The Open UniversitySkip to content

Brains, Tortoises, and Octopuses: Postwar Interpretations of Mechanical Intelligence on the BBC

Jones, Allan (2016). Brains, Tortoises, and Octopuses: Postwar Interpretations of Mechanical Intelligence on the BBC. Information and Culture: A Journal of History, 51(1) pp. 81–101.

Full text available as:
PDF (Accepted Manuscript) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (258kB) | Preview
DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


The immediate postwar period saw the emergence of the first digital computers as well as developments in cybernetics, brain research, and information theory. In this era, questions of mechanical intelligence came to the forefront in public media. In Britain the BBC broadcast radio talks by many leading practitioners in these fields in which they discussed their work and speculated on its implications for conceptions of intelligence. Generally, speakers were either sceptical or unsceptical toward the issue of intelligent behavior in machines. The sceptics, who tended to have backgrounds in physical science and mathematics, usually took reductive approaches to argue that machines could not be intelligent. The non-sceptics, who tended to have a biological orientation, usually avoided reductive approaches and conceded that the distinction between machines and animal brains might not be clear-cut. These differing interpretations of new technology, their association with distinct intellectual traditions, and their promotion via a wide-reaching and respected medium are seen as instances of social shaping of technology in action.

Item Type: Journal Item
Copyright Holders: 2016 University of Texas Press
ISSN: 1534-7591
Extra Information: Based on a presentation at the London Science Museum conference 'Interpreting the Information Age', 3-5 November 2014
Keywords: Turing; Grey Walter; history of computers; broadcasting history; cybernetics
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Computing and Communications
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Related URLs:
Item ID: 44038
Depositing User: Allan Jones
Date Deposited: 13 Aug 2015 15:28
Last Modified: 01 May 2019 18:18
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU