm
and computation with the Turing machine, which its namesake created in 1936 as a
hypothetical device that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a
collection of rules. It was quite simple, but it nevertheless could be used to
simulate the logic of any algorithm and helps explain how a computer’s central
processing unit (CPU) works.
Turing ended his his life ended when he was
only 42. As homosexual acts were then illegal in England, he agreed to chemical
castration to avoid being jailed. Before these tragic events, the neatly combed,
good-looking Turing found time to be a philosopher and technologist,
mathematician and code breaker, thinker and doer. His photograph and details
about his life were hang at the entrance to the exhibit.
As a homosexual,
he has no living descendants except for a nephew, and he personally never
enjoyed the recognition he deserved. But now, 100 years and eight months after
his birth, he is getting it.
MAYOR BARKAT clearly felt comfortable at the
exhibit. Sitting in front of a display next to Fassberg, he even tried –
unsuccessfully – to win a game of tic-tac-toe against a computer that set down
“PCs came out when I was a child, and my father – a professor
of physics – taught me how to write code in BASIC. I served in the army for six
years and then heard that the first computer virus hit the Hebrew University via
the Internet,” Barkat related. He developed a pioneering program to fight
viruses and diversified into security software through his company BRM, which
became the hugely successful Checkpoint, that began with firewalls.
required a high level of creativity. I look back and think that we had a great
opportunity to be expert in technology at young age. It gave us a big advantage.
Computers for me were like ABC. Even today I use tools I learned
The Turing exhibit, the mayor continued, will stimulate interest
among young people, not just to spend their time on Facebook and Google but how
we got there. “As a hands-on museum, it encourages kids to try things out,” he
Fassberg, who was praised for her ability to make partnerships and
is a member of Bloomfield’s board, helped finance the exhibit along with Google
Israel, Checkpoint and others.
“Maureen is excellent in making
partnerships; they make museum what it is,” Barkat said.
Nathan Zeldis, who was an engineer at Intel Israel for 26 years but in recent
years has worked solo as an organization expert, said he hopes computers will
continue to make the world a better place. He previously designed two other
exhibits at Bloomfield. Spending a year on this one – the first six months just
developing the concept – he became one of the world’s experts on
There are other Turing centennial exhibits, especially in London,
and Jerusalem’s is small by comparison, but it is nevertheless very impressive.
Educational items throughout the five rooms that comprise it were designed and
built solely by the museum staff.
“Most Israelis don’t know much or
anything about Turing,” Zeldis stated, but there have been some shows on TV, and
some have heard about Enigma, the code machine used by the Nazis during World
War II. Turing was part of the British team that worked on breaking the Enigma
encryption. The Enigma device, which is displayed in the exhibit, produced
excellent intelligence for the Allies and made a huge contribution to their
Although some critics could argue that children and teens who
visit the exhibit may be lazy and just play with geographical puzzles, push and
pull levers and practice encryption but not exert themselves to really
understand the scientific principles behind them, Zeldis asserted that young
people can start by playing and eventually fall in love with
“There are children who will inevitably become scientists
because nothing can prevent them; there are those who will never be interested
in it whatever you do; and then there are youngsters who just need a push and
will go for it, even though they initially held no interest in it. We meant the
exhibit for them.”