Publication Details

James, K. E. (2012). Turing’s thinking machines: resonances with surrealism and the avant-garde of the early 20th century. In C. Dowd and K. E. James (Eds.), AISB/IACAP World Congress 2012, Birmingham, UK, 2-6 July 2012: Turing Arts Symposium (pp. 21-28). United Kingdom: Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour.

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AISB/IACAP World Congress 2012

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ISBN: 9781908187130


This paper examines the thinking machines depicted in the visual and theoretical works of Surrealism and other avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. The aim is to establish to what extent the conceptions of these machines prefigure Turing’s ideas about the mechanical brain. Whereas Surrealism and its artistic antecedents (such as the Dadaists) are generally thought to have been uninterested in or mistrustful of such technological developments, it will shown that a number of artists/theorists (Ernst, Duchamp, Picabia, Hausmann, Matta, Dalí, Caillois) envisaged the notion of the thinking machine in a manner which anticipated a number of Turing’s ideas (the gendered machine, machine consciousness, the child-machine, pleasure-pain systems, randomness).