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  • In honor of Alan Turing's 104th birthday Chris Bernhardt, author of Turing's Vision: The Birth of Computer Science, discusses the pioneer's groundbreaking research paper and how it shaped modern computing.

    On June 23, 1912, one of the founders of computer science, Alan Turing was born. He is now famous, having been portrayed on stage by Derek Jacobi and in film by Benedict Cumberbatch. He is well known for his work during the Second World War on code breaking that was pivotal in the Allied powers’ victory, and also for his test to determine whether human intelligence is distinguishable from that of machine intelligence. We all know of his arrest and prosecution for being gay, and for the chemical castration that followed, and we know of his tragic death by cyanide poisoning. But not many people outside of computer science are aware of the groundbreaking paper he published in 1936.

    Posted at 08:00 am on Thu, 23 Jun 2016 in computer science, math
  • First published in 2002, Douglas Crimps's Melancholia and Moralism is a collection of his addresses and essays spanning fifteen years, through the identification of AIDS and the rise of homophobia. A nuanced meditation on queer politics and activism, the book serves as a reminder of the challenges society still faces, especially in light of the tragedy in Orlando.

    Posted at 08:00 am on Fri, 17 Jun 2016 in art
  • Two days ago a federal appeals court upheld an earlier F.C.C. decision to label broadband technology a utility, maintaining net neutrality. Regulating Code authors Ian Brown and Christopher T. Marsden offer their take on the decision.

    On June 14, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals upheld the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) right to regulate Internet Access Providers (IAPs) as common carriers. This confirms the US agency’s power to regulate IAPs to ensure users can access the content, applications, and services they wish without interference from their access provider: what is known as net neutrality. It is part of a wider international regulatory trend to support user rights and prevent interference with Internet traffic. However, as we showed in Regulating Code (2013), this regulatory trend is counteracted by the controlling tendency of the technologies deployed by the national security state and private surveillance partners. Our book was published only months prior to Edward Snowden’s revelations about cooperation between Five Eyes nations (including the USA, Canada and UK) and their corporate partners to conduct mass surveillance, and our warnings that net neutrality cannot be disentangled from privacy, surveillance, copyright enforcement, state censorship, and the role of social media, have come home to roost.

    Posted at 01:00 pm on Thu, 16 Jun 2016 in current affairs, information science, technology
  • Can “moral bioenhancement”—using technological or pharmaceutical means to boost the morally desirable and remove the morally problematic—bring about a morally improved humanity? In The Myth of the Moral Brain, Harris Wiseman draws on insights from philosophy, biology, theology, and clinical psychology to make the case that moral functioning is immeasurably complex, mediated by biology but not determined by it. Harris Wiseman discusses his book, which considers an integrated approach to moral enhancement.

    Does humanity need moral enhancement?

    Regardless of how optimistic one’s view of human nature is, it is pretty clear that humans still do terrible things to one another. On first sight, looking at the subject matter on the most superficial level, the idea that one should create some magical technology able to prevent the horrors that humans perpetrate sounds great. Why would one not apply such a technology? The problem with this view is that no one has posed any kind of even vaguely plausible idea of how such a fantastical technology could be devised, even in principle. And there is one very good reason why no realistic prospects have been proposed. Given what we know about the vagueness of the relationship between human biology and the way in which sophisticated moral functioning is enacted, the prospect of some such globally-affective technology is pure fantasy. There are simply no “biological levers” that are clear or reliable enough to improve humanity’s moral powers in some grand and salvatory sense. In contrast, the sorts of moral enhancement that are entirely possible are cruder interventions for individual persons with some morally-related difficulties (e.g. addictions, pathological violence, some affective disorders, disturbing sexual aberrations), though in a largely medical context, and not without important side-effects for the person being treated. Within this scope moral enhancement might have some viable uses.

    Posted at 02:15 pm on Tue, 14 Jun 2016 in bioethics, science
  • Last week’s post for Pride Month featured an excerpt from David Getsy’s Queer. Continuing our celebration, we went deep into our backlist to bring you Simon LeVay and Elisabeth Nonas’ City of Friends: A Portrait of the Gay and Lesbian Community in America. City of Friends, written in 1995, explores the diversity of the various gay communities that existed at the time. Aside from surveying the various communities, LeVay and Nonas examine topics surrounding this vibrant group, including history, health, culture, and rights. Published at a time of increasing acceptance from the general public, yet many years before the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, City of Friends provided a unique perspective from one of the most diverse communities in the United States. The following is an excerpt from the Preface of City of Friends.

    Posted at 10:00 am on Fri, 10 Jun 2016 in humanities
  • Douglas Keislar, Editor of Computer Music Journal, reflects on how the discipline of computer music has evolved since the journal was founded in 1976.

    Posted at 08:00 am on Tue, 07 Jun 2016 in journals
  • Historically, “queer” was the slur used against those who were perceived to be or made to feel abnormal but beginning in the 1980s, the word was reappropriated and embraced as a badge of honor. Queer edited by David Getsy is centered on writings that describe and examine the ways in which artists have used the concept of queer as a site of political and institutional critique, as a framework to develop new families and histories, as a spur to action, and as a basis from which to declare inassimilable difference. The first post in our series celebrating Pride Month features an excerpt from David Getsy's Introduction to Queer

    The activist stance of ‘queer’ was developed as a mode of resistance to the oppression and erasure of sexual minorities. Importantly, however, it was concurrently posited as a rejection of assimilationism proposed by many in gay and lesbian communities who aspired to be just ‘normal’. Since its formulation in the crucible of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, ‘queer’ has an ongoing political and cultural currency that continues to prove catalytic to artists and thinkers. It signals a defiance to the mainstream and an embrace of difference, uniqueness and self-determination. Still contentious today in LGBTI politics and culture, the defining trait of ‘queer’ is its rejection of attempts to enforce (or value) normalcy. Within artistic practice, queer tactics and attitudes have energized artists who create work that flouts ‘common’ sense, that makes the private public and political, and that brashly embraces disruption as a tactic.

    Posted at 11:00 am on Fri, 03 Jun 2016 in art


    The MIT Press is known for its award-winning book designs. From an archive of elegant, abstract, and playful covers, do you have a favorite MIT Press jacket? Vote in our SurveyMonkey poll by August 1st for a chance to see your choice on a T-shirt.

    Posted at 08:00 am on Wed, 01 Jun 2016 in contest
  • How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet recounts the Soviet Union’s failed attempts to construct its own Internet during the Cold War. Benjamin Peters discusses his book and considers the implications of the Soviet experience for today’s networked world. 

    What was the OGAS project? What role did it play in the development of computer networks?

    The OGAS project was the most ambitious attempt to network the Soviet Union—to construct a national computer network. Viktor M. Glushkov, whose New York Times obituary dubbed him the “king of Soviet cybernetics,” considered the OGAS his lifework between his appointment as director of the Institute of Cybernetics in Kiev in 1962 and his death of an apparent brain hemorrhage in 1982. “OGAS” is short for the obshchee-gosudarstvennaya avtomatizirovannaya system—or the all-state automated system, which itself was a shortening of its full train-length name: the All-State Automated System for the Gathering and Processing of Information for the Accounting, Planning, and Governance of the National Economy, USSR. This heroic or gargantuan project, in Glushkov’s 1962 proposal, sought to build incrementally on preexisting and new telephony networks until it would go fully online 30 years later, offering up in the process a real-time decentralized hierarchical computer network for managing all the information flows in the command economy. He envisioned it reaching from one central computer center in Moscow, to several hundred regional computer centers in prominent cities, and then to as many as 20,000 local computing centers in factories and enterprises stretching over all of Soviet Eurasia. Its higher purpose was to realize “electronic socialism” technocratically, guiding the socialist experiment another step toward communism itself. However, the project encountered significant obstacles on the path to its realization in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1980s, the OGAS project had splintered into a patchwork of unconnected and non-interoperable local factory control systems spread throughout the country.

    Posted at 01:10 pm on Tue, 24 May 2016 in history, information science, technology
  • The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues, including desertification, land degradation and drought, and water and sanitation. In The Arid Lands: History, Power, Knowledge, Diana Davis challenges the image of deserts as barren, defiled, worthless places, wastelands in need of development. She argues that estimates of desertification have been significantly exaggerated and that deserts and drylands—which constitute about 41% of the earth’s landmass—are actually resilient and biodiverse environments in which a great many indigenous people have long lived sustainably. The following is an excerpt from The Arid Lands.

    Posted at 07:00 am on Sun, 22 May 2016 in environmental studies and nature
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Books, news, and ideas from MIT Press

The MIT PressLog is the official blog of MIT Press. Founded in 2005, the Log chronicles news about MIT Press authors and books. The MIT PressLog also serves as forum for our authors to discuss issues related to their books and scholarship. Views expressed by guest contributors to the blog do not necessarily represent those of MIT Press.